Morton’s Telling Memo: Years of Government and Industry Secrecy on Salmon Farm Problems


The memorandum from Alexandra Morton which I circulated last Wednesday demands a deeper look into what the Campbell government knew when, in September 2002, they lifted the moratorium on fish farms. (For convenience I have pasted the Morton article below).

These documents arose in 1995 when the NDP were in power when they placed a moratorium on new fish farms.
This moratorium was lifted by the Campbell government and here is what then minister John Van Dongen had to say:

“… B.C. now has the most comprehensive regulatory framework in the world, including science-based standards to protect the environment.” (Emphasis added)

“… We’ve worked very hard on these regulations to ensure that they do a proper job of protecting the environment in British Columbia… we are confident the regulations will do that and we are confident we have a regulation in place that is leading edge in the world.(Emphasis added.)

We must take Mr. Van Dongen at his word that “careful consideration” was given this decision and examine what even casual consideration would have disclosed.

Leaving aside questions of waste, drugged fish, coloured fish, the escape of farmed fish into the wild, and disease, what was the evidence the minister possessed on the question of sea lice?

There were, of course, the documents raised by Alexandra Morton in her memo. One would have thought that they alone would have convinced a careful minister that rather than permitting more fish farms, he should get rid of the ones that existed and at the very least force them to go to closed containment.

But, not only did Van Dongen have these remarkable memos to alert him of the sea lice issue, the facts available at that time show that the issue of sea lice from farmed fish cages destroying migrating smolts was a huge one in Norway, Scotland, Ireland and even New Brunswick. (It is important to remember that juvenile pink and chum salmon weighing less than half a gram are more than 10 times smaller than Atlantic salmon smolts, and thus much more susceptible to louse parasitism.)

What did the Campbell government know about the other jurisdictions concerning sea lice?

It can be said without fear of contradiction that even the most superficial look at the industry in Norway, Scotland and Ireland would have disclosed that the impact of sea lice from farmed fish on migrating salmonid smolts was a huge problem.

Norway had long recognized and attempted to minimize the sea lice threat enacting the Norwegian Action Plan Against Salmon Lice in 1997. Ireland and Scotland adopted similar sea lice reporting and control measures.

Ah, you say, but this is Norway, Scotland and Ireland, not BC!

Fair enough – let’s look at BC, though I don’t think that this would be Premier Campbell’s first choice!

In 2001, Alexandra Morton, then associated with The Raincoast Conservation Foundation (not to be confused with the Raincoast Research Society with whom Ms, Morton is now associated), identified the first epidemic of this lice species on juvenile wild Pacific salmon. Over 850 juvenile pink salmon, as well as chum, coho, and chinook salmon and adult local sea run cutthroat trout were examined in the summer of 2001. 77% of these fish were infected at or above the lethal level as defined by Norwegian scientists to be 1.6 lice/gram of fish. The epidemic’s epicentre was in the midst of active salmon farms, with very few to no lice where there were no farms. Far from showing the alarm one might have expected, the DFO wanted to charge Ms. Morton with “illegal testing”!

The fact is, that by September 2002, when the Campbell government lifted the moratorium on fish farms, Alexander Morton had clear evidence that sea lice were slaughtering wild salmon smolts as they migrated out to sea and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Federal) and the provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Fisheries knew of Ms. Morton’s findings and the Minister and the Campbell Cabinet ignored this clear evidence of the horrendous impact of sea lice on wild salmon and lifted the moratorium anyway!

It’s this that takes the Campbell government’s decision out of the possibility of error and firmly into the realm of deceit.

What has happened since the Van Dongen announcement should give us all further cause for extreme concern.

When Alexandra Morton made public her findings re: sea lice and migrating smolts in the Broughton Archipelago in 2002 she was mocked, derided, and threatened with arrest. Scientific study after scientific study, all peer reviewed, supported her findings yet time after time the Campbell government ignored these findings and declared that science was on their side.

Clearly, not only did the Campbell government know the truth about the impact of sea lice from fish farms on migrating salmon smolts from the outset and chose to ignore it, they have compounded their deception by ignoring scientific study after scientific study ever since.

I suppose it would be ridiculous to think that Premier Campbell would at least now have the decency and honour to admit the truth and do everything he can to redeem his government’s disgraceful behaviour and make every possible effort to restore the fisheries it’s done so much to destroy.

Morton memo

A series of government memos reveal a heated debate in 1995 over a sea louse outbreak on a farm salmon on the Fraser sockeye migration route (Okisollo Channel). In 1995, a salmon farm requested permission to use hydrogen peroxide to treat an extremely heavy outbreak of sea lice on their fish. When the Ministry of Environment, Parks and Lands (MELP) informed the company that their drug application would have to be released to the public, the fish farmer withdrew the request. When environmental groups found out about the sea lice outbreak, the BC Salmon Farmers Association called for an investigation of MELP and a guarantee that fish farmers had a right to secrecy in the future.

September 6, 1995 Don Peterson of MELP writes, “The company has withdrawn their application (for hydrogen peroxide) because they heard there was a requirement to advertise if a pesticide was going to be applied. I guess they were either afraid of the shareholders…or the public finding out… the company has asked that this request be kept strictly confidential and that all correspondence on the subject be destroyed.”

