Concerns about farmed atlantic salmon have been in the news for at least the last decade. The aquaculture industry operates in a number of countries including Norway, Scotland, Iceland and Canada. The fish farms are “open-net” farms. This means that they are placed in the ocean allowing parasites, pesticides to kill the parasites, various viruses, fish food and fish waste to pass through the nets into the surrounding ocean, affecting wild salmon and other fish. Ecosystems around the farms are also affected, some photographers and researchers describing them as dead zones. The industry claims that costs to move salmon to land-based farms are prohibitive.
On the west coast of Canada, in the province of British Columbia, predominantly Norwegian fish farms have been established in First Nations territories with or without the permission of the First Nations. British Columbia has now legislated that such farms must have First Nations approval effective 2022. BC is the only location on the west coast allowing salmon farming. Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California have banned it. On the east coast of Canada, some of the same corporations operate fish farms in the Atlantic provinces.
Wild salmon are key to Pacific Northwest ecology. They hatch in inland water, travel the rivers to the sea, and in the autumn spawning season, return to their spawning grounds, spawn and die. Their journey and their carcasses provide a feast for bears, eagles and other wildlife who turn them into fertilizer for our great forests. But the number of salmon returning to spawn has progressively dropped. There is evidence that the viruses of farmed salmon are infecting wild salmon.
This reduction in wild salmon numbers has negatively affected other animals in the food chain. The southern resident killer whales, occupying the waters between BC and Washington state feed on specific varieties of wild salmon. With only slightly over 70 of them counted, fear of their extinction made international headlines, illustrated by the whale mother, Tahlequah, carrying her dead calf.
More recently, reports of emaciated bears are especially concerning, as this is the time of year they should be accumulating fat to see them through hibernation.
Independent biologist, Alexandra Morton, has documented fish farm viruses in wild salmon for the last few years. First she was concerned about the ISAV virus, the subject of the documentary “Salmon Confidential”.
More recently she was documenting piscine orthoreovirus (PRV). The Hakai Institute has also recently discovered three new fish viruses. The government of Canada is supposed to regulate fish farms through the Fisheries & Oceans Canada, also called Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO). Morton has won lawsuits against DFO and in each case, DFO has refused to comply.
In 2013-15 the Court struck down fish farm licence conditions allowing fish farms to put infected fish into open-net pens in the ocean. DFO and Marine Harvest appealed and later dropped the appeal but refused to follow the court ruling. https://alexandramorton.typepad.com/alexandra_morton/2018/12/federal-government-invested-in-marine-harvest-protects-companys-right-to-farm-fish-infected-with-virus-killing-chinook.html
In 2019, DFO spent $2.26 million fighting Morton and the Namgis First Nation in court over the DFO policy allowing fish transfer into open-net farms without screening for the PRV virus. DFO defied the court ruling against said policy and advised Morton the policy would be continued with no change. https://www.thestar.com/vancouver/2019/10/07/biologist-and-first-nation-devastated-dfo-will-allow-bc-strain-of-virus-in-fish-farms.html
At this time (November 28, 2019) both Canadian coasts are experiencing fish farm catastrophes. In Newfoundland Labrador, Northern Harvest Sea Farms reports a die-off of 2.6 million fish (that’s 5000 tons). The company denies the die-off was caused by infectious salmon anemia, discovered earlier and instead cites a “temperature event”.
On the British Columbia coast fish farms operated by Cermaq reported a massive die-off due to algae bloom but environmentalists point to a large amount of effluent in the water.
Canada had a federal election at the end of October. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party was reelected albeit as a minority government. Trudeau favours corporations as shown when he tried to exempt an engineering firm (SNC-Lavalin) from federal charges. His attorney-general refused to comply, was reassigned, then resigned and he kicked her out of caucus. In solidarity, another minister resigned and was also removed from caucus. The new minister Trudeau has chosen to lead DFO was asked by an interviewer about the latter minister. She responded, “I totally support the Prime Minister….” https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1452292675602
This leads many of us to believe Bernadette Jordan will not be any more functional than Trudeau’s previous two DFO ministers, Dominic LeBlanc (cited in a conflict-of-interest case) and Jonathan Wilkinson, whose ability to sidestep and prevaricate has apparently been noted leading to his new assignment to Environment and Climate Change Canada.
One of Trudeau’s election promises was that he would phase out open-net fish farms. Not everyone believes him because he has broken promises before. Turns out — according to Alexandra Morton — that Canada Pension Plan (CPP) that working Canadians pay into, (similar to US Social Security) is one of the largest global investors in the Marine Harvest fish farms.
Watershed Watch Salmon Society has posted on Facebook: “The federal government has “quietly” announced they are taking public comments on a new aquaculture law. We bet you didn’t know. We have one month to stand up for wild salmon! Take action and let them know you want fish farms to get out of our waters ASAP!” There is a comment form here.
Regardless of where you live, if you care about clean food, whales, bears, wild salmon, marine life, the purity of your fish oil supplements and/or the west coast of North America, please tell Trudeau, DFO and Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Canada to clean up their aquaculture act. If you don’t want to use the above form, use these:
Prime Minister firstname.lastname@example.org
Minister of Environment & Climate Change Jonathan.Wilkinson@parl.gc.ca
Minister of Fisheries & Oceans Bernadette.Jordan@parl.gc.ca