Wild salmon documented inside fish farm

How wild salmon are supposed to look. But you won’t see this at British Columbian fish farms. Photo by Barbara Jackson, Pixabay.

They said it couldn’t happen. They said wild salmon would never breach penned-up fish farms. They were wrong. And that’s a big problem.


On June 11, 2019, members from the ƛaʔuukʷiʔatḥ / Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, including Tribal Parks Guardians and members of the Clayoquot Sound Indigenous Salmon Alliance, boarded and inspected open net pen salmon farms in their territories for the first time. Video footage found never before recorded juvenile wild salmon inside the open net pens. Supported by Sea Shepherd vessel Martin Sheen, Tla-o-qui-aht members deployed underwater cameras to document the state of the farmed salmon inside the pens.  Along with jaundiced, emaciated and deformed farmed fish, wild herring and other wild fish species were also recorded.


The fish pens – located near Warne Island within Clayoquot Sound, a UNESCO listed World Biosphere Reserve – belong to Creative Salmon, a company that produces farmed Chinook salmon. Dr. Kristi Miller, who had previously studied these same farms, confirmed the presence of Piscine Orthoreovirus, a virus from Norway that appears to cause the jaundice in Chinook salmon, which leads to organ failure and death.


So not only have wild fish made it inside these supposedly secure pens, allowing for the possibility of inter-breeding and thus diluting the wild salmon gene pool, the PRV virus is being released into wild salmon habitat and, says Independent biologist Alexandra Morton, who was on board the Martin Sheen, “this is going to be part of the reason wild Chinook salmon in the region have mysteriously collapsed.”


Fish farmed herring with open sores, photo from Carolina A. Castro (Sea Shepherd)

Additional health threats to wild salmon were also apparent. Underwater cameras filmed sea lice on the farm fish, something the industry denied was occurring.  Sea lice were found breeding unnaturally on farm fish, infecting juvenile wild salmon, and causing death.  Alarmingly high levels of sea-lice have been observed during the past few months on young wild salmon near fish farms across both coasts of Vancouver Island.  Internal government emails reveal the sea-lice situation is out of control.


So what options are there to successfully address this pending calamity? Unfortunately not healthy ones. In a last-ditch effort, Cermaq, a nearby fish farm operator owned by Mitsubishi, has lodged a request to Health Canada for permission to use Lufenuron, a flea treatment for pets, in hopes of containing the outbreak.  While the drug inhibits the formation of exoskeletons in insects, its effects on shell fish, humans and the wider ecosystem are unknown. The chemical is so toxic that fish treated with this chemical cannot be eaten for 350 days. And not mentioned but very concerning is what effect this toxic chemical will have on the surrounding waters and its marine life.


Joe Martin, a Tla-o-qui-aht Master Carver and Tribal Parks Guardian stated: “This place right here right where we are sitting, all the way up the inlet used to have sockeye jumping everywhere all along the water here. Because these farms have been here for about 30 years, we don’t see fish jumping here anymore, and I am here on this farm because of that.”


Sea-lice visible on herring, Photo from Carolina A. Castro, Sea Shepherd

Boardings are part of an ongoing movement that’s been gathering momentum on the British.Columbia, Canadian coast since First Nations, in another region of B.C., occupied Marine Harvest salmon farms for 280 days in 2017/18.  Last week’s rally in Tofino dubbed “Salmon: Talking Circle and March for Action!” organized by Tla-o-qui-aht member Tsimka Martin, owner/operator of Tofino based T’ashii Paddle School, saw several hundred people take over the streets of Tofino in opposition to 30 years of devastation to the environment, since the installation of floating farm pens by salmon aquaculture corporations.


The Sea Shepherd research vessel Martin Sheen is anchored in Tofino Harbour, conducting its fourth summer season of Operation Virus Hunter, as a platform to conduct research on the effects of salmon farms and in support of First Nations and their efforts to protect indigenous salmon. Locky Maclean, Director of Marine Operations at Sea Shepherd stated: “Wild salmon and forage fish should be protected from the harmful effects caused by the disease, sea lice and chemicals leaching from these farms” adding “This area has been designated by UNESCO as having universal significance. The Canadian Government has a responsibility to ensure the water flowing through this Sound is clean and healthy, from the open ocean to the inlets and all the way up the rivers. The only long-term solution,” said Maclean, “is for fish farms to be removed from the environment they are polluting”.


Opposition to salmon farming has become global in recent years as people fight to protect the last wild salmon runs from extinction.



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