Activists opposed to salmon farming recently staged the second of three planned protests at major Chilliwack retailers.
A group of mostly First Nations members of the Chilliwack chapter of a group calling itself the Salmon Feedlot Boycott demonstrated on Friday in front of the Walmart at Eagle Landing.
The protest was peaceful and Walmart management did nothing to dissuade the group. Gardner said the manager even asked the protesters if they wanted water.
The group previously protested at Superstore on Jan. 9 and plan on hitting one of the local Safeway stores in the near future.
All the stores sell Atlantic salmon produced by fish farms off Vancouver Island.
"The next place to go will be Safeway because they are selling that crap too," said group organizer Eddie Gardner, a member of the Skwah Band.
"There is a growing body of evidence around the world that fish farms do harm to the environment and to wild fish," Gardner said to the group of around 50 assembled under the Walmart sign.
"The fact that deadly, lethal diseases can move from farmed fish to wild fish could mean the extinction of sockeye salmon on the west coast," he said. "We can't stand for this."
But the salmon farming industry says it is as concerned as anyone about potential impact on the environment and wild salmon.
"Salmon farming protesters talk a lot about diseases, but don't seem to understand that diseases and the viruses that cause them are omnipresent in the ocean," said Grant Warkentin, spokesperson for salmon farming company Mainstream Canada, which produces 25,000 tonnes of salmon annually at 27 sites off Vancouver Island.
"Wild salmon were carrying diseases and viruses long before salmon farms ever showed up."
Warkentin says the salmon farming industry has in fact helped scientists learn about salmon diseases because of the measures companies take examining fish after they die.
Those opposed to fish farming don't buy it and point to the discovery of infectious salmon anemia (ISA) by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in farmed fish as an example of the danger.
"We have fish farms using open net feedlots on the Pacific coast, and there is increasing alarm it could spell the total collapse of wild salmon," said Ernie Victor of the Cheam First Nation in press release. "Our sockeye salmon have to swim past those fish farms on their migration routes, so First Nations along the river are stakeholders in this risky business. It's imperative we be consulted."
Warkentin disputes the claims that salmon farms pose any increased risk to wild salmon because the footprint of the feedlots in the ocean is relatively small.
"Most of our active farms in B.C. can be seen in Google Earth and Google Maps, which show how small they are in the channels where they are sited," Warkentin told the Times in an email statement. "In no way are wild salmon forced to swim under our farms. The waste footprint from our fish is typically confined to no more than a few hundred metres around each pen system, and in no way are wild fish forced to swim in that area, either."