Biologist filmed sickly fish; Firm sues in retaliation; Virulent virus could spread to wild salmon
Atlantic salmon have been virtually eliminated from the wild.
Their devastating decline is traced to damming of their migratory rivers, and to diseases generated on salmon farms.
The only remaining wild salmon are Pacific species, which face threats from climate change and from mining and logging that pollutes rivers and streams.
Wild Pacific salmon also face threats from salmon farms located along their migration routes.
Earlier this year, a killer virus was found in British Columbia’s farmed and wild salmon (see Salmon-Killing Virus Found in Pacific Northwest.)
That finding highlighted the foolishness of allowing dozens of salmon farms along major migration routes of wild Pacific salmon.
Nonetheless, the Canadian government keeps denying that disease from industrial salmon farms poses a threat to wild salmon populations.
Fortunately, Alaska’s State Constitution prohibits fish-farming, but that’s not the case in Washington State, which hosts at least eight salmon farms in Puget Sound.
Marine biologist films evidence of sickness on salmon farms
Biologist Alexandra Morton has long led a science-based fight to protect wild Pacific salmon.
(Back in 2008, The New York Times published a profile of Morton that's well worth reading.)
She and university scientists have struggled — despite limited funds, and stonewalling by industry and the Canadian government — to investigate the threat of disease spread from farmed salmon to wild salmon in British Columbia’s coastal waters.
Recently, Morton obtained strong evidence that a virus deadly to salmon — piscine reo-virus (PRV) — now occurs in wild and farmed salmon along the British Columbia coast.
Most likely, PRV was introduced to Western Canada in 2007, when salmon eggs were shipped from Norway to salmon farms in British Columbia.
But the Canadian government and industrial salmon-farmers have refused independent inspections of the farms for evidence of PRV.
So Alexandra Morton took advantage of a protest by native Canadians — who marched on one salmon farm — to film farmed salmon underwater using a pole-mounted GoPro camera.
And the results of her brave action provide the first visible — and highly convincing — evidence of two critical facts:
- Farmed salmon are feeding — illegally under Canadian law — on small fish that swim through the net pens that enclose the salmon.
- Some of the salmon on that farm show clear symptoms of heart and skeletal muscle inflammation or HMSI, the disease caused by PRV.
Morton’s short film — titled “Hard Evidence”— has received more than one million views on Facebook, and we urge you to take a look.
(If you have trouble accessing or viewing the “Hard Evidence” video there, try clicking here.)
To the extent that farmed salmon are eating small wild fish also eaten by wild salmon, they're reducing the food available to wild salmon.
Salmon fishermen who inadvertently catch unauthorized fish face substantial financial penalties.
But Canada’s industrial salmon farms apparently face no fear of government inspections looking for illegal feeding on wild fish.
Canadian government sticks head in sand
For years, Canada’s Norwegian-owned industrial salmon farms have consistently denied the presence of PRV and that their farmed salmon are eating wild fish.
Sadly, the Canadian government hasn’t investigated credible charges that farmed salmon raised on the coast of British Columbia are spreading viruses to wild salmon, and eating wild fish, illegally.
Canada’s department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) cites evidence that PRV is not conclusively linked to HMSI, and that salmon can carry high loads of PRV without displaying any symptoms.
But DFO also admits that “HSMI has never been reproduced without the presence of PRV”, and that “it is common for fish with HSMI to carry higher loads of PRV than disease-free fish”.
More importantly, the symptoms of salmon with HSMI — extremely thin bodies, and lining up against net pens — are clearly obvious in the video taken by Alexandra Morton.
Norwegian salmon farming firm sues Alexandra Morton
The Norwegian firm that owns the farm she filmed — Marine Harvest — is suing Alexandra Morton.
It’s an obnoxious tactic used by large corporations to prevent protest of proposals or behavior, called a “strategic lawsuit against public participation” (SLAPP).
Marine Harvest would certainly face less pressure if — as a result of their lawsuit — the most prominent, effective scientific investigator of their operations became distracted, bankrupted, or worse.
What can you do?
We urge you to support Alexandra Morton’s work, by visiting her blog or her Go Fund Me page.
You can also urge your Senators and Representatives to pass legislation banning salmon farms anywhere wild salmon exist … especially the U.S. Pacific Coast!
- Finstad, OW, Falk K, Lovoll M, Evensen O, and Rimstad R. 2012. Immunohistochemical Detection of Piscine Reovirus (PRV) in Hearts of Atlantic Salmon Coincides with the Course of Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI). Veterinary Research. 43: 27.
- Marty GD et al. 2015. Piscine reovirus in wild and farmed salmonids in British Columbia, Canada: 1974–2013. Journal of fish diseases, 38(8), pp.713-728.