Category Archives: Oceans

Heiltsuk Nation occupies DFO office in face of expected herring fishery

Heiltsuk Nation occupies DFO office in face of expected herring fishery

Heiltsuk Nation occupies DFO office in face of expected herring fishery
Heiltsuk Nation members confront DFO officers at Denny Island coast guard station (Pacific Wild)


Updated 7 PM

Tensions continue to escalate on the waters of the Great Bear Rainforest over a highly controversial herring fishery, as members of the Heiltsuk Nation are now occupying the local DFO office in opposition to a planned gillnet opening.

A group of Heiltsuk youth, elders and chiefs paddled and boated this afternoon from Bella Bella to the coast guard station on nearby Denny Island  – headquarters of DFO’s central coast operations – to deliver an eviction notice reminding local representatives that Area 7 is a no-go zone for a commercial herring fishery this year.

The delegation stripped DFO of a ceremonial paddle which had been given to local officers before in good faith. “You cannot have that,” youth leader Saul Brown told DFO representatives, “because you’re not here in a good way anymore.”

“You’re not conducting yourselves in a way that is sustainable for our future generations, so this is our children and youth saying, ‘We’re going to take that paddle back.'”

Following  the demonstration, a conference call between Tribal Council leaders and DFO Regional Director General Sue Farlinger failed to yield a diplomatic solution to the ongoing conflict.

As of 6 PM, Heiltsuk Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett and Kelly Brown, Director of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Dept. had joined the occupation of DFO’s offices, where they plan to stay through the night.

DFO inciting physical confrontation: Brown

“DFO has forced us into a collision course with industry,” Chair of the Heiltsuk Economic Development Corporation Frank Brown explained over the phone from the occupied DFO office. 

[quote]If they allow gillnets into Area 7, they’re basically condoning a physical confrontation.[/quote]

Heiltsuk youth leader Saul Brown takes back a ceremonial paddle from DFO officers (Colin Jones/facebook)

Today’s conflict follows a week of high tensions between the First Nation and DFO over the controversial herring fishery. Last Sunday, DFO angered the Heiltsuk by opening a seine fishery amid depleted herring stocks in Area 7 without informing them.

A Thursday press release from the nation vowed to stop a gillnet fishery “by any means necessary” after DFO refused to close the door to a subsequent gillnet fishery during talks with Heiltsuk leaders in Vancouver Wednesday.

The Heiltsuk have declared Area 7 a no-go zone to a commercial herring fishery due to concerns over the health of local stocks and allegations of flawed science by veteran scientists – including retired DFO herring specialist Dr. Ron Tanasichuk, who notes:

[quote]The forecasting methodology that DFO uses now for central coast herring is actually quite flawed…DFO’s forecasts are likely twice as much as they should be.[/quote]

With DFO digging in its heels, a gillnet opening could come within the next day,  in which ase, “We will escalate from occupying the station to being out on the herring grounds,” said Frank Brown.

“We’ve done everything we can. We have to hold strong.”

Update: As of 6:30 PM, DFO is stating that a gillnet opening would likely take place to the north in Kitasu Bay, the territory of the Kitasoo/Xaixais Nation – who have also closed their territory and Area 6 to the fishery and stand in solidarity with their Heiltsuk neighbours.

First Nation taking herring concerns to Jimmy Pattison's Canfisco today

First Nation taking herring concerns to Jimmy Pattison’s Canfisco

First Nation taking herring concerns to Jimmy Pattison's Canfisco today
Commercial seine boat in Spiller Channel (Pacific Wild)

Bella Bella, BC

A delegation of Heiltsuk First Nations and their supporters will be taking the central coast community’s concerns over a recent herring fishery in their territory to to the Jimmy Pattison-owned Canfisco processing plant in Vancouver this afternoon.

Pattison is the largest owner of commercial herring licences and boats in BC, many of which took part in a highly controversial herring seine opening on Sunday and Monday in Spiller Channel, near Bella Bella. Heiltsuk members were caught by off guard when DFO opened the commercial seine fishery Sunday night without advising them first. The community had declared its territory closed to the commercial herring kill fishery this year due to concerns of the health of the stock.

Retired DFO herring specialist Dr. Ron Tanasichuk concurs with the Heiltsuk’s concerns, noting:

[quote]The forecasting methodology that DFO uses now for central coast herring is actually quite flawed…DFO’s forecasts are likely twice as much as they should be.[/quote]

On that basis, Tanasichuk agrees there should have been no commercial fishery this year. “The stocks are in recovery,” said Heiltsuk legal services coordinator Carrie Humchitt during the opening in Spiller Channel, “but they haven’t reached a level of recovery that can allow this kind of fishing to occur.”

“Our community was misled,” noted Chief Counsellor Marilyn Slett on the manner in which DFO openend the fishery. “We weren’t treated in good faith by DFO.”

Now, as seiners begin delivering their cargo to Canfisco’s Vancouver dock, Heiltsuk members living in Vancouver will make their concerns known to the fishing giant. They are calling on supporters to join them at 3 pm today at Canfisco, on Vancouver’s downtown waterfront.

A parallel rally will be held in Bella Bella this afternoon as well.

DFO uses stealth to open herring fishery despite First Nations ban

DFO uses stealth to open herring fishery despite First Nations ban

DFO uses stealth to open herring fishery despite First Nations ban
Heiltsuk Hereditary Chief Harvey Humchitt in 2012 (Damien Gillis)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans angered members of the Heiltsuk First Nation on BC’s central coast by opening a commercial herring fishery last night – despite the community’s insistence that there should be no fishery this year, based on unhealthy stocks.

“This action shows blatant disrespect of aboriginal rights by DFO and industry,” said Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett.

[quote]DFO provided inconsistent and misleading communications throughout the day and did not attempt meaningful consultation.[/quote]

The nation is also suggesting that DFO employed deceptive tactics to launch the fishery, waiting until commercial seine boats had their nets in the water before officially alerting the Heiltsuk by email that this year’s fishery – in the highly contested Area 7 – was going ahead.

