Researcher leads effort to ferry young Salmon past swarms of sea lice generated by Salmon farms
by Craig Weatherby
Many readers of Vital Choices will be familiar with marine biologist Alexandra Morton.
She is pictured at left, with letters containing donations to support her striking new effort to save wild Salmon threatened by nearby fish farms (see “Bold Plan” and “Adopt-a-Fry”, below).
Alex Morton has spent many years researching sea life among the coastal islands of the Broughton Archipelago—an area about 200 miles northwest of Vancouver, British Columbia (BC) that’s home to dozens of Salmon spawning rivers and industrial Salmon sites.
She founded and heads the small but vital Raincoast Research Society, which we support (See “Help Support a Wild Salmon Heroine”).
Alex Morton and scientists at Canadian universities published research in recent years that proves sea lice generated by Salmon farms are killing BC's wild Pink Salmon in numbers large enough to threaten their survival.
Pink Salmon are by far the most numerous wild Pacific Salmon species and are critically important to the area’s economy and ecosystem.
Bold plan to “medevac” Salmon fry past sea lice swarms
In an attempt to save BC’s Pink Salmon and bring public attention to the problem, Alex Morton has hatched a remarkable plan to save the juvenile fish, called “fry”.
The idea is to catch wild Pink Salmon fry, carry them past fish farms, and release them about 37 miles (60 kilometers) west, in open ocean waters.
The rescue effort is a joint project by local ecotourism operators, First Nations (Indian) organizations, and environment-guardians like Alex Morton.
This spring, they will try to catch hundreds of thousands of young Salmon as they exit from the mouth of the Ahta River, load them into boats, and carry them past the sea lice that swarm out from nearby Salmon farms.
Alex Morton says the plan to “medevac” Pink Salmon fry is feasible, and much more than a publicity stunt.
She and her colleagues plan to employ a method called “beach seining,” in which a boat runs a net out from the shore, then circles back, trapping the fish inside.
Once the Salmon fry are in the net, volunteers will use buckets to transfer the fish to a tank in a herring boat, and ship them past the fish farms.
If this first attempt is successful, and they can raise enough money, the Salmon-rescuers hope to repeat the experiment at the mouths of other rivers with Salmon runs devastated by lice from nearby Salmon farms.
The sea lice/Salmon farm problem... in a nutshell
Here’s how Alexandra describes the problem on the adopt-a-fry.com site, built to educate people and gather financial support for the Salmon-rescue project:
- “Without human interference, lice die off in the autumn as adult fish head upstream into fresh water. Fish farms provide what these parasites don’t naturally have—millions of available hosts close to the rivers, year-round. So lice numbers explode around farms. In the early spring, newly-hatched Pink Salmon run a gauntlet of farm-lice.
- “Each generation, there are fewer and fewer small Salmon fry making it safely out to sea. And these Pink Salmon are BC’s keystone fish, the species on which the eco-system depends. Everything feeds on the Pinks—other Salmon species, whales, bear, even the forest itself.”
In other words, the impacts of the threatened extinction of BC’s Pink Salmon runs would affect more than the fish and the folks whose livelihoods and diets depend on them. Of course, those considerations alone provide ample reason to halt the existential threat posed to Pink Salmon by industrial Salmon operations.
Thanks for reading, and please consider adopting a salmon fry!