Intrepid investigator's work documents damage fish farms cause to Canada's wild Salmon runs
by Craig Weatherby and Randy Hartnell
We specialize in wild Salmon from Southeast Alaska, but much of our canned Sockeye is from British Columbia (BC), Canada.
Some of the Salmon runs in Southeast Alaska originate in British Columbian rivers. But that narrow interest aside, we care deeply about the web of life integral to the unique and beautiful coastal world of adjacent BC and Southeast Alaska.
Europe's example ignored
The problems documented in British Columbia were not a surprise to Irish or Norwegian experts. This was made clear by an article in the Vancouver Sun, published just after the release of Alexandra Morton’s study (Hume S 2007).
Reporter Stephen Hume quoted fisheries biologist Dr. Greg Forde of Ireland's western regional fisheries board concerning the predictable nature of the sea lice problem in Canada:
“The awful thing is about lessons not learned. It's all déjà vu. It's the most frustrating thing to hear what's happened here has now happened in B.C.”
And Seamus Hartigan, who manages the Galway River Salmon fishery, expressed similar sentiments:
“It happened in Norway for years and we didn't pay any attention. It's happened in Ireland and you [in B.C.] are not paying attention. Do you want to learn by other people's mistakes or do you want to learn by your own mistakes?”
So we are very worried about an aquaculture-driven disaster unfolding among our close neighbors in British Columbia.
In December of 2007, researchers published a study that further documented the devastation visited on vulnerable juvenile Pink Salmon by sea lice from industrial Salmon pens in BC.
Juvenile wild Salmon from many of BC’s major spawning rivers must pass through one or more dense clusters of industrial Salmon sites on their way to the sea, where they grow to adulthood before returning upriver to spawn.
But siting Salmon farms near these rivers—despite Canadian officials’ earlier promises not to allow it, and warnings from European regulators who spoke from sad experience—has meant that increasing numbers of these juvenile Salmon never make it to adulthood.
Unsurprisingly, sea lice proliferate in Salmon pens—oceangoing feedlots, that is—where they can gorge on huge packs of captive fish.
As they pass nearby, the tiny Salmon are attacked by heavy swarms of blood-sucking sea lice generated by the abundance of penned Salmon.
(See “Sea Lice from Salmon Farms Threaten Wild Stocks.”)
So far, Alaskans have been smart enough to reject industrial Salmon sites, but as we said, fish (and lice) know no borders.
Local heroine documents the devastation
Alexandra Morton, MS co-authored the headline-making sea lice study that appeared last December in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Science.
Ms. Morton, who is based in BC, first crossed our radar screen in September of 2006.
Her name came up in connection with a Canadian court decision that validated the scientific solidity of the research conducted by her and several colleagues from Canadian universities.
This trial related to an earlier research study by Morton’s team, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: the lofty, peer-reviewed journal of America’s official scientific advisory panel (Krkosek M et al. 2006).
(For a full account, see “Court Vindicates Claim that Fish-Farm Lice Kill Wild Salmon.”)
Alexandra’s been studying regional marine life—humpback whales, dolphins, orcas (killer whales), herring, and salmon— for more than 25 years in BC, Canada. Morton grew up and attended college in America.
Morton’s small, under-funded Raincoast Research Society is located in the Broughton Archipelago coastal area studied in her team’s landmark sea lice report, about 200 miles northwest of Vancouver (i.e., 300 miles northwest of us).
We contacted Alexandra after covering her team’s report on the devastating reductions in Pink Salmon numbers in the Broughton Archipelago, caused by farm-generated sea lice.
She wanted to emphasize that the problem in the Broughton Archipelago region is common to all Salmon farms sited near wild Salmon rivers.
Our conversations with Morton have been troubling. She says that the sea lice problem is far more widespread than Broughton Archipelago, and is only the tip of the iceberg, with algal overgrowth destroying the marine food chain, and pesticides from logging operations taking their toll as well.
She took her boat to study other Salmon farm areas and found the same problems. For example, one Chum (Keta) Salmon run that’s close to a processing plant completely failed to materialize in 2007.
Morton also says that bacteria and diseases associated with Salmon farms are also a severe threat to wild fish and that the combination of associated problems makes siting Salmon farms near the migratory rivers “madness”.
Even the Salmon farm industry knows the problem is real.
According to a citizen petition to the BC government leaders, major BC Salmon farms shareholder John Fredriksen made this comment acknowledging that sea lice from Norwegian Salmon farms killed off nearby wild Atlantic Salmon runs: “I am concerned about the future for wild Salmon. Fish farming should not be allowed in fjords with Salmon rivers” (SBCS 2007).
As Alexandra told us, “This is a Salmon-based eco-system. These fish gather energy from the sea, and carry to land as they decay after returning to their rivers, and are consumed by bears, birds, and small animals who excrete it deep in to the woods as fertilizer for the soil and plant life.
“We find nitrogen-15, which is characteristic of Salmon, in trees surrounding the Salmon rivers, which indicates are deeply the fish are woven into the web of life. Fish farms break all the natural laws… I see decaying systems all around.”