Stocks not ready for commercial fishery

The Heiltsuk contend that low herring stocks do not justify a commerical fishery. “We must put conservation first. We have voluntarily suspended our community-owned commercial gillnet herring licenses for this season to allow stocks to rebuild, but DFO and industry are unwilling to follow suit,” said Kelly Brown, Director of the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department. Hereditary Chief Harvey Humchitt believes more time is needed for herring to rebound from a recent crash before reopening a commercial fishery. “We experienced the collapse of the herring twice over the past fifty years. These collapses are attributed to Western science,” noted Humchitt. “The herring are now beginning to recover.”

Their concerns are echoed by retired DFO herring specialist Ron Tanasichuk, who concurs that DFO is using flawed modelling to estimate the health of herring stocks. “With their current methods, DFO is essentially inflating estimates of herring on the Central Coast by double,” says Tanasichuk.

Constitutional issue

The nation’s right to a unique spawn on kelp (SOK) fishery – which doesn’t involve catching herring, but rather collecting roe lain on kelp – was cemented in the Gladstone Supreme Court decision.

“The Heiltsuk Nation views this opening as an unjustifiable infringement upon our right to our SOK fishery, a right which was won in the Supreme Court of Canada case R. v. Gladstone,” stated William Gladstone, chief negotiator of the Gladstone Reconciliation.

[quote]We cannot risk another collapse. Our future generations depend upon this resource for food, social and ceremonial purposes, as well as employment and spiritual and cultural wellness.[/quote]

The United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union is backing the Heiltsuk position, advising gillnet fishers not to fish the Central Coast.

RCMP boats have been stationed in the area since last week, in anticipation of tensions over the DFO opening. “Heiltsuk boats are on the water to protest as the Nation works toward achieving a peaceful resolution to the situation,” said a press release from the nation early this morning. “We may have lost this battle, but the war is far from over,” said Gladstone.

Proposed new BC salmon farms net strong public opposition

Proposed new BC salmon farms net strong public opposition

Proposed new BC salmon farms net strong public opposition
Public meeting in Port McNeill, BC re: Greig’s proposed salmon farms (Twyla Roscovich)

On February 10, 2015, Grieg Seafood held an open house in Port McNeill on two new salmon farm applications it is proposing – a requirement of the application process to the Province of BC.

It was a small room in a Port McNeill hotel. Huge pictures of salmon farms formed a center column blocking a clear view across the room. It was designed so people would shuffle around the edges of the room in small groups to be met by industry reps with name tags that provided only first names. One representative from DFO and one from the Province of BC were present.

The event had been scheduled during a “dangerous cargo” ferry run, making it inconvenient for working people from the nearby island community of Sointula to attend. So they pooled resources and paid fuel for the 48-passenger vessel Naiad to pick them up. One hundred and twenty people showed up to this open house, about 15% of the entire community of Sointula, as well as people from Alert Bay, Port Hardy and Port McNeill. Local people concerned about impact on their livelihoods.

Bait and switch

If approved, these two salmon farm applications in Clio Channel in the Broughton Archipelago will threaten the BC coast with several dangerous precedents. First, the sites are less than the 3 km apart, the minimum distance set by the Province of BC. Second, these locations are currently approved for shellfish aquaculture. If shellfish sites can be easily upgraded into fin fish aquaculture and farms placed closer together – the floodgates open.

This is how the salmon farming industry runs into the same brick wall over and over again. Increasing the number of farmed salmon in a region breeds catastrophic viral and sea louse epidemics that eat into corporate profits, driving the industry to expand again and causing the same problems all over. No learning curve here! The stakes are high.

Public gets fired up

As the room became unbearably hot, people became angry at the lack of any opportunity to raise their concerns. Then local resident and filmmaker Twyla Roscovich picked up a cowbell, got people’s attention, and asked how many people did not want more salmon farms. While a Grieg employee tried to dissuade Ms. Roscovich, the room broke out into an uproar as a sea of hands shot up and a loud chorus cried out, “No more fish farms!”

Shrimp fishermen who where going to lose their most productive shrimping grounds, local fishing lodges, whale watching companies, local First Nations and also a First Nations woman, Tamara Campbell from Boston Bar up the Fraser River – all who need wild salmon – stepped up together, many standing on chairs to be heard above the chatter. They wanted to know why they should accept this threat to their livelihoods and wild salmon for nothing in return. Campbell made the point that while coastal nations might decide to partner with the industry, Fraser Nations are ignored. Their salmon are running through the effluent of the over 100 salmon farms on the BC coast. They need wild salmon for their health and need to be consulted.

Local decisions have big ripple effect

The Tlowitsis Nation of Campbell River, represented by hereditary chief John Smith, has agreed to allow these two new farms. But the impact of salmon farms is cumulative and far-reaching, beyond local areas. A salmon farm produces the same amount of fecal matter as a city of 200,000 people* and during a peak disease event can produce 65 billion infectious viral particles per hour.^ A particle can travel 10km in 6 hours on the turbulent coast of BC. This means wild salmon migrating between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland are swimming through a soup of industrial fecal and infectious farm waste.

Cohen’s recommendations ignored

The atmosphere was highly charged, voices trembled with emotion and inexperience with public speaking. Some industry reps insisted on speaking loudly, drowning out the local people trying to be heard. It was childish and rude and surprised many who thought this meeting was provided to hear their concerns. When asked, the rep from DFO could not name what criteria he uses to determine if an area is too sensitive to allow a salmon farm. It was surprising, this was a concern that was thoroughly investigated by Justice Cohen three years ago.

