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.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at

12 thoughts on “Pristine Coast doc reveals surprising, untold history of salmon farms

  1. Just thought that I would mention that I do not buy store farmed salmon and no longer trust store descriptions of so called wild salmon. Any salmon I eat is supplied by the FN people who actually care about the environment.
    These days I shop with my wallet. We (family) no longer eat at places like McDonalds or Tim Horton’s etc. We pick and choose who we support and hope that others do likewise.

  2. Give me a break. Fish farming now blamed for global warming? This is desperate.

    When all other arguments fail, I guess climate change is the only fear mongering left.

    1. See the film when you have a chance Ben. It’s the first I’d ever heard of this theory, developed by a UBC researcher profiled within, and until I saw it explained, I wouldn’t have believed it either.

      And far from being “the only fear-mongering left”, it’s just one more valid concern piled upon so many, may others related to this industry – which the film so ably conveys, and we have consistently documented in these pages for years.

  3. Rafe, you so desperately want to believe these things to be true, but they’re not.
    1. Sea lice have never been implicated in affecting salmon populations, and Ms Morton’s “science” agrees.
    2. No Atlantic salmon have ever been found to have colonized rivers anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.
    3. Returns of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest have been record highs in the last decade.
    4. No ‘novel’ diseases have been introduced by farmed fish. Show evidence to the contrary.

    At least try to base your old opinions and new and accurate facts. This is why you and Morton don’t have an audience any more – because you repeat falsehoods and people are tired of it. Quit whining and start critically thinking.

    1. Nonsense, Kim.

      Sea lice have never even been IMPLICATED in affecting wild salmon? Are you kidding?!

      Proceedings of the Royal Society (x2):

      PLoS Biology Journal:

      North American Journal of Fisheries Management:

      PLoS ONE:

      To your point about escaped Atlantic salmon, if anything, the problem is far worse than we thought, as this study in the ICES Journal of Marine Science reveals:

      These are peer-reviewed journals. This is science – and you lecture Rafe about opinion vs. fact? Puh-leeze.

  4. And B.C. has paid Norway MILLIONS of dollars for those fish in their pen-prisons which died. When I was farming if any of my chickens died it was my loss, not the taxpayers. But they cram far too many fish into a confined space and when the fish die, the taxpayers get to send money to Norway as recompense .

    Doesn’t it make you feel all warm and fuzzy all over?

    Harpy has encouraged these fish feedlots to increase the number of septic sites, in spite of growing scientific evidence that everywhere this industry establishes itself, the wild stocks are almost extinguished. We know Harpenfuhrer has a hate on for science and scientists but what’s his gripe against fish?

    Alexandra Morton has been criticized and slandered by federal and provincial ministers who are supposed to be protecting our coast and our natural treasures. The woman deserves much better recognition and treatment. She is a real hero who has helped waken many of us to the very real danger this industry inflicts on us.

    As we learn more about the web of interwoven life cycles it becomes increasingly obvious that if the salmon go, many other things we’ve taken for granted for too long will also perish. Pacific salmon provide vital food to many other species and help them survive the winter, everything from bears to birds to the very trees the fools want to clearcut.

    By all means, send them packing and tell them don’t let the door hit you on the arse on your way out.

    1. Financial compensation is provided to farmers when the CFIA orders that the livestock or fish have to be destroyed. Compensation is not paid just because they lost fish. When fish farmers in Canada take pre-emptive action and destroy their fish due to a suspected vial outbreak that hasn’t been confirmed yet they are on the hook for that. Read the Health of Animals Act:

      Compensation to owners of animals

      51. (1) The Minister may order compensation to be paid from the Consolidated Revenue Fund to the owner of an animal that is

      (a) destroyed under this Act or is required by an inspector or officer to be destroyed under this Act and dies after the requirement is imposed but before being destroyed;
      (b) injured in the course of being tested, treated or identified under this Act by an inspector or officer and dies, or is required to be destroyed, as a result of the injury; or
      (c) reserved for experimentation under paragraph 13(2)(a).

      This is the same legislation that applies to other livestock like beef and chickens. If some don’t like it then fine, but be consistent. If it is not right for fish farmers then it’s not alright for other sectors in the agricultural industry in Canada.

  5. The political ‘agenda’ of open pen fish farming is far more insidious than most of us could imagine.(Yes I do have several tin hats and I wear every one of them with pride and conviction).

    In Norway, where this superficially benign practice originated, the wild salmon stocks have been virtually wiped out by the presence of these pens and their negative ‘side’ affects.

    The company that began the farmed fish experiment was a hydro electric developer no less, and Norway is now a net exporter of electricity.

    The Norwegian companies had to relocate their poison pens to gullible countries like Chile and Canada, because the home ‘grown’ product became unsafe for human consumption, not to mention poor flavour, quality and texture compared to wild salmon.

    It is my belief that here in politically corrupt BC, resulting from compelling evidence of the location of these ‘farms’ in close proximity to wild salmon migration routes, that the intent was to deliberately do harm to wild stocks .

    In the naive hands of the then BC NDP governors and the subsequent fantasies of the delusional and dangerous Campbell, the opportunity to replace wild stocks would open new and fabulous opportunities to dam many or all of the former ‘salmon’ rivers and produce enough ‘green’ electricity to ‘power’ the world at Enron’s sharked prices, and divert fresh water, at a handsome price, to Arnold’s thirsty state to allow Monsanto and Cargill to ‘feed’ the rest of the world forever and ever.

    The resultant flood of monies into BC coffers would have us all tax free and mansion bound.

    Not unlike the current preemy’s liquid dreams of gaseous content will(?) do.

    Just in the nick of time, when Scambull realized his dreams were really drug induced nightmares, we road him out of town on a BC Rail.

    The time is long past to put the boot to the open pen fish farms and with the help of hero’s like Alexandra Morton and the stalwart drummings of Rafe getting the message out over and over again, hopefully before it is too too late.

    Thankfully the harpercons are imploding and if BC’rs shut them out out here in 2015 or sooner, they will never again threaten what little is left of Canada as we knew it.

    The time to take action is now!

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