sea lice count

Asking the feds to not renew BC fish farm licenses

Twenty businesses and organizations are recommending that the federal government not renew BC fish farm licenses, when they come up for renewal next year. 

Fish farm licenses are about to expire

BC is the only West Coast jurisdiction that allows fish farms. There are no open net fish farms in Oregon. They have been banned in California, Alaska and Washington state.  

A total of 109 federal salmon farm licenses, held by MOWI Canada West, Cermaq Canada, Creative Salmon and Grieg Seafood, will expire between June and September 2022. 

On June 23rd,  independent biologist Alexandra Morton told Cortes Currents, “Myself, Watershed Watch and Clayoquot Action put out a news release to inform British Columbians that all of the salmon farm federal licenses are about to expire. Most of them are expiring next June and others later that summer. We want to let people know that the same process that happened in the Discovery Islands is going to be replaying in all the First Nations territories where this industry is sited.” 

Pathogen detection 

The BC Salmon Farmers Association’s response was to point to their recent press release about the study “Aquaculture mediates global transmission of a viral pathogen to wild salmon.”    

Lead author, Gideon Mordecai, told Cortes Current, “Our findings show that salmon farms are, indeed, a source of infection for wild fish. Viruses leave a genetic fingerprint. The genetic fingerprint shows that the same viruses that are on the farms are in the wild fish. All the evidence suggests that the virus is being transmitted from the farm to wild fish. I haven’t seen any evidence that says that’s not happening,” 

In their response, BC Salmon Farmers wrote “Pathogen detection does not equate to disease … Given that there have been no major die-offs, or significantly high numbers of uncontrollable fish health events on farms, it does not stand to reason that BC farmed salmon are spreading highly infectious and harmful diseases to wild populations.”

In the second half of their press release, BC Salmon Farmers state “The Science Advances study is the latest in a series of publications that base conclusions on speculation.” 

Alexandra Morton

After that, their focus shifts to what they describe as “a research group with clear connections to anti-salmon farming activists”

The most visible member of this research group is independent biologist Alexandra Morton. 

She was a lead author of a 2017 paper that stated “wild stocks exposed to marine aquaculture sites have much higher rates of PRV infection.”  

This appears to have just been confirmed by Mordecai et al. 

Morton was also the lead author of a 2011 report stating there is a contagious marine influenza virus, Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), on B.C.’s central coast.

The National Reference Laboratory subsequently stated it found “no presence of ISA in the samples provided.” 

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans issued a scathing press release, in which he said, “It has been a difficult few weeks for the fishing industry in British Columbia, and across the country, while waiting for these preliminary test results to come back. Because some have chosen to draw conclusions based on unconfirmed information, this has resulted in British Columbia’s fishing industry and Canada’s reputation being put at risk needlessly.”

In 2010, Morton was the lead author of a paper that warned about sea lice spreading from salmon farms to wild salmon.

Since then, there have been numerous papers about the problems fish farms are having with sea lice. 

A really aggressive Industry

“First Nations are on the front lines of this battle, but I think there is also a place for Canadians to support First Nations in these decisions. These are really aggressive companies. We are seeing that play out in the Discovery Islands, where pressure is being put on the We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum, Homalco and Kwiakwah,” said Morton   

“The other reason we put this release out is the salmon farming industry is repeatedly taking Canada to court, saying they didn’t know their license might not be renewed. They didn’t know they were basically losing social license. And there was a problem with these farms; they are high risk to salmon. Many Canadians do not want to see this kind of impact anymore. So by putting this notice out a year in advance of when all of these licenses are due to expire, we are putting the industry on notice.”

Morton is impressed by the way Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan is standing up to the pressure brought against her by industry. Every time she denies the salmon farming industry a transfer license, they sue her. 

“She has to stand up in court, recreate the decision and go through the whole thing again, and again and again, so I think it is very important for British Columbians to let her know how they feel about this,” said Morton.

Recent studies

There have been a number of studies about sea lice, viruses and pathogens around fish farms in the past few years.

“The science is guiding the outcry. It’s not just a bunch of people saying we don’t like salmon farms because we don’t think they’re good. we have done the research and people have read the papers,” said Morton. 

“The salmon farming industry refuses to accept any of this research, They refuse to accept that they have a problem. They do not know how to control their sea lice or the escape of their viruses out of the farms. Instead of addressing the issue, being responsible and saying ‘We understand your concern and this is what we are going to do about it,’ they just slander the scientists who are doing the research.”

The Strategic Salmon Health Initiative

Many of the scientific papers mentioning concerns about fish farms were done through the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative which was established eight years ago through a funding partnership between Genome BC , Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF). 

The BC Salmon Farmers Association pointed out that so far, the SSHI has spent  more than $10 million, at  least 64% from tax dollars (through DFO). 

So far, “Their publications have largely focused on viral discovery; they have failed to publish any scientific studies that investigate whether the viruses they discovered are actually threatening wild or farmed stocks.” 

Scientists from the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative say this is the next step of their research.

No Willingness to adapt

Morton says, “I’m reading the affidavits that these companies are putting forward to the court. I’m just shocked and horrified at the sheer bullying of DFO employees and also the scientists doing the research, that is going on. This industry has shown no willingness to adapt, to upgrade itself. They seem to be on an extinction trajectory themselves.”  

(Editor’s note: Cermaq Canada seemed to be both willing to listen to criticisms and adapt when Cortes Currents interviewed them in July 2020.)

Links of Interest:

Top photo credit: Taking a sea lice count near the Live fish carrier Aqua Tromøy – courtesy Alexandra Moton’s Facebook page

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