Norwegian corporations control BC waters

Map of BC salmon farms and migratory routes
Map of BC salmon farms and wild salmon migratory routes

There are already 27 salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago near Sointula and Port McNeill. They are all run by companies with head offices in Norway. Most are in the territory of First Nations that have asked them to vacate, but the farmers refuse.   Not one person outside the industry stuck up for the industry at this meeting. There was no sense that salmon farms had done the local communities any good. While the head offices are in Norway and Campbell River, it is Port McNeill, Alert Bay and Sointula that end up with the poop end of the deal!

The Province of BC is the landlord of the salmon farming industry. The Ministry of Forestry, Lands and Natural Resources grants the licences of occupation for each salmon farm. These licences can be rescinded, with no compensation owed to the companies, if they are not in the public interest.

A federal licence is also required for each farm, but while these licences costs $800,000 back home in Norway, the Harper government is handing them out to the industry for free! There has to be some interesting background there. Why would government override its citizens to allow a high-risk foreign industry to operate for free?

Far more jobs, economic benefit from tourism

As people rode the ferry home to Sointula they wondered out loud how the premier could think it was good for them to lose yet another high-production fishing ground to this industry.  Why couldn’t BC see the value of their $1.6 billion eco-tourism industry – several times as big as fish farming – fishing revenue and thriving communities?

To have enormous foreign-owned feedlots that siphon off profits to shareholders and offer only a few low-paying local jobs – while they threaten much higher paying revenue from fishing and tourism – is simply not very bright.

In this era of terrifying global fisheries collapse, threatening the death of our oceans, why would the BC government fling its arms open to embrace an industry with a trail of disease epidemics and the collapse of wild salmon worldwide? Why don’t our tax-supported governments work to protect the resilience and value of local economies where profits flow back into the community?

Changing our laws to suit fish farmers

Expansion is not the only item on this industry’s wish list. They lobbying to change the laws of Canada:

  1. A stand alone Aquaculture Act, is under review by the Canadian Senate to allow these companies ownership of salmon in the ocean
  2. Removal of Section 36 of the Fisheries Act is going ahead to permit unfettered use of chemicals that kill fish in their losing drug war with sea lice
  3. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is seeking authority to kill wild fish to protect farmed salmon from pathogens (Proposed Aquaculture Regulations).

Here’s a better idea – with zero losers:

Government could support innovative aquaculture development that grows its own food and reuses its waste. This would provide jobs and actually contribute to feeding the world. At the same time, government could use the cutting edge genomic profiling science, which is under development in BC, that reads the immune system of salmon, giving managers the information they need to remove the most critical impacts on wild salmon and release populations to achieve greater production.

We could have both aquaculture and wild salmon. So you must ask, why would our governments be so hellbent on a dirty, despised and out-dated industry like Atlantic salmon farming?

Watch Twyla Roscovich video of Port McNeill meeting


^ Dr. Kyle Garver, DFO virologist Cohen Commission testimony

Norway's fjords flooded with escaped, diseased farmed fish

Norway’s fjords flooded with escaped, diseased farmed fish

Norway's fjords flooded with escaped, diseased farmed fish
An escaped steelhead caught near Bergen, Norway, showing serious symptoms of disease

On January 10, 2015 a hurricane of wind and snow hit the coast of Norway. They called it extreme weather Nina. When the winds finally calmed, the first sport fishermen to venture out on the fjords near Bergen got a big surprise. Shoals of farmed fish were visible from the surface. NRK, the national news, reported the fjords of Western Norway were boiling with farmed rainbow trout on the run.

“Blacklisted” trout threaten Norwegian wild salmon

Rainbow trout, called steelhead when they live in saltwater, are a “blacklisted” species in Norway because they are not native. Rainbow trout have been shipped all over the world from North America, destined to become farm fish.

BC’s wild steelhead are one of the most beloved salmon in British Columbia. People spend thousands of dollars to come here for the chance to fish steelhead, but the misshapen, blotchy-coloured, obese creatures swimming towards wild salmon rivers in Norway were not at all welcomed by fishermen.

At first, the papers reported that just one farm had spilled its captives into the fjords. Then it was farmed Atlantic salmon and steelhead from four farms. Initial estimates of tens of thousands of escapees escalated to a potential 1.5 million and Norway had just announced a zero-escape farm salmon policy.

Fishermen respond as salmon farmers do nothing

Norwegian sport fishermen responded immediately with nets and fishing rods to try to get rid of the invaders. They could see many were ready to spawn and were determined to remove them before they could dig into the river gravel where precious wild Atlantic salmon eggs were incubating. As they caught hundreds per day, they were angry that the salmon farmers did not show up to help. Fisherman Regine Emilie Mathiesen told the media:

[quote]This is such a big environmental threat, that we do not dare to leave. [/quote]

Local volunteers work to clean up escaped steelhead (Photo: Magne Turøy/Bergen Savisen)
Local volunteers work to clean up escaped steelhead (Photo: Magne Turøy/Bergen Savisen)

Facebook lit up with horrific images of the “flabby,” swollen farmed steelhead, little swimming nightmares with open sores, missing tails and internal organs hemorraging blood. The fishermen caught thousands, but not a single wild fish. They worried all the farm fish blundering around had caused the wild fish to flee.

While the Directorate of Fisheries suggested the escaped fish would stay near the farms, they did not. Fishermen found the steelhead spreading into the surrounding network of fjords and channels. The fish farming companies offered a reward – $8/fish.

Escaped fish were “very sick” with disease: Biologist

And then an extraordinary thing happened. The Askøy Hunter & Fisherman’s Association decided to find out for themselves why these escaped steelhead looked so sick. They sent seven to Dr. Are Nylund of the University of Bergen. Nylund is a leading salmon disease scientist. It was Nylund and his team who tracked the ISA virus from Norway into Chile where it eventually caused $2 billion in damages.

This research brought swift attack on his lab and credibility. However he emerged uncowed and took the fish from the fishermen and tested them.

“All of the fish that I have analyzed were very sick,” reported Nylund to the Norwegian newspaper BA Bergensavisen.

