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.
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.