A First Nation’s claim of Aboriginal title, filed today at the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver, threatens the future of some open net pen Atlantic salmon farms. Lawyer Jack Woodward, who filed the claim on behalf of the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation of Kingcome Inlet, warned the NDP government it should not be renewing salmon farm tenures in their territory “in the face of this competing claim of ownership of the territory,” according to a media release on the case.
The claim takes aim at ten salmon farms operated by Marine Harvest and Cermaq within Dzawada’enuxw territory. Each of these aquaculture sites requires a provincially-granted “Licence of Occupation” in order to operate, most of which expire on June 20. The claim also affects some forest tenures, mostly inactive, held by Western Forest Products and Interfor.
“The fish farming industry is infringing on our way of life, by breaking the natural circle of life that has sustained us since time immemorial,” said Hereditary Chief Hawil’kwo’lal (Joe Willie). “This cannot continue.”
The Dzawada’enuxw case adds to the mounting pressure from First Nations and environmental groups on Premier John Horgan not to renew these tenures, along with others throughout the Broughton Archipelago, later this month. The industry faces a number of serious challenges – from sea lice outbreaks and new research into the potential impact of piscine reovirus on Atlantic and Pacific salmon, to calls from high-profile groups like the Pacific Salmon Foundation and prominent BC chefs to end ocean-based salmon farming. But it may be a small nation from remote Kingcome Inlet – nestled among the coast mountains, 80 km northeast of Port Hardy – that poses the greatest threat to the industry’s future.
With Monday’s filing, the Dzawada’enuxw become one of only a handful of BC-based First Nations to launch Aboriginal title claims in the wake of the Supreme Court of Canada’s historic 2014 verdict in the Tsilhqot’in case, which firmly established title on unceded Indigenous territories. Woodward also represented the Tsilhqot’in in their title claim.
“The Dzawada’enuxw people have lived in our territories since time immemorial. We have never ceded these territories to anyone, and have remained living within our ancestral lands throughout time and will continue to for generations to come,” said Dzawada’enuxw First Nation Elected Chief & Traditional Leader Okwilagame (Willie Moon).
Establishing title in the eyes of the court requires demonstrating that a nation occupied its territory pre-1846 – the date of the Oregon Treaty between Britain and the United Sates which drew the current Canada-US border in the West – and that it is still there today. On both counts, the Dzawada’enuxw appear to have strong case.
A live camera this morning captured more blood water spilling from the outfall pipe of a farmed salmon processing plant in downtown Tofino. The footage, obtained by investigative diver and filmmaker Tavish Campbell, was posted to facebook with realtime commentary from Campbell and independent biologist and salmon farm critic Alexandra Morton.
The blood water comes from the processing of a fresh batch of farmed salmon harvested from a nearby farm owned by Creative Salmon. A similar discharge was recorded in the summer by Campbell, along with another at Brown’s Bay processing plant north of Campbell River. Tests of those discharges by the Atlantic Veterinary College came back positive for Piscine reovirus, which is know to cause the disease Heart and Skeletal Muscular Inflammation (HSMI) in both farmed and wild salmon. The recent release of that footage caused a firestorm and prompted promises from the provincial and federal governments to review the matter.
[quote]The blood pipe looks like a fire hose of blood, pumping the virus directly into migration corridors. The risk to wild salmon is just astronomical.[/quote]
The discharge poured directly into Clayoquot Sound, a world-renowned tourism destination and UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Both Morton and Campbell comment on the situation in the above video, which includes graphic footage of the bloody discharge and marine life eating from it. “This current is dispersing infected blood water into critical wild salmon migration routes. It is pure insanity,” says Campbell.
Morton and Campbell are “calling on DFO and the B.C. Government to stop promoting open-net pen salmon farming and a moratorium on new open net-pen fish farms in B.C. with an immediate transition to closed containment farms on land, away from wild salmon migration routes,” according to a press release on the video from conservation group Pacific Wild.
The discovery of Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI) in BC’s farmed salmon has been couched in cautious and evasive terms by the industry and government. HSMI “might” have been found. It’s “yet another piece in the complex puzzle of salmon health on the Pacific Coast,” noted the former Minister of Fisheries, Hunter Tootoo.
Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, also downplayed the significance of the announcement:
[quote]The findings announced by the SSHI [Strategic Salmon Health Initiative] regarding a potential diagnosis of Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation in fish from one Atlantic salmon farm in B.C. are important. However, there is no consensus amongst the scientific community about the finding as the fish sampled in this farm showed no clinical signs of the disease.[/quote]
But the finding of HSMI is extremely significant. Understanding why requires some additional information.
Virus causes disease
HSMI is related to piscine reovirus (PRV) as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is related to AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). Salmon don’t get HSMI unless they have PRV. Just as HIV is asymptomatic, PRV is also asymptomatic — which explains why it is not technically called a “disease”. In its early stages, HSMI may also exhibit no “clinical signs of disease”. But it can be fatal.