One of the steelhead tested positive for pancreas disease (PD), a highly contagious viral disease, causing epidemic losses to the salmon farming industry. Chile petitioned the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to make this virus reportable so they could refuse Atlantic salmon eggs from infected sources to try to protect their country. The virus is reportable in Norway, but no one seemed aware these steelhead might be infected.

Norwegian govt misses the point

While the Norwegian government was slow to respond to the massive escape they were very quick to respond to this testing, asking people use “official” labs, not independent labs. “It takes an expert to confirm and make such a diagnosis,” as if Nylund was not. A government spokesperson pointed out that just because evidence of PD was found it did not mean the fish was sick. She failed to capture the concern. No one cared if the farm fish was sick – what they cared about was whether it could infect the fragile wild salmon populations. There are only about 500,000 wild Atlantic salmon left in Norway, less than ½ the fish found in a single farm.

Industry denies infection

The controversy rages on. The owner of the escaped steelhead denied they were infected. The Norwegian Seafood Federation said the gruesome-looking fish were not intended for human consumption. However, others suggested the fish had been medicated in December to delouse them, which suggests they were not scheduled to be destroyed. Fisheries suggested they should not be eaten, because they could still contain the drug.

Accusations flew back and forth as to who was responsible for the chains that should have held the farm in place, but did not. The Minister of Fisheries flew into Bergen for an emergency meeting, proclaiming that Norway needed more salmon farms, but she never reached out to the volunteers working to clean up the mess made by the industry. The Askøy Hunter & Fisherman’s Association wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister of Norway, who is from the area of the escape, asking for help.

Door opening to land-based farms?

On January 29, a Norwegian politician made a remarkable suggestion. Deputy Leader Ola Borten Moe of the Center Party suggested it is time for Norway waive the high cost of salmon farm licencing for any salmon farm established on land. He suggested this would protect Norway’s environment, stimulate innovation, solve the industry’s escalating disease and lice problems and increase job opportunities across the country.

Norway is the birth place of the salmon farming industry. When a Norwegian politician suggests it is time to move the industry into closed tanks, perhaps it really is time. BC First Nations, scientists, environmentalists, fishermen have been saying the same thing for a long time. No one wants farmed salmon to push wild salmon off our coasts, and our plates.

BC and Norway: mirror images

The irony of this situation is inescapable. We are mirror images – British Columbians work to protect wild Pacific salmon from infected farmed Atlantic salmon, while Norwegians work to protect wild Atlantic salmon from infected North American fish. The catastrophic biological ineptitude of international commerce has to upgrade into something much smarter.

[quote] This is an environmental catastrophe that only escalates, I feel that those who govern this country are stealing nature from the youth. We can not keep on like this anymore! -Regine Emilie Mathisen [/quote]

On February 5, the Norwegian government passed a new order, a compulsory plan to capture escaped farmed salmon in the rivers and to identify who lost the fish and make them pay. Government funds will be allocated to enforcement. While the fishermen remain skeptical, the swift action by Norway to discontent with this industry stands in stark contrast with the Harper and Clark governments which have ignored the calls of thousands of British Columbians to get this industry away from our wild salmon.

See videos and news tories on this ongoing saga on Alexandra Morton’s facebook page.

Tide may be turning on farms destroying salmon habitat

Tide may be turning on farms destroying salmon habitat

Tide may be turning on farms destroying salmon habitat
A coho spawning in a small stream (Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife)

I come today in praise of the Vancouver Sun and trust that events don’t prove that I should’ve approached the mainstream media with my usual skepticism.

First, let me tell you a story from my early life which you may have heard and, if so, please bear with me.

Coho spawn in the darndest places

When I was a young lad, my friend Denis and I used to bicycle down to the Musqueam Indian reserve and fish two tiny creeks, one which we called Tin Can Creek, more properly known as Musqueam Creek.

With shiner lines, a tiny hook and a bit of worm, we would catch small cutthroat trout and, as with all young boys, rejoice at every second.

At Tin Can Creek, one day, a First Nations lad with a gaff came along, bent down over the edge and scooped out a fish which must’ve run 5 or 6 pounds at least. We were thunderstruck! If we’d known there were fish that size in the creek, it might’ve scared us out of fishing it!

Moments later, and a bit further upstream, the lad did the same thing.

This taught me a lesson of a lifetime. These were coho salmon and this tiny creek contained their spawning ground. For those unschooled in these matters, the coho salmon is the second largest of the seven Pacific salmon* which inhabit our waters, and in my opinion is the most beautiful; certainly it’s very sought after as a sports fish and considered a delicacy by those who like eating fish.

It must be noted that thanks to the careful stewardship of the Musqueam Nation, this run has survived and prospered – a rarity indeed in Greater Vancouver.

As I grew older and got more involved in fishing and later in governments dealing with fishing, I learned that the coho is unique in that it doesn’t spawn in great numbers in rivers and lakes but in small runs in tiny streams and even ditches all up and down our coast. I learned too that the reason the coho was an endangered species in the Salish Sea area was loss of habitat due to agricultural practices and land development.

Farmers try to make a amends for habitat destruction


A front page article of Monday, December 29 in the Vancouver Sun tells how the paper’s “Minding The Farm” series – probing fish-bearing creeks on farms and activities by landowners which have damaged habitat – prompted some farmers to attempt habitat “remediation” on their properties.

One does not, unfortunately, gain the impression that the farmers are very enthusiastic about this program. To them, the creeks are no doubt a nuisance and very much get in the way of their normal farming activities. This is compounded, I’m sure, by the fact that some drainage ditches have even become spawning grounds.

The major culprit is waste. When this seeps into the creeks, it kills the fish, as simple as that.