September 28, 1995 the BC Salmon Farmers Association criticized Minister Moe Sihota (MELP): “…government has an obligation to maintain confidentiality… Government is further prevented from unauthorized collection, use or disclosure of information…. puts at risk … capital investment of private citizens and individual companies…”

However, salmon farms operate in Canada’s public waters and impact a Canadian resource – wild fish.

On October 23 Earl Warnock of MELP writes, “I find it unconscionable that they (fish farmers) are only prepared to undertake measures appropriate to protect their stock health and the environment unless they can do it in a clandestine manner…. and for them and MAFF to ask us to operate with them in this way says something about the people we are dealing with.”

“MAFF” = Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, now Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (MAL).

Either the sea lice remained on the farm fish on the Fraser sockeye migration route or they were treated without permission from MELP.

November 03, 1995, Bryan Ludwig, MELP writes: “…we are in the difficult position of being concerned about use of pesticides for treatment of sea lice, but also wanting to ensure we avoid a severe outbreak for fear of transfer to wild stocks.”

These documents reveal heroes among our MELP bureaucrats who tried to protect our wild salmon from salmon farms. Gordon Campbell disbanded MELP as soon as he took office in 2001, and he renamed MAFF, MAL and gave them control of allocation of Crown Land. The fish farm industry did not develop a sea lice action plan, the public lost their government biologist advocates, sea lice outbreaks continue with lethal infection underway today rates on wild juvenile salmon on the Fraser migration route (Okisollo Channel) (photos available) and Fraser sockeye stocks migrating through Okisollo Channel are in steep decline.

October 23, 1995 Earl Warnock MELP: “If the truth harms their integrity perhaps they need to look at themselves…”

If we cannot save wild salmon in British Columbia, we do not live in a democracy.

All documents available at, “Breaking News”


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

5 thoughts on “Morton’s Telling Memo: Years of Government and Industry Secrecy on Salmon Farm Problems

  1. An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it quote from JFK
    So far many people can recognize more than one error but those who recognize an error and refuse to correct it become complicit in the error and therefore part of a mistake.
    At what point to mistakes become accountable to those they claim to serve and protect the people of BC.
    If these mistakes have been carried on for fifteen years with so many people of power and oversight responsible to their citizens and the First Nations People of BC who have also suffered as a result of these mistakes and failures.
    At some time people in places of authority and responsibility need to confess and change their ways.

    They should show some humble apology to those they claim to serve. Some people can be fooled sometimes but not all people can be fooled all of the time.
    Or if they are honest they will resign for failure to apologize and change their ways.
    At the focus of this is a responsibility of everyone to Our Creator for the creatures we have been given as gifts to be stewards to preserve and protect. It is never too late but at last no one can say, they did not know.

  2. 2000 Office of Auditor General report: “the Department is not fully meeting its legislative obligations under the Fisheries Act to protect wild Pacific salmon stocks and habitat from the effects of salmon farming. We found that the Department:

    * is not fully carrying out its current regulatory responsibilities to enforce the Fisheries Act with respect to salmon farming operations;
    * is engaged in research and is working with the Province of B.C. to develop a regulatory framework for salmon farming, but there are shortfalls in research and monitoring to assess the effects of salmon farming operations; and
    * has not put in place a formal plan for managing risks and for assessing the potential cumulative environmental effects of proposals for new sites, should the decision be made to expand the industry.

    30.2 There is an urgent need for the Department to address these shortcomings in consultations with the Province if their goal of ensuring the co-existence of sustainable salmon fishing with the farming industry is
    to be achieved.

  3. Would BC politicians have read Canada’s Auditor General Reports on the effect of Aquaculture on wild salmon stocks? From: “Over the last seven years, our Vancouver regional office has completed four chapters on salmon issues. In 1997, we reported on sustainability of the Pacific salmon resource base. This was followed by a report in 1999 on sustainability of the Pacific salmon fisheries. In 2000, we reported on the effects of salmon farming in British Columbia on the management of wild salmon stocks. Recently, we included the report “Fisheries and Oceans Canada—Salmon Stocks, Habitat, and Aquaculture” in Chapter 5 of the 2004 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.”
    2000: “Ch 30—Fisheries and Oceans—The Effects of Salmon Farming in BC on the Management of Wild Salmon Stocks: Fisheries & Oceans is managing the salmon farming industry on the basis that it poses an overall low risk to wild salmon and habitat. However, the Department is not fully meeting its legislative obligations under the Fisheries Act to protect wild Pacific salmon stocks and habitat from the effects of salmon farming.. etc”

  4. I have fished in Nooka sound for many years…they have allowed fish farms into this pristine sound now…the farms lights at night must attract smolts to the pen…not to mention the smell of food…the majority of fish I have caught over the past 5 years now have sea lice on them…so they struggle to survive with the parasite feeding on them their entire life…nice…all thanks to Gordy and the deceitful pack of rats he has lying to the people of B.C. on a daily basis. Where are our first Nations leaders on this…and why aren’t they all screaming bloody murder about this crime? The people of the first nations are being robbed of a natural food source for a few lousy paying jobs..they are selling out to Campbells minions and future generations of their own people. Insanity!

  5. Democracy in BC is actually hypocrisy .. it’s a hoax. In truth we live in a corporatocracy where corporations control governments … federal and provincial … and the decisions that impact the survival of all things living … including wild salmon.

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