Disputing DFO’s finding that Salmon farms pose little risk

National Observer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Opponents of open-net salmon farms are disputing this week’s finding by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that farms in Discovery Island waters pose little risk to wild salmon.

Environmentalist groups and conservationists claim DFO ignored crucial independent science to downplay the risks to imperiled Fraser River sockeye salmon in favour of the aquaculture industry.

The DFO studied nine different farm fish diseases and concluded they pose minimal risk to wild sockeye. However, the federal agency failed to consider scientific findings about the harm arising from sea lice, which can concentrate in farms and potentially endanger the survival juvenile salmon transiting the region, said Stan Proboszcz, science advisor with Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

DFO boldly misled Canadians when finding Discovery Island salmon farms – situated along a critical migration route for juvenile salmon – don’t threaten wild fish, said Proboszcz, a past DFO risk assessment steering committee member. “Their pro-salmon farming bias and disregard for B.C.’s wild salmon could not be more clear.”


Stan Proboszcz, science advisor with Watershed Watch Salmon Society, says DFO’s risk assessments around fish farm harms are misleading. Photo supplied by Stan Proboszcz.

“It’s a joke,” said Proboszcz, adding DFO also failed to do a synthesis assessment that would evaluate the combined risk all the pathogens and sea lice pose for wild fish.

DFO insists steps have already been taken to control sea lice problems. There’s already an extensive range of research available on sea lice which DFO relied on in February to update a sea lice management regime, said Andrew Thomson, DFO’s Pacific regional director of fisheries management.

There are measures fish farms can take to control sea lice problems, and once they are in place, the farms meet the minimum risk threshold, Thomson said.

This claim is misleading, said Proboszcz, adding DFO does require farms to manage one species of sea lice, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, which tends to infect wild pink and chum salmon.

However, DFO doesn’t require them to mitigate, Caligus clemensi, a species that unduly affect sockeye salmon.

“Their pro-salmon farming bias and disregard for B.C.’s wild salmon could not be more clear,” said Stan Proboszcz, science advisor with @WatershedWatch_, of DFO’s decision that Discovery Island fish farms pose little risk to sockeye. #wildsalmon

Sea lice on a juvenile salmon. Photo: Tavish Campbell.

As a result of DFO’s findings, Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan decided Monday the 18 fish farms, which raise Atlantic salmon, will remain open pending discussion with area First Nations.

The farms were in danger of being shut Sept. 30, a deadline set by the Cohen Commission report investigating the precipitous decline of Fraser River sockeye.

The 2012 report identified a number of factors threatening sockeye including climate change, over-fishing, and loss of habitat.

But it also focused on the potential danger fish farms might pose to migrating smelts and recommended the fisheries minister should remove open-net pen farms in the Discovery Islands unless DFO could prove they posed minimal risk to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye.

Jordan’s decision takes place as Fraser River sockeye salmon returns – which used to number in the millions – are predicted to be 293,000 fish, the lowest number since records began in 1983.