Fish an “inconvenience” to farmers

Since I first learned of the problem it was obvious that farmers weren’t about to take a few fish in a creek seriously. They were no different than real estate developers who would report that there were only a “few fish” in the creek and therefore needn’t concern anyone.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been extremely slow off the mark over the years and has hesitated to charge anyone. (This longtime observer smells political interference). One fisheries officer, quoted in the article, showed his frustration by asking:

[quote]What does it take to get charged? You really have to try hard.[/quote]

One stream at a time

The question is one of overall public good. While it doesn’t seem a huge sacrifice to allow a handful of fish to be killed in a stream, to accommodate agriculture or a new suburb, the aggregate of such losses is unacceptable. Therefore, the solution is a step-by-step, small stream by small stream business – hard to implement, even harder to enforce.

We quickly run into the phrases “remedial measures” and the weasel word of all, “mitigation”. I do not regard a culvert or a re-created stream as either remedial or mitigating. Nor do fish biologists.

The basic decision the public must make is whether it’s worth it to save these small runs of fish. The Vancouver Sun believes that it is worth it and I agree with them.

A moral question

This question can’t be measured in dollars and cents – at least it ought not to be. One can always find a monetary reason to destroy things. The issue is, of course, monetary in the sense that progeny of these runs do supply sports and commercial fisherman, thus generating revenue – and it does cost money to preserve streams.

But can we, in all conscience, permit the destruction of salmon runs, however big or small, for any reason? Once we decide to destroy things for money, it is a slippery slope and we become cynics, for, as Oscar Wilde observed:

[quote]A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.[/quote]

The Pacific Salmon is what identifies British Columbia the world over. I don’t think it goes too far to say that it is sacred – the soul of our province.

It gets down to this: If British Columbians won’t protect and enhance the symbol of what our lovely home is all about, who will?

*Chinook, Coho, Chum, Sockeye, Pink, Rainbow (Steelhead) and Cutthroat.

Salmon Farmers' ads more full of crap than seafloor beneath their pens

Salmon Farmers’ ads more full of crap than seabed beneath their pens

Salmon Farmers' ads more full of crap than seafloor beneath their pens
Norwegian salmon farm (Karin Beate Nøsterud/

The BC Salmon Farmers’ Association continues to make assertions about open-net fish farms that don’t agree with the science, as a recent ad in the Globe and Mail demonstrates. It is surprising the industry, lead companies including the Norwegian Marine Harvest, Cermaq and Grieg Seafood, uses the same spin they have been doing for decades and simply ignore the evidence.

My guess is the timing of the ad (Nov 5, 2014, Page S3) is just before the federal government will announce the aquaculture activities regulations that allow fish farms to continue using the ocean as a free open sewer and even further allow them to release other chemicals, not to mention, as some pundits taking DFO to court put it, they will be allowed to kill wild salmon.

BC Salmon Farm ad
BC Salmon Farmers’ Association ad in this week’s Globe and Mail

Race to the sewage-covered bottom

This is a race to the bottom because fish farms like to say they operate under the strictest laws in the world, and then behind the scenes argue to get rid of them. In the past year, fish farms have made the claim in Chile, Scotland, Norway and Canada.

New laws would enable fish farms to dump more waste, chemicals
Yardstick standing upright in waste layer below fish farm, up to 32 inch mark (Friends of Port Mouton Bay)

The claim is false because every country has its own laws. And in Canada the laws have already been weakened. The Fisheries Act S-35, and S-36, were gutted last year along with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Enforcement staff numbers are too low and 200 scientists have been laid off.

Look at the index to my blog and you can find the references to the points I am making. I summarize 20,000 pages of fish farm environmental damage science.

Dissecting the myth

I will walk you through the ad as I see it and you can draw your own conclusions. The material in quotations is from the ad.

[quote]BC Farm-Raised Salmon: Globally sustainable, Ecologically smart.[/quote]

Well, no. Sustainability usually refers to feed sourced from non-fish sources – salmon are carnivores. However, the industry has contributed to the great decline of small fish – that could be food for third world human beings – and really has no choice but to change. Chile’s anchovy stocks were eliminated by the industry there, mostly the Norwegians.

Pass the chicken feathers

Now, with declining stocks of mack jack mackerel, as well as anchovy stocks off Peru, the protein sources for fish feed are changing. For example, feed giant EWOS is now using increasing amounts of chicken feathers in its feed. Do you want to eat chicken feathers? These have been shown to contain an array of pharmaceutical fluoroquinolones

Other feed companies are now in pristine Antarctica waters fishing down the food web by stripping the ocean of krill, which supports the entire web, even baleen whales.

…With a side of fat and toxins

Then of course, there are the disease and lice problems; that farmed fish have such high fat content it is higher than pizza; and, PCBs, Dioxins and POPs, some of which cause cancer. In Norway, the big news this year is scientists and doctors telling people not to eat farmed fish because of the cancer-causing chemicals in it – largely from fish meal. One third to one half of all aquaculture products are lost to disease every year.

Also, seven of 10 chemicals no longer work on fish farm lice in Norway. Sustainable? I think not.

Land-based closed-containment…now that’s smart

And no to: “Ecologically smart”. In-ocean fish farms are old-tech dinosaurs that refuse to come out of the water because they can use it as a free, open sewer. The smart solution of putting fish farms on land, the industry persistently refuses to do. Among other sources, look at the Shepherdstown, Virginia conference on land-based closed containment fish farms that took place in September 2013. There are easily 50 science presentations on getting fish farms out of the water. See the Tides Canada post.

100,000-plus sign BC petition

In fact, the public who live with fish farms in their waters want them out. The articles on my index will lead you to citizen protest in BC, Atlantic Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Chile, Tasmania and Norway itself. In BC, more than 100,000 people have signed a petition to get fish farms out of our waters.

Farms dump their problems on environment, public

Oh, and do note that my preliminary estimate of the sewage put into public waters, that taxpayers bear the cost of, is $10.4 billion in BC alone. In Scotland and Norway itself the indexed references show that farmed fish produce more sewage than the entire human populations of those countries. Eco-smart? I don’t think so

See the new Canadian regs for yourself.

