Salmon farms off the coast of British Columbia pose a serious threat to wild Pacific salmon (see "Canada's Wild Salmon Need Americans' Help”).

Last February, marine biologist Alexandra Morton and her allies won a key court battle in the fight to protect wild salmon.

The ruling may force Canada's federal government to (reluctantly) wrest control of salmon farms from provincial authorities in British Columbia.

Those local officials have virtually ignored the dire threat documented in several peer-reviewed scientific studies (see "Salmon Defenders Win Hopeful Court Case”).

Our most recent article on the issue — "Fish-Farm Threats to Salmon Affirmed in Timely Report” — covers oceans-oriented writer Taras Grescoe's superior dispatch from the scene.

That piece also offers links to past coverage of the struggle to save Canadian wild salmon, waged by Morton and her many allies among local residents as well as the area's commercial and sport fishing, tourism, and conservation communities.

We received an alarming, albeit unsurprising email from Alexandra on May 26, and have published it below with her permission.

The background to Alex Morton's letter from Norway
Before you read Ms. Morton's email, know that the two companies she names
Mainstream and Marine Harvestare huge salmon-farm firms of Norwegian origin, with largely Norwegian ownership.

Norwegian corporations control almost all salmon farms in British Columbia, sited at the mouths of salmon rivers, just below southeast Alaska's major salmon runs.

It was the Norwegian fish farms run by firms like these two that brought Atlantic salmon from abundance to endangered species status... a process aided by rampant damming or polluting of salmon rivers in Europe and eastern North America.

The serious problems that flow from western Canada's salmon farms
sea lice, viruses, and pollutiondo not threaten Alaskan salmon directly.

Alaska does not permit salmon farming, and its salmon rivers are far enough from the Canadian fish farms that its wild Alaskan salmon runs are quite secure (Unless global warming or the huge gold mine proposed near Alaska's Bristol Bay should wreak havoc).

But much of our Wild Red canned sockeye salmon comes from British Columbian rivers, and we cannot ignore the threat to British Columbia's wild salmon, which — along with Alaskan and Siberian wild salmon runs — constitute most of the world's remaining wild salmon.

We prize "Salmon Nation” — the temperate Pacific coastal rainforests and rivers of Canada, Siberia, and the U.S. Pacific Northwest very highly.

And wild salmon support, with their millions of spent, post-migration bodies, the wildlife and ecosystem of this unique nutritional, spiritual, and environmental asset. These amazing fish deserve the highest level of protection against risks created by unethical pursuit of short-term shareholder profit.

In British Columbia, this pursuit is promoted by salmon farms' exaggerated claims of job creation… ignoring the fishing, tourism, and related jobs lost as wild salmon runs are crippled or killed by sea lice and chemicals from salmon farms.

After reading Alex's letter, you can help in two ways:

Donate to the fight to save Canada's wild salmon

Sign a letter of protest addressed to the Premier and Fisheries Minister of British Columbia.

Message from Alexandra Morton
I have been in Norway for 10 days because 92 percent of fish farming in British Columbia is Norwegian owned.

Disease and sea lice are not under control in Norwegian salmon farms and BC stands to lose all.

I have met with many Norwegian scientists, members of the Mainstream and Marine Harvest boards, been to their annual general meetings, toured the area with fishermen, examined a closed-containment facility, met the Norwegians fighting for their fish and joined a scientific cruise.

[Editor's note: A closed-containment facility is one where fish are raised onshore in a tank isolated from the sea. This approach is common in catfish and other freshwater fish farming, and has been proposed as a solution to the problems associated with offshore salmon farm pens.]

I thought Norway had this industry handled and I expected to learn how marine salmon farming could work, but this has not been the case.

My eyes have really been opened. This industry still has major issues that are growing and has no business expanding throughout the temperate coastlines of the world. The way they have been treating sea lice in Norway has caused high drug resistance. The only solution in sight is increasingly toxic chemicals.

In the past two years (2007, 8) sea lice levels have actually increased on both the farm and wild fish. The scientists I met with are holding their breath to see if drug-resistant sea lice populations will explode and attack the last wild salmon and sea trout. The same treatment methods have been used in BC and we can expect this to occur as well.

I am not hearing how the industry can possibly safeguard British Columbia from contamination with their ISA virus. Infectious Salmon Anemia is a salmon virus that is spreading worldwide, wherever there are salmon farms.

In Chile, the Norwegian strain of ISA has destroyed 60 percent of the industry, 17,000 jobs and unmeasured environmental damage. The industry is pushing into new territory. If this gets to BC no one can predict what it will do to the Pacific salmon and steelhead, it will be unleashed into new habitat and we know this is a very serious threat to life.

Professor Are Nylund head of the Fish Diseases Group at the University of Bergen, Norway, reports that, "…based on 20 years of experience, I can guarantee that if British Columbia continues to import salmon eggs from the eastern Atlantic infectious salmon diseases, such as ISA, will arrive in Western Canada. Here in Hardangerfjord we have sacrificed our wild salmon stocks in exchange for farm salmon. With all your 5 species of wild salmon, BC is the last place you should have salmon farms.”

New diseases and parasites are being identified. The most serious is a sea lice parasite that attacks the salmon immune system. There is concern that this new parasite is responsible for accelerating wild salmon declines. The Norwegian scientists agree with many of us in BC. If you want wild salmon you must reduce the number of farm salmon. There are three options.

The future for salmon farming will have to include:
  • Permanent reduction of not just the number of sea lice, but also the number of farm salmon per fjord,
  • Removing farm salmon for periods of time to delouse the fjords and not restocking until after the out-migration of the wild salmon and sea trout.
  • Where wild salmon are considered essential they say the only certain measure is to remove the farms completely.
There are many people here like me. I met a man who has devoted his life to the science of restoring the Voss River, where the largest Atlantic salmon in the world, a national treasure, have vanished due to sea lice from salmon farms. Interestingly he is using the method I was not allowed to use last spring... towing the fish past the farms out to sea. [Editor's note: see "A Bold Plan to Save Wild Salmon from Farm-Spawned Parasites.”]

Another man is working with scientists and communities to keep the sea trout of the Hardangerfjord alive. There are so many tragic stories familiar to British Columbia.

The corporate fish farmers are unrelenting in their push to expand. With Chile so highly contaminated with the Norwegian strain of ISA all fish farmed coasts including Norway are threatened with expansion.

I made the best case I could to Mainstream and Marine Harvest for removing the salmon feedlots from our wild salmon migration routes, but they will not accept that they are harming wild salmon. They say they want to improve, but they don't say how.

Norway has different social policies which include encouraging people to populate the remote areas and so fish farming seemed a good opportunity to these people. BC has the opposite policy, but the line that fish farms are good for small coastal communities has been used in BC anyway. I have not seen any evidence that it has even replaced the jobs it has impacted in wild fisheries and tourism.

It is becoming increasingly clear to protect wild Pacific salmon from the virus ISA the BC border absolutely has to be closed to importation of salmon eggs immediately and salmon farms MUST be removed from the Fraser River migration routes and any other narrow waterways where wild salmon are considered valuable.

Our letter asking government that the Fisheries Act, which is the law in Canada be applied to protect our salmon from fish farms has been signed by 14,000 people to date at has still not been answered.

Please forward this letter and encourage more people to sign our letter to government as it is building a community of concerned people worldwide and we will prevail as there is really no rock for this industry to hide under any longer.

Alexandra Morton
May 26, 2009