Feds' veto fish-fry-rescue plan

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      By Alexandra Morton

      In 2000, three million pink salmon entered the rivers of the Broughton Archipelago to spawn.

      The next spring, millions of pink salmon fry poured into the ocean in a river of life.

      That was the year a fishing lodge owner alerted me to the sea lice epidemic.

      Ninety-eight percent of these young pink salmon were infected with sea lice around fish farms. And 99 percent of them failed to survive and return to spawn in 2002.

      This unprecedented decline triggered the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council.

      In absence of today’s politics, it suggested two options: get all the fish farms out of the Broughton; or just get them off the major juvenile-salmon migration route.

      Option two was enacted in 2003. Sea lice declined, and we got a good return.

      Problem solved? No. This was too big an inconvenience to the fish farmers.

      Sea lice are a natural salmon parasite but fish farms break the laws of nature. Parasites flourish in feedlots.

      The difference here is that there are no doors to close.

      Currents sweep millions of larval lice out of the net pens.

      The fish farms are too near the rivers, and so wild salmon too young to have protective coat of armored scales are dying in the millions from farm lice.

      From 2001 to the present I have coauthored nine published scientific papers showing that there are always sea lice at fish farms; that it takes only one to kill young pink and chum salmon; and that if we don’t make any changes, it will take four years to wipe out Broughton Archipelago stocks.

      I also found the same sea lice problem on sockeye and herring in northern Strait of Georgia.

      A photograph of healthy pink salmon, taken on April 3 in the Broughton Archipelago.

      For reasons that must be challenged Fisheries and Oceans Canada has adopted the policy that fish farms do no harm to our marine environment.

      Nothing my colleagues from Canada’s major universities nor I can do will point them in the right direction.

      Many Canadian scientists have seen this before as DFO (as Fisheries and Oceans has always been called) oversaw the destruction of the east coast cod.

      When DFO adopts a policy, it rides it into the ground, destroying some of this earth's most generous abundance.

      So this year I decided if they won’t move the farm fish killing off our wild salmon, I would move our wild fish around the farms.

      I launched adopt-a-fry.org with First Nation chief Bob Chamberlin and commercial fisherman John Dawson.

      We applied to DFO to pick up the young salmon before the farms, carry them by boat past the lice, and put them back in the water a few kilometers down their migration route.

      DFO does this all the time to get salmon fry out of hatcheries and around obstructions in rivers.

      Donations poured in, and we were ready to go. Sea lice have started infecting this year's generation of salmon, so time is of the essence.

      Then yesterday, DFO hand-delivered a NO.

      It said that instead of allowing us to save one of the last generations of salmon in the Broughton Archipelago, that it had a sudden interest in fixing the rivers.

      Has DFO forgotten that just few short years ago, millions of pink salmon flowed from Broughton rivers, and still the lice ate them?

      While some river work is a very good idea, the rivers are not the problem.

      The Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council made this clear in 2002 when it came up with option one: take the farms out of the Broughton Archipelago.

      This is very similar to the May 16 2007 recommendations by the special legislative committee to move all B.C. fish farming into closed tanks by 2012.

      DFO is paid by us to protect our fish and it refuses.

      The Norwegian corporations Marine Harvest and Cermaq are getting far more consideration than we are.

      Wild salmon feed our forests that reduce our carbon footprint; salmon fuel the $1.6-billion wilderness tourism.

      Every country in the world would love to have a fish this generous, but not B.C.

      Here we feed them to corporate lice.

      I have a tough choice now. I can rescue thousands of wild salmon or I can just watch them die.

      What would you do?

      Alexandra Morton is a member of the Raincoast Research Society and a founding member of Adopt-a-fry.org.

      Related articles:

      B.C. tourism operators raise alarm over sea lice
      Researcher vindicated by Crown's report
      The Truth About The Science Of Fish Lice



      Travis Lupick

      Apr 7, 2008 at 3:13pm

      Here is the letter that Fisheries and Oceans Canada delivered to Alexandra Morton on April 4:

      <em>DFO Letter Informing Alexandra Morton, Chief Bob Chamberlain and John Dawson of the Department’s Decision on Their Application to Capture Juvenile Salmon From the Ahta River Estuary, Transport Them, and Release Them Away From the Capture Site</em>

      I am writing in response to your application to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to capture an unknown quantity of pink and chum salmon from the Ahta River estuary and release the fish into fish habitat away from the capture site.