Skuna Bay: Don’t believe the hype

And the Skuna Bay fish farm in Nootka Sound BC show another non-eco point. They did what was done in Scotland: continue and continue to claim it is a special system of environmentally sound, organic fish. And what happened? They killed 65 sea lions, the males reaching a ton, by drowning them in their nets. Parent company Grieg cut a deal with DFO for $100,000 after getting caught.

More tall tales


[quote]How will the world feed a population projected to grow to nine billion by 2050?[/quote]

Well it certainly won’t be through farmed salmon because they are too expensive for those in third world countries to buy. They are only sold in rich countries. In Chile for instance, the anchovy stocks should have been used to feed the people, not made into fish feed. And the disease problems there led to a collapse of the industry in 2008, putting 13,000 to 26,000 third world employees out of jobs and resulting in a quarter of a billion diseased, dead fish.


[quote]Salmon are the most efficient eaters on any farm – land or water.[/quote]

What salmon farmers don’t tell you about their estimates of 1.1 – 1.3 kilograms of feed to produce 1 kg of farmed fish is that it is a comparison using dried out fish feed. The more commonly accepted comparison is four to five pounds of actual fish to produce one pound of farmed fish. Not so efficient. And do look at the hog comparisons from Carolina.


[quote]Farming efficiency is critical for the future of our food, water, and land.[/quote]

As above, fish farms are only marginally efficient because they don’t have to carry sewage treatment costs. As far as I know, no other form of farming is allowed to dump sewage into another person’s property or the public’s air or water. When that cost is added in, the revenue and jobs pale in comparison.


[quote]And farming salmon is one of the most climate conscious of all farming practices.[/quote]

What this merely means is that farmed salmon can only be produced in cold water. They cannot be produced in most of the world that has warm water.


[quote]…with the smallest carbon footprint.[/quote]

Again, when you add the sewage costs in, the carbon footprint in many countries is as much as all the sewage of human beings in the country. In BC, for instance, my estimate of $10.4 billion comes in at the same sewage cost as for 4.8 million British Columbians – the total population is 4.6. Any expansion will make the carbon foot print much larger than all that human sewage.


[quote]Salmon farming in BC accounts for $800 million toward the provincial economy and generates 6,000 jobs in coastal communities.[/quote]

Sorry, wrong again. Fish farms and Fisheries and Oceans Canada have been using these incorrect figures for a long time. The only good statistics out here are put out by BC Stats. See this story for the summary figures and link to the study.

What jobs?

The contribution to the BC economy from all of aquaculture (mussels, oysters, clams, seaweed, etc. and farmed fish combined) is a very small $61.9 Million. DFO knows this as its name is on the front cover of the report.

In fact, the commercial, processing and sport industries comprise 90% of the salmon sector’s contribution to the BC economy, more than $600 million. And that 6,000 employment? BC Stats’ figure is much smaller at 1,700 – and this is a multiplier number of jobs across the entire economy. It is the only trustable figure out there.

Oh, and fish farming has been stagnant in the recent past. And its only market is the States (85% of its product) because most Canadians won’t eat farmed fish. It may well be put out of business by its own parent companies that have had a 26% tariff eliminated in the States, and by floating a money-raising bond in the USA to set up there – the only real market for BC.

Fish farms gutting jobs in other sectors

At the same time, the commercial fishing sector has lost 1,700 jobs. In other words the evidence suggests that fish farming does not add anything to BC jobs because it simply eliminates jobs in other sectors. In BC, 50% of wild salmon have been eliminated since fish farms set up shop.

And just so that you know, DFO did not like the 1,700 multiplier job number, so it scaled it up by 250% to 3,900. So that and the 6,000 number are simply bunk.

And the kicker to this is that I ferreted out the actual number of fish farms jobs in BC. It is only 795 actual jobs. This is only 13.25% of what the industry claims.

So fish farm jobs and revenue numbers are far lower than claimed, and the environmental damage is excessive. I have a table where I have collected 69 fish farm systems, mostly on-land, around the world, comprising more than 8,000 actual fish farms that are on land.

Go look at all the references. You will come to the conclusion that fish farms are not good for BC, Canada or the world. They need to come out of the water or go back to Norway

Harper govt's new salmon farm regs would open floodgates for waste dumping

Harper’s new fish farm laws would open floodgates to waste dumping

Haper govt's new salmon farm regs would open floodgates for waste dumping
The following is a letter by salmon farming critic and Common Sense Canadian contributor DC Reid to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his government’s proposed gutting of aquaculture regulations, which would enable virtually unrestricted dumping of fish farm waste into our oceans. The public can comment on the proposed changes until October 22 by emailing: 

Dear Stephen Harper et al,

New laws would enable fish farms to dump more waste, chemicals
Yardstick standing upright in waste layer below fish farm, up to 32 inch mark (Friends of Port Mouton Bay)

The people of BC do not want fish farms in our ocean anymore, so we do not want your Aquaculture Act that would give them the opportunity to dump everything they have into our pristine waters. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition against fish farms in BC.

The only people who want the old-tech, dinosaur fish farms in the waters of BC are a few federal and provincial employees and fish farms themselves. Fish farms only want to be in the water to use it as a free, open sewer. My estimate of the sewage damage in BC is $10.4 Billion that fish farms get away with but the cost comes to taxpayers. You will find the formula I used and a summary of 20,000 pages of fish farm environmental damage science on my site. You will find the links to the science that shows that fish farms put out more sewage than the entire human populations of many countries they operate in. This includes Scotland, and Norway itself. Norway is so polluted they had to dredge several kilometres of one inlet of fish farm sewage and put it on land.

