Citizens, First Nations, conservation groups and business leaders call on premier to stop salmon farm expansion

Victoria — More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on the B.C. government to halt federal government and B.C. salmon farming industry plans to expand open-net salmon farming in B.C. waters. The petition has received the endorsement of more than one hundred conservation organizations, industry associations, independent business owners and the Tofino‐Long Beach Chamber of Commerce.
MLA Andrew Weaver (Oak Bay-Gordon Head) will present the petition in the B.C. legislature today.

Despite decades of controversy and recommendations to the contrary from the $37-million Cohen Inquiry, the federal government wants to move ahead with industry expansion plans. However, the B.C. government has the power to curb that growth by withholding approvals for new farm sites and

The issue has gained renewed attention because of a recent federal court decision that raises concerns about disease impacts on wild fish from this industry and recent reports of outbreaks of sea lice on juvenile wild salmon now migrating past salmon farms on their way out to sea.

“Control of sea lice was the one issue I thought this industry could fix, but apparently not,” said Alexandra Morton, who has been documenting sea lice outbreaks for 14 years. “Furthermore, the recent federal court ruling on use of diseased salmon in salmon farms has raised significant questions that need to be answered before this industry can even think of growing.”

“Millions of wild juvenile salmon are now migrating through an area that contains the highest density of fish farms on our coast, from Campbell River to Port Hardy,” said Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society. “We are calling on Premier Clark to protect B.C.’s iconic wild salmon from federal recklessness and stop the planned expansion of this industry.”

Since assuming responsibility for the management of salmon farming in 2010, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) says it has been working on revised criteria for siting farms. But they are far from completing that task and First Nations and conservation groups say they have been acting without the broad scientific and public consultation needed.

Meanwhile, they have permitted farms, like the one at Sir Edmund Bay (which is currently reporting elevated levels of lice levels), to triple their production.

Key information has also been unavailable from DFO. “We have asked DFO several times to share information on the current status of sea lice on fish farms in affected areas so that we can assess whether existing management strategies are working, but they have refused,” said John Werring, David Suzuki Foundation senior science and policy advisor. “Their failure to respond on an issue of such immense public importance is simply unacceptable.”

“Reams of published science already show that open net-pen salmon farming can depress wild salmon stocks, impede their growth and drive populations toward extinction,” said Stan Proboszcz, Watershed Watch Salmon Society. “Premier Clark has the power to protect B.C.’s wild salmon from salmon farm expansion. More than 100,000 people are counting on her to do the right thing.”

For further information, please contact:

Alexandra Morton, biologist
Pacific Coast Wild Salmon Society
(250) 974-7086

Karen Wristen, executive director
Living Oceans Society
(604) 788-5634

John Werring, science and policy advisor
David Suzuki Foundation
(604) 306-0517

Stan Proboszcz, fisheries biologist
Watershed Watch Salmon Society
(604) 314-2713

Salmon petition backgrounder

British Columbia’s open-net salmon farming industry has a controversial history. In 2001, sea lice were observed infecting juvenile pink salmon in the Broughton Archipelago; the most likely source was the area’s many open-net salmon farms. Numerous scientific studies have since been published; more industry problems revealed; and several high-profile investigations, inquiries and committees have concluded the industry is a threat to wild salmon and ocean habitat.

Risks to wild salmon

Sea lice from salmon farms are a significant threat to British Columbia’s wild salmon. Stocked year round with hundreds of thousands of fish in tight quarters, salmon farms are ideal lice breeding grounds. Infestations on farms increase the number of lice in surrounding waters far beyond what would occur naturally. Each spring, juvenile wild salmon have to migrate near salmon farms on their way out to the open ocean. Sea lice from farms attach themselves to them. Their bodies may not be able to cope, and many die. Others experience reduced growth or succumb to predators. B.C. salmon farms are typically located in sheltered waters along wild salmon migration routes. In spring 2015, elevated levels of sea lice on juvenile salmon were once again reported by independent scientists in the Broughton Archipelago. The federal government doesn’t monitor sea lice levels on wild salmon in all areas the industry operates, so the extent of damage is unknown.

Pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses from open-net salmon farms, were deemed an unacceptable risk by the $37-million Cohen Commission — a federal inquiry examining the Fraser River sockeye decline. As with sea lice, open-net salmon farms are ideal environments for pathogen proliferation that may spread to wild salmon. The Cohen Commission opened the floodgates on pathogens and disease risks from salmon farms. Since then, independent testing of wild salmonids has produced positive results for viruses not previously found in British Columbia, linked to the farming industry. Some believe the industry may have transported viruses to B.C. waters via egg imports.

Legal precedents

The $37-million, taxpayer-funded Cohen Commission examined the issues facing declining Fraser sockeye salmon stocks and tabled its final report and recommendations in 2012. The Commission implicated open-net salmon farming industry as a “serious or irreversible” threat to wild sockeye salmon, primarily due to disease risks. It also concluded that “there is a risk that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) will act in a manner that favours the interest of the salmon-farming industry over the health of wild fish stocks”. Therefore, there is a potential conflict of interest within the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The federal government has not acted on the Commission’s third recommendation which states it “should remove from DFO’s mandate the promotion of salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product.” The federal support for open-net farming expansion is evidence.

On May 6, 2015, the Federal Court handed down a decision disallowing the salmon farming industry to make the decision to transfer diseased juvenile farmed salmon into net pens on wild salmon migration routes. The industry has four months to comply. The case revolved around the apparent high rate of piscine reovirus infection in farmed Atlantic salmon in British Columbia and around the world. The ruling was that portions of federal licences issued to each salmon farm would be struck down because they were in conflict with the Fisheries Act which prohibits transfer of diseased fish into the ocean. The Minister of Fisheries retains the right to permit transfer of diseased farmed salmon on a per case basis and it remains to be seen if she will appeal this decision. The full decision can be downloaded here.

Lack of transparency

New research by Alexandra Morton suggests that this year’s wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago are heavily infested with sea lice. This means one of two things: either effective sea lice management strategies are not being followed, or they are and the chemicals used to treat fish for sea lice, such as SLICE (emamectin benzoate), are not as effective as they once were.
To know for sure requires data. Since it took over management of the aquaculture industry in 2010, DFO has collected quarterly fish farm data on the prevalence of sea lice on farmed salmon as well as information about the amount of chemicals being used to treat for lice. By the time data is ready to be shared with conservation groups and members of the public, it can be as much as nine months out of date. And DFO does not share data gathered by fish farms even though farmed fish are hosts for sea lice, too. This data withholding is a troubling trend since DFO has taken over the management of fish farms.