      In doing so, I would also like to take this opportunity to support Chief Bob Chamberlain’s desire to develop a more comprehensive and strategic approach to management and restoration of salmon returns in the area, which was noted in a recent e-mail. DFO is willing to commit time and resources to work within a partnership to ensure this comprehensive plan is developed. I view it as an opportunity to work together on our common goals of protecting and rebuilding the wild salmon stocks in the Broughton Archipelago.

      DFO agrees that some actions should be taken as soon as possible. In this regard, I commit that DFO will be available in the coming weeks to work with local partners and the province of B.C. to take appropriate actions in the coming year. Our actions will include developing a plan to address the longer term objective of making the Kakweikan spawning channel more naturally sustainable and productive, and a feasibility study of measures we can undertake to address the mass wasting event in the Ahta River. DFO staff have already made two trips into the Kakweikan this spring to assess the channel and we would welcome your participation during our next assessment to discuss options for its restoration.

      However, while I know that you are concerned about the possible impacts of sea lice on salmon populations, and that you have worked hard to protect wild salmon populations,

      I must advise you that the Department does not support your proposal to capture and transport Ahta River juveniles past the fish farms in the area. Given DFO’s scientific research and the regulatory processes that are in place, the Department believes that the capture, transport and release of these fish has the potential to do more harm than good.

      As is the case with all such applications, your application was reviewed by the Federal-Provincial Introductions and Transfers Committee (ITC) and a recommendation provided by the ITC to DFO for consideration. Pursuant to sections 55 / 56 of the Fishery (General) Regulations under the Fisheries Act, applications to release fish into fish habitat are assessed on the basis of genetic, ecological and disease concerns, and to determine whether the proposed activity is in keeping with the good management of the fishery.

      Having considered the recommendations of the ITC, I must advise you that DFO will not be issuing the licences required to capture and release pink and chum salmon from the Ahta River estuary. The ITC has recommended that your application be rejected on the grounds that it does not meet the test of good management of the fishery. The Ahta population is already vulnerable due to the effect of a November landslide and there are concerns that the capture and transfer of juvenile fish may result in a reduction in the population due to both direct and indirect impacts on survival. These include potential mortality of the fish as a result of stress during seining, stress and holding conditions during transport, and releasing the fish into an unknown environment 30–35 km distant from the capture site. Imprinting and subsequent homing for any returning adults may also be affected. Our experience has shown that, in some cases, capture and release strategies similar to the one proposed in your application, have resulted in significant decreases in returns. These strategies have been carried out with larger fish and without the added stress of wild capture.

      In addition, salmon farms in B.C., including the farms located near the Ahta River, operate under provincial regulations. They are required to have approved Fish Health Management Plans, conduct regular testing for sea lice, and undertake mandatory treatments or harvests if levels reach three motile lice per fish during periods of salmon migration. The fish farm operators in this area have informed us that they have chosen to proactively treat their farm stock prior to reaching the trigger level to further reduce the numbers of lice.

      As I said at the outset, I believe that some actions should be taken as soon as possible. I applaud the sentiment expressed in the e-mail of putting the debate on the causes aside and working together to benefit wild salmon, and I welcome your efforts to find ways to harmonize with our provincial colleagues on the shared goals of strong river systems filled with wild salmon.

      Yours sincerely,

      Paul Sprout
      Regional Director General,
      Department of Fisheries and Oceans
      Pacific Region


      Apr 8, 2008 at 11:01pm

      Wasn't it the DFO's incompetent management of fish-farms that has allowed sea lice to slaughter millions of juvenile salmon? Wasn't it the same incompetent DFO that allowed East Coast Cod to all but disappear?

      Every scientist at the DFO should be stripped of their academic degrees and fired!

      No wonder Canada is such an international laughing stock. Where is Greenpeace? Where is Paul Watson? Where is the provincial and federal NDP? Where is the Green Party?