Better technology exists

Of the 85,000 page views I have had in the three years that I have been posting, the most popular by far is the one on the 69 on-land fish farm systems I have found around the globe – comprising more than 8,000 actual on-land farms. People do not want fish farms in the ocean anymore. Marine Harvest, Cermaq and Grieg Seafood follow my blog daily  – they are followers who won’t use their own names – as 12,000 of the views are from Norway alone; that is 1 in 7. And look at the Nancy Greene Raine posts for the deficiencies in the current laws.

Farmed fish prompt health warnings

Fish farms like to say they operate under the strictest laws in the world – here and every other country they operate in, recently, Chile, Scotland and Norway. Norway is so polluted that the big story in the past year has been scientists and doctors warning Norwegians not to eat farmed fish because of the POPs, PCBs, dioxins and other organic chemicals that cause, among other things, cancer. But once fish farms say they operate under the strictest laws, they lobby behind the scenes for getting rid of them. Your Aquaculture Act is an example of this.

Gutting fish farm regulations

Other of your examples include the omnibus ‘budget’ bill of 2013 that gutted S-35 and -36 of the Fisheries Act, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Among other things you fired 200 scientists, including those at the ocean sciences facility in Victoria. In addition, you will find a post on my site that the Royal Society of Canada scientists levelled a stinging indictment at you for your poor treatment of our three ocean coasts.

I have just finished a book by a federal DFO enforcement officer, Randy Nelson, who points out that enforcement funding is always a race to the bottom because of the Ottawa view of west coast enforcement.

What your Aquaculture Act does is create a race to the bottom of all the countries that produce farmed salmon because fish farms then deal with those countries and tell them they will have to take their jobs and revenue elsewhere. And, the BC industry’s only market, 85% of it, goes to the USA, but the parent companies of the BC industry have just had a 26% tariff lifted in the USA so Norway is now selling into the only market for BC farmed salmon – and the Norwegian fish farm industry is ten times the size of its BC operations. They will be putting their own Canadian operations out of business, because they are also setting up shop in the USA right now.
At the same time, Chile’s production has peaked since their 2008 crash due to ISA virus and most of it goes to the States. The BC industry is in peril from its own parent companies – right now. This has nothing to do with law, only economics.

No action on Cohen recommendations

You haven’t responded to the Cohen Commission that told you to eliminate DFO’s conflict with supporting fish farms and get on with saving wild salmon. The Williams review of the mid-90s and the 1982 Pearse Commission also made environmental recommendations to DFO. Unheeded.

Alienating British Columbians with onslaught of projects

Harper et al, you are forcing BC away from the rest of Canada. At the same time your fish farms are destroying our ocean and you want to make the weak laws even weaker, you are backing the Enbridge Pipeline and the Kinder Morgan Pipeline. There is the shipping of USA coal through BC and the Site C dam is current, along with LNG and fracking. The last two are provincial issues, but all of these are happening at the same time and your conservative government is taking the hit in BC. You undoubtedly know that your current majority is slim and balance of power is in BC.

BC nets few jobs from aquaculture

Just so that you know, fish farms are not about jobs and revenue. They and DFO like to claim that employment is 6,000 and revenue is $800 million. These figures are not true. The BC Stats report shows that fish farming is stagnant and all of aquaculture contributes only $61.9 Million to GDP, while sport fishing, processing, and commercial contribute 90%, more than $600 million.

These figures were paid for by DFO and its name is on the document, but because it didn’t like the figures, it took the 1,700 multiplier job figure for fish farms and inflated it 250% to 3,900 recently. This is simply not true. The actual employment is only 795 jobs. That is all there really are. You can find on the Marine Harvest site, for example, that it only has 6,000 staff world wide. As it operates in 22 countries, this means about 270 staff per country. As I have said, the real employment figure in BC is a small 795 jobs, that is all.

British Columbians fed up with fish farms

BC does not want fish farms anymore; they cause too much damage and the net economic effect is negative. Fish farms jobs don’t add anything, they just replace existing jobs. The commercial sector has lost the same number of jobs that BC stats says are the fish farm multiplier numbers of 1,700. Also on my site you will find the science that shows that fish farms result in a 50% decline in wild salmon numbers around the world. This includes BC and the indicator stream used on Vancouver Island, Black Creek, is in John Duncan’s riding.

DC (Dennis) Reid

Send your feedback to the Harper Government on its proposed changes to aquaculture regulations by October 22 by emailing: 

Pristine Coast doc reveals surprising, untold history of salmon farms

Pristine Coast doc reveals surprising, untold history of salmon farms


Pristine Coast doc reveals surprising, untold history of salmon farms

My first brush with the fish farming industry on our coast came around 2000 when I was broadcasting for CKNW. At that point, this was considered to be a “good” industry because their product would ease the pressure on the wild salmon.

The big issue became the escape of Atlantic salmon from the farms which were entering B.C. rivers and spawning. This was denied by the government but easily proved by the work of Dr. John Volpe, a fish biologist who was a regular guest on my show.

Enter sea lice, Morton

Alexandra Morton displays pink salmon smolt with lice (Photo: Nick Didlick)
Alexandra Morton displays pink salmon smolt with lice (Photo: Nick Didlick)

If nothing else had developed, this would have been serious enough. However, In the next year or so I became aware of the work being done by Alexandra Morton in the Broughton archipelago on the question of sea lice destroying migrating salmon smolts. Alex and I did a number of shows on the subject.

Working as one person alone against the massive might of the federal government, Alex – who would later be granted an honorary doctorate by Simon Fraser for her courageous efforts – produced irrefutable evidence that sea lice were indeed destroying our salmon runs.

The federal government, rather than congratulating her on her work and helping her, threatened to throw her in jail for “illegal testing”. To this day the work of Alexandra Morton has been ignored by the government and she has been subjected to ongoing hassling and discrimination.

Her contribution and courage are remarkable beyond description and it is she who has led and sustained the fight.