HSMI is the symptomatic stage of PRV. As the degree of PRV infection increases, heart muscles are damaged, organs are impaired and muscles are compromised. Eventually fish are so debilitated by a weakened heart, malfunctioning organs and inflamed muscles that they are unable to swim.
HSMI is now the third largest cause of mortality for salmon farming in Norway. But this is the industry’s problem. The real environmental concern is the spread of PRV and HSMI to wild salmon.
Virus can spread quickly
PRV is extremely infectious. First identified in Norway in 1999, it spread quickly to 417 farms, and in 2010 was identified by Norwegian scientists as the cause of HSMI. On July 9, 2010, the scientific journal, PLOS One, published “Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation of Farmed Salmon is Associated with Infection with Novel Reovirus” (Gustavo Palacios, W. Ian Lipkin, et al.), linking HSMI with this “novel” piscine reovirus. PRV eventually spread to BC, probably by infected eggs imported to salmon farms from Norway.
As early as 2008 reports from BC’s veterinarian pathology lab showed “congestion and hemorrhage in the stratum compactum of the heart” in farmed salmon, symptoms consistent with HSMI. Estimates are that most farmed salmon in BC now have PRV — not a serious problem if their fish don’t die of HSMI.
Wild salmon at risk
But the situation is very different for wild salmon. The PRV imported from Norway is now thought to be spreading to BC’s wild fish. As early as 2011, Dr. Kristi Miller found PRV in Fraser River sockeye. A year later, 13 of 15 Cultus Lake cutthroat trout were found with PRV. Norwegian scientists are of the opinion that HSMI may never be discovered in wild salmon because the fish would be too debilitated by the disease to survive predators and the challenging conditions of oceans and rivers.
The combination of PRV’s ubiquitous presence in salmon farms, its extreme virulence, and the fatal symptoms of HSMI could have devastating consequences for wild salmon populations.
It was an unwelcome surprise on the eve of BC Day for critics of open net pen salmon farms: the Liberal government’s quiet doling out of four new tenures to the big three Norwegian aquaculture giants – Marine Harvest, Cermaq and Grieg Seafoods.
While some local First Nations are partners in the deal, others further upstream have openly criticized the move to open new farms in the wake of the largely-ignored Cohen Commission and concerns about the impact of open net pens on wild salmon. A June 1 letter signed by a coalition of 13 Fraser River chiefs implored the BC government to heed Justice Cohen’s findings and refrain from issuing new tenures:
[quote]Given the mounting evidence that fish farms on wild salmon migration routes are a threat to our wild salmon, we are writing you to inform you that the Province of BC must not expand existing farms, offer new licenses of occupation or renew fish farm leases without our consent.[/quote]
Meanwhile, a public petition led by independent salmon biologist Alexandra Morton has garnered over 110,000 signatures calling on Premier Christy Clark not to permit any new farms.
First Nations divided on new farms
Despite the strong opposition to the plan, a July 31 media advisory announced that the BC government is following up the recent issuance of federal aquaculture licences with corresponding tenures under the Land Act for two farms near Hope Island, off northern Vancouver Island, one near Tofino, and another in the Broughton Archipelago’s Clio Channel. The two Hope Island tenures went to Marine Harvest, to be operated in partnership with the local Tlatlasikwala First Nation, while Grieg Seafood BC – which has an impact-benefit agreement with the Tlowitsis First Nation – picked up the Clio Channel site, east of Port McNeil. Finally, Cermaq got a new Clayoquot Sound site near Flores Island, where the company has an impact-benefit agreement with the Ahousaht First Nation.
The government explained its role in sanctioning new farms as follows:
[quote]The B.C. government, in its role as landlord, issues Crown land tenures in the form of leases or licences of occupation that allow businesses to operate on provincial Crown land, including water lots and any related activities on shore to ensure any potential impacts on other leases can be managed. As part of the tenure application review process, other agencies, First Nations, local governments and the public are consulted.[/quote]
And yet, many First Nations up the Fraser River clearly feel that they too should be consulted, as many fish affected by diseases and sea lice in the waters off Vancouver Island ultimately make their way through other territories upstream.
“Wild salmon that we have title and rights to are currently being exposed to untreated farmed salmon effluent throughout their migration routes along coastal British Columbia, ” the chiefs noted in their June letter. “Our fishers have witnessed too many pre-spawn deaths, salmon discolored with open sores, too weak to swim upstream and escaped farmed Atlantic salmon.”
BC missing boat on sustainable alternatives
For her part, Morton remains dismayed by the what she sees as the same old pattern or government favouring foreign industry over local voices. “Clearly, there’s nothing people can say anymore to stop this industry – not science, not local industry, not chiefs,” Morton said on the phone from the Broughton Archipelago.
“It’s a shame because BC is well-placed to be a global leader in closed-containment salmon farming,” she added, referencing the land-based Kuterra project – a partnership involving the ‘Namgis First Nation of Alert Bay. “Even the Norwegian government is starting to invest millions to develop closed-containment, amidst continued challenges to the ocean-based open net pen industry, such as algae blooms, high water temperatures and disease.”
