By Ian Roberts, Communications Manager, Marine Harvest Canada
At the end of the last century, unemployment in the small village of Klemtu, British Columbia, was 80 percent. Nearly 500 Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation members in the community were getting by, but not much more. The future did not hold a lot of promise and the commercial salmon fishery that had been the economic backbone of Klemtu for decades was in terminal decline.
Klemtu’s leadership decided to do something about it. They decided that their people deserved employment opportunities.
Aquaculture, also known as salmon farming, was relatively new at the time, but the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people saw the potential. With wild salmon unable to supply increasing demand, the ability to grow and process salmon year round in a remote coastal community was very appealing.
The community began farming salmon in the mid 1980s, but it wasn’t until they partnered with the largest salmon aquaculture company in the world, Marine Harvest, that the business model began to pay dividends.
Today unemployment has been cut to 40 percent—that’s still too high but it’s a huge improvement. The people of Klemtu have a mission and a routine; they have something to believe in and a sense of purpose that did not exist a few short years ago.
Chief Leslie Neasloss, who recently retired from working at the farms, has noticed the positive effect on his people. “When you earn your own money, you walk different,” Les says. “You walk with a little more pride.”
This turnaround has been created by the vision and determination of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people and Marine Harvest Canada.
In 2012, the local processing plant will have processed and packaged about 11 million pounds of Atlantic salmon raised in Kitasoo-owned farm sites. More than fifty members work rull-time at the farms, in the processing plant and on the Kitasoo-owned harvest boat.
Percy Starr, a Klemtu Elder and Order of Canada recipient, is pleased with how the business venture has progressed over the past three decades.
“We have lived with aquaculture for twenty-five years now,” says Percy. “We believe that we are operating in harmony with local wild salmon stocks—and the crabs, seals, whales, and dolphins that share our waters. We monitor our operations closely and regularly and can see that water quality has not been hurt and neither has the ocean bottom under our farms or the nearby shoreline.”
For centuries the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people have had a close connection to the sea. This connection was lost for a generation when the commercial salmon fishery collapsed and boats were tied up. Aquaculture is restoring this connection, and with this has come a sense of purpose and a belief in the future.