Persuaded of her integrity and credibility, and moved by her sense of urgency, we’ve decided to add Ms. Morton’s Raincoast Research Society to the list of organizations we support from the profits earned by selling wild Salmon and seafood from Alaska and BC.
Support wild Salmon preservation!
We urge you to join us in supporting the important research activities conducted by Alex Morton and her Raincoast Research Society, which is a small, non-profit organization.
Send your tax-deductible donations to:
Raincoast Research Society
Simoom Sound, BC
Canada V0P 1S0
In addition, Alexandra Morton asked us to let you know that BC Salmon farms exist primarily to serve the US market … which gives American shoppers the power to force change.
Please tell your grocer that you will not buy farmed Salmon from British Columbia, because it is killing wild Salmon.
Please write to British Columbia’s Provincial Premier (Gordon Campbell) to let him know that you will not buy farmed Salmon from BC unless and until the problems uncovered by Ms. Morton and her colleagues are addressed in a serious way.
To send a message to Premier Campbell, click here. When you get to the page, you can edit the message in the box under "Dear Premier Campbell, Minister Bell and Minister Taylor".
We suggest that you replace the stock message with this slightly edited version (Of course, if you are Canadian, replace “American” in the first sentence with “Canadian”):
I am an American who will not buy farmed Salmon from BC until concerns about their impact on wild Salmon have been addressed.
As you know, credible research shows that sea lice from salmon farms are driving wild Pink salmon in BC’s Broughton Archipelago to extinction. Wild salmon are enormously important to the Pacific Northwest culture and environment, and represent a valuable economic and nutritional resource.
Action must be taken to protect the Broughton wild salmon immediately and all of BC’s salmon in the long term.
I urge your government to empty salmon farms on key migration routes in the Broughton to ensure a sea lice free route for wild Pink salmon and allocate $10 million to a Closed System Aquaculture Innovation and Development Fund in the 2008 Provincial Budget. Emptying selected salmon farms is the only way to guarantee immediate relief to the Broughton wild Pink salmon population. Over the long term, closed system salmon aquaculture is the only solution to continuing the salmon farming industry without sacrificing our wild salmon.
It is urgent that you act on this issue immediately, as the danger to the wild salmon has reached crisis proportions. The Science paper—supported by an international academic community—leaves no doubt that open net-cage salmon farming is devastating wild salmon populations, putting coastal ecosystems and communities at risk.
Your government can prevent a tragedy. Protect the Broughton Pinks and invest in a commercial scale closed containment fund to jump start a coast wide transition to more sustainable salmon farming practices.
There is no time to waste. Farmed fish must be separated from wild stocks in order to protect the wild populations. We must ensure that closed containment technology can do exactly this and therefore I urge you to act in 2008.
- Gallaugher P, Penikett J, Wood L. Scientists’ Roundtable on Sea Lice and Salmon in the Broughton Archipelago Area of British Columbia. Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC. November 18, 2004. Accessed online August 30, 2006 at http://www.sfu.ca/cstudies/science/salmon/Conveners_Report.pdf
- Green Group/savebcsalmon.ca (SBCS). 2007. Premier Campbell, Ministers Bell and Hearn, The Future of BC Salmon is in Your Hands. Accessed online February 1, 2008 at http://www.savebcsalmon.ca/
- Hume S. B.C. wild salmon in danger of extinction. Vancouver Sun, Thursday, December 20, 2007. Accessed online February 1, 2008 at http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=f8ef35ae-a09d-4738-8c4a-589864473b00&p=1
- Krkosek M, Ford JS, Morton A, Lele S, Myers RA, Lewis MA. Declining wild salmon populations in relation to parasites from farm salmon. Science. 2007 Dec 14;318(5857):1772-5.
- Krkosek M, Lewis MA, Morton A, Frazer LN, Volpe JP. Epizootics of wild fish induced by farm fish. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Oct 17;103(42):15506-10. Epub 2006 Oct 4.
- Krkosek M, Lewis MA, Volpe JP. Transmission dynamics of parasitic sea lice from farm to wild salmon. 2005. Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B 272: 689-696. Accessed online August 30, 2006 at http://www.math.ualberta.ca/%7Emlewis/publications/SeaLicePub.htm
- Morton A, Routledge R, Peet C, Ladwig A. Sea Lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) infection rates on juvenile pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) and chum (Oncorhynchus keta) salmon in the nearshore marine environment of British Columbia, Canada. 2004. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 61: 147-157. Accessed online August 30, 2006 at http://www.sfu.ca/coastalstudies/pdf/cjfasmortonetal.pdf
- Morton A, Routledge R, Williams R. Temporal patterns of sea louse infestation on wild Pacific salmon in relation to the fallowing of Atlantic salmon farms. 2005. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 25:811-821. Accessed online August 30, 2006 at http://www.sfu.ca/cstudies/science/sealice/Mortonetal_2005.pdf