To make matters worse, says Morton, these new tenures are long-term – up to nine years each – instead of the old method whereby they had to be renewed by the government on an annual basis. That means these communities and those affected upstream will face the consequences of these approvals for years to come.
Shrimp fishermen turned down $260,000 payoff
Another group negatively impacted by one of the new farms – the Clio Channel tenure – is local wild shrimp fishermen. Ten of them were each recently offered a $20,000 payoff by Grieg to go along with the new net pen installation – plus $60,000 to the their collective organization. All of them said, “No,” yet the farm is going ahead regardless.
As Chritopher Pollon explained in his Tyee piece that broke news of the letter:
[quote]The fishermen are opposed to the farms because the two proposed sites occupy some of the best harvesting grounds in the region for wild side-stripe and pink shrimp, which are caught by bottom trawling along a soft-bottomed, underwater prairie unique to the upper reaches of the Channel. It’s also an important harvesting area for spot prawns, an increasingly lucrative “foodie” commodity in B.C. and beyond that are sustainably caught in traps.[/quote]
These shrimp fishermen may not reel in the kind of revenues that a million-fish net pen operation does, but at least they are local businesspeople who supply an in-demand product to BC restaurants and tables, notes Morton.
“What a way to celebrate BC Day,” she quips. “Give away more farms to Norwegian companies who take the money out of our economy and put it in the pockets of their foreign shareholders.”
On May 6th, Justice Donald J. Rennie of the Federal Court ruled against Marine Harvest Canada and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, confirming that the transfer of young salmon infected with piscine reovirus into ocean net-pens was illegal. This victory by Alexandra Morton and her Ecojustice lawyers was dismissed by aquaculture giant Marine Harvest as having merely administrative effects that will not impair “the company’s day to day business” or impede “the ongoing transfer of farm-raised salmon between facilities in B.C.” But Justice Rennie’s ruling could have major implications for both salmon farming and wild salmon.
First, the ruling confirms that the Minister cannot contravene the legislation in the “Fisheries (General) Regulations” (FGR), which occurred when the salmon farming industry was allowed to transfer diseased salmon into its net-pens. And, second, the Minister cannot legally delegate to the industry the responsibility to decide whether or not putting diseased fish into the ocean is “low risk”.
Industry’s slippery language
In a carefully worded defence, Marine Harvest claimed, “There was no evidence that [it] transferred unhealthy fish” from its Dalrymple hatchery to its Shelter Bay net-pens. But the smolts transferred in March 2013 were known to have piscine reovirus (PRV), a highly infectious virus that scientific research describes as the causative agent of Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI). This heart infection can so weaken fish that they are barely able to swim.
Since PRV only manifests as HSMI about 5 to 9 months after transfer to sea water, Marine Harvest’s smolts were technically asymptomatic and therefore not obviously “unhealthy”. But many were infected with piscine reovirus. If farmed salmon with HSMI are barely able to swim in the protection of net-pens, then infected migrating salmon are likely to sink to the bottom of the ocean or be eaten by predators, essentially eliminating any evidence of HSMI in wild salmon.
New, fast-growing virus
Piscine reovirus is a relatively new virus first recognized in Atlantic salmon farms in Norway in 1999, then identified by research in 2010 as the causative agent for HSMI, a conclusion confirmed in Justice Rennie’s ruling. PRV is now ubiquitous in Norwegian salmon farms with HSMI a major cause of death — unfortunately, about 14% of Norway’s wild salmon are now infected with HSMI. A scientific paper published in 2013 reports that the genetic sequence of PRV found in BC matches the strain found in northern Norway in 2007, suggesting that PRV came to BC in Atlantic salmon eggs. Since the virus was only identified in 2010, no one knew to look for it when the millions of farmed salmon eggs were being imported into BC. Genetic sequences of the virus have now been found in BC’s farmed Atlantic salmon, as well as in some native steelhead, cutthroat trout, chum and other wild species, suggesting the possible spread of PRV from salmon farms to BC’s marine ecology.
This is the eventuality that has haunted Morton since she became concerned that salmon farming could import alien diseases to BC’s wild salmon populations. The virulence of PRV in wild fish and the extent of its HSMI damage have yet to be determined. But the potential for an ecological catastrophe is heightened by the virus’s ability to mutate readily, particularly in the crowded conditions of salmon farms. The lack of a barrier between the farmed stock and migrating wild fish seriously questions the wisdom of growing salmon in ocean net-pens.
Industry given 4 months
In recognition of the far reaching implications of his judgment, Justice Rennie has suspended his ruling for 4 months. Given that most salmon farms are likely infected with piscine reovirus, and the disease may now be endemic in their smolts and eggs, Morton’s court victory presents a formidable challenge for the industry and for those charged with ensuring the safety of wild salmon.
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
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?
A stand alone Aquaculture Act, is under review by the Canadian Senate to allow these companies ownership of salmon in the ocean
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
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
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.
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]
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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]
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.
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
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: email@example.com
Dear Stephen Harper et al,
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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.
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.
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.