Hard Evidence From The Inside

By Roy L Hales


Wildlife biologist Alexandra Morton has been wanting to get a close look at the salmon inside a fish farm for years. She got her opportunity on August 23, when the  Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw nation boarded Marine Harvest’s Midsummer fish farm in Kingcome Inlet, BC. The video below shows what Morton found after lowered a Go Pro camera into the pens for ten minutes.  She calls this hard evidence from the inside.

Hard Evidence From The Inside

“I was stunned. I saw a fish go by with a big tumour on its’ head. This is one fish out of 800,000 in this pen. How many of the others have this? … Are they going to sell that fish for people to eat, or is that dogfood? I would worry about that,” she said.

The DFO Responds

A Department of Fisheries and Ocean (DFO) spokesperson emailed:

“DFO is aware of the video taken by Alexandra Morton at a Marine Harvest salmon aquaculture site in British Columbia.

“DFO recognizes the rights of individuals to protest peacefully and lawfully. Individuals should be mindful of not trespassing on private property and respect the need for biosecurity protocols at aquaculture facilities. Biosecurity protocols include proper cleaning of vessels and equipment between visits to different aquaculture sites. Failure to follow these protocols can result in the transfer of disease and parasites.”(1)

She directed me to a report on how the province’s finfish aquaculture is monitored.

Regarding the sea lice found in fish pens, for example, “Between 2011 and 2014, during the wild salmon outmigration period from March 1 to June 30, an average of 96% of sites were below the sea lice thresholds of three lice per fish.”(2.) 

While the bulk of this data came from the industry (chart above),  DFO conducts periodic inspections and audits.

The spokesperson emailed, “DFO carried out 224 compliance inspections, 423 fish health inspections, and 83 benthic (seabed) audits. This equates to visiting each site nearly six times within this four year period.”

The Sickly Fish In Morton’s Video

The spokesperson did not comment on the sickly appearance of the salmon in the video.

Morton said, “I was surprised about the number of fish that were behaving sickly. So sluggish they were lying against the camera; lying against the side of the net. One of the viruses I’m studying, piscine reoviruse, is associated with a disease that causes heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI). It damages the salmon’s heart so that they become so weak they can barely move. In the scientific literature it says the fish line up on the net with their faces towards the net. That’s what they were doing in every single pen.”

Poor Performers?

Jeremy Dunn, Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association, described the sickly fish in Morton’s video as poor performers.

“In any genetic population, there are animals that are poor performers that won’t have the same growth patterns as the rest of the population. They won’t make it to market. I can tell you that, on average, over 90% of the salmon that are entered in the farms make it through to market,” he said.(3.) 

In a press release last May, his organization stated there are no confirmed cases of HSMI in wild or farm-raised Pacific salmon:

“The single farm identified in 2013 as having fish with a potential diagnosis of Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation had an overall healthy population of salmon, which showed normal behavior and growth rates, which are not consistent with HSMI. In addition, government fish health experts identified liver and gill lesions in the same fish that are not typical of HSMI.”

“There were fish that were so emaciated they no longer look like salmon. Big heads; tiny skinny bodies. Again, this comes of heart and skeletal muscle inflammation, a very contagious disease,” says Morton.

“Here’s a fish, floating up side down, dying. You never see this in the wild. This would immediately be eaten by a predator. Whatever he’s dying of, those viruses and bacteria are pouring out of that fish through the nest and into the ocean.”

The Ministry spokesperson wrote that the government’s 2016 budget “provided new funding to DFO to increase ocean and freshwater science including research that will support sustainable aquaculture. This supports more research on the effects of aquaculture on ecosystems and wild species, increased coastal monitoring, the development of mitigation techniques and increasing diagnostic testing for pathogens and diseases in farmed and wild fish.”

Top Photo Credit: Screenshot from Alexandra Morton’s YouTube video “Hard Evidence