The plot thickens

By 2008, I had a lost my ” bully pulpit” on the radio and had taken an assignment as spokesman for Tom Rankin’s Save Our Rivers Society, joining my colleague-to-be Damien Gillis. After the election of 2009 he and I founded The Common Sense Canadian, which he now so ably publishes. I lost contact with the fish farming issue not, I assure you, because of a lack of interest, but because I was 100% busy on my new endeavours.

My, oh my, have things changed since then.

Thanks in large measure to Alex, the whole question of sea lice expanded as we learned of their spreading deadly disease through all the wild salmon populations with tragic consequences. With Alex’s work, this was scientifically documented and publicized.

The entire story has been brilliantly told by film-maker Scott Renyard in an extraordinary documentary called The Pristine Coast which Wendy and I were privileged to see a few days ago and which has been recently featured at the recent Vancouver Film Festival.

Film brings astonishing new revelations

Scott traces the history of the terrible consequences of fish farms on our coast from the beginning up until the present time, revealing some extraordinary conclusions.

For one example, we have always been concerned that global warming was destroying our wild salmon. It turns out that it may be quite the other way around and that the destruction of wild salmon has contributed to global warming!

Scott has discovered that the Atlantic cod, hake, etc. problem may well have had more to do with the sea louse than overfishing. Atlantic sea lice, very closely related to their Pacific counterpart, carry and spread disease, just as happens to our salmon. There seems to be a connection between the events on both coasts which I had not heard about. It’s quite a story and now credibly documented.

I don’t want to give away the whole plot but you will be fascinated, I am sure, by this highly presentable presentation of what has become partly farce and all tragedy.

What happens to our environment if salmon disappear?

Scott is not optimistic by any means. Without drastic action on the part of the federal government in particular, he sees tragedy on our coast and laments not only the passing of the Pacific salmon and other fish but asks the highly pertinent question, what happens to our environment then?

The blame can be laid squarely on the federal government and Department of Fisheries and Oceans, as directed by grossly negligent politicians. As many of us have long suspected, there has not only been no understanding by Ottawa of these problems, but an utterly uncaring attitude. The fact is, they just do not give a damn.

Importing disease

One only has to look at the importation of the fatal diseases that have hit our wild salmon stocks to see this negligence in it starkest terms. For the most part, these fatal diseases have come from farmed Atlantic salmon and the ova used to reproduce them, spread in large measure by the over abundant sea lice. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s where it starts and that’s where it should end.

The federal government, far from just doing nothing, has encouraged more of the same. (You should know that DFO, supposedly the custodian of our salmon, is also mandated to promote fish farming!)

You will, of course, be appalled by what you see but you will recognize that this is a documentary put together so that all of the technical details are there but everyone can understand.

Film features whistle-blowing ex-fish farmers

Never fear, the fish farmers have their say although one of the “stars” of the show is a very credible former fish farmer who verifies Scott’s evidence of the Department of Fisheries Policy, or lack of it, to a “T”.

For the next few months, The Pristine Coast will only be available at various film festivals and I strongly advise readers to keep an eye out for them. Thereafter it will become available on DVD.

This is a remarkable effort by a brilliant filmmaker, Scott Renyard.

Farmed salmon escapes far more prevalent than industry admits-study

Farmed salmon escapes far more common than industry admits: study

Farmed salmon escapes far more prevalent than industry admits-study
Farmed Atlantic salmon (Photo: World Wildlife Federation)

A new study published in ICES Journal of Marine Science estimates that that up to 1.5 million farmed Atlantic salmon escape from Norwegian netpens into the wild every year – far more than acknowledged by the industry. 

The study was led by Ove T. Skilbrei of the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen, Norway, assisted by researchers at the University of Bergen and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

The risk is that escaped farmed salmon mate with wild fish, impacting survival rates.

After tagging and simulating some 90,000 escapes in various near-shore and marine environments on the coast of Norway at different times throughout 2005, the researchers followed these fish over the next five years, observing how many were recaptured by fishermen.

According to the study:

[quote]Post-smolts that escaped during their first summer were capable of rapid migration towards the open sea. A small fraction returned to spawn and were recaptured after 1–3 years at sea (0.4%, range 0.0–1.1%). A total of 13% of the post-smolts that escaped during autumn were reported in nearby fisheries during subsequent months, partly because they had grown large enough to be caught in the gillnets used, but more importantly because migratory behaviour diminished towards the end of the year. The mean recapture rate of adult salmon was high after releases in fjords (7 – 33%), lower after coastal releases (4 – 7%), and zero on the outer coast. [/quote]

Based on mathematical probabilities for recapturing escaped fish, the researchers predict that up to 1.5 million farmed fish escape from Norwegian farms each year, evading recapture.

“Importantly, our analysis suggests that the total numbers of post-smolt and adult escapees have been two- to fourfold as high as the numbers reported to the authorities by fish farmers,” the study concludes.

According to a 2008 report by the World Wildlife Fund, escapees can be far ranging – “usually recorded within 500 km of the escape site, but [they] have been recorded up to 2,000 – 4,500 km from the escape/release site.”

An earlier study led by UVic scientist Dr. John Volpe, published in Conservation Biology, also reported that escaped Atlantic salmon (the vast majority of farmed salmon in BC are also non-native Atlantics) have been discovered in more than 80 wild salmon spawning streams (Conservation Biology 14: 899-903).

“Farmed salmon grow very fast, are aggressive, and not as clever as wild salmon when it comes to dealing with predators,” says Professor Matt George of the University of East Anglia, who led a study on the subject released earlier this year.

[quote]These domestic traits are good for producing fish for the table, but not for the stability of wild populations…The problem is that farmed salmon can escape each year in their millions, getting into wild spawning populations, where they can then reproduce and erode wild gene pools, introducing these negative traits.[/quote]

In light of these new statistics from Bergen, the problem may be far more serious than perviously thought  – and especially cause for concern with embattled wild salmon populations in places like British Columbia.