Fish biologist links fish farms to disappearing Fraser River salmon

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      A fish biologist with an environmental group has suggested that fish farms could be a contributing factor behind a stunning drop in the expected return of Fraser River sockeye.

      Stan Proboszcz, who works for Watershed Watch Society, told the Georgia Straight there are three theories that could help explain why Fisheries and Oceans Canada has missed the mark on its forecast.

      ”¢  Ocean temperature changes are affecting the food dynamics for juvenile sockeye on their way out to sea.

      ”¢  Warming temperatures in the Fraser River are stressing juvenile salmon, which could have an impact on mortality.

      ”¢  Salmon farms in Georgia Strait are infecting juvenile sockeye with sea lice.

      “I’m sure it’s a combination of factors,” Proboszcz said.

      He noted that a 2008 study by fisheries researcher Alexandra Morton demonstrated that juvenile sockeye salmon travelling near the Discovery Islands area off the east coast of Vancouver Island were infected with sea lice.

      The study’s abstract noted that sample sizes were too low to support a formal statistical analysis.

      “She sampled pinks; she sampled chums; and she sampled sockeye,” Proboszcz said. “This is where the discovery came about where she saw elevated levels of sea lice on sockeye.”

      The peer-reviewed study appeared in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, which is published by the American Fisheries Society.

      "Watershed Watch is involved with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Pacific Salmon Commission, and we’re following up on that sockeye research," he added.  "We have some preliminary results that indicate the sockeye that migrate around the farms in Discovery Islands are indeed Fraser River stocks.”

      Later this month, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea is heading a Fisheries and Oceans Canada delegation to an aquaculture conference, Aqua Nor 2009, in Norway. Critics say the federal government is in  a conflict of interest as a promoter or aquaculture at the same time that it's regulating the industry.

      Initially, the federal government expected six million to 10.6 million salmon to return to the Fraser River this year. According to Jeff Grout, regional resource manager-salmon, the government now expects between one million to 1.7 million to return.

      In an interview with the Straight, Grout rejected any suggestion that fish farms could be a contributing factor behind the shockingly low returns.

      “We certainly don’t have scientific evidence that suggests lice from the farms have caused the poor marine survival across all of our sockeye groups,” Grout said. “We have seen poor returns in the Skeena as well, and there aren’t any salmon farms situated along the migration routes there.”

      He noted that his department forecast two million Skeena sockeye to return this year. “The accounting of the run is still going on there, but we’re expecting it to be probably just less than a million,” Grout said.

      He pointed out that a couple of years ago, there were widespread poor returns across a range of species, including pink, coho, Chinook, and chum salmon.

      “It appeared related to the year they went into the ocean,” Grout said. “There were very warm conditions. Plankton levels appeared to be low for the species”¦.We may have had warmer water predators moving up into that warm water.”

      Proboszcz said Fisheries and Oceans Canada can’t do much about climate change, but it should stop denying the science concerning the impact of sea lice from fish farms on juvenile wild  salmon. He described it as a “worldwide epidemic”.

      “The science has been published over and over again in country after country after country,” Proboszcz said. “So we really need to seriously consider the negative effects of salmon farms in this situation. Removing the farms from the outmigrating areas would be a great start. It’s the easiest thing to do.”



      Alexandra Morton

      Aug 13, 2009 at 5:44pm

      Way to go Stan, thank you!

      As to the Skeena, that is no river to compare anything by as there are enormous issues there. People who fish that river are furious with DFO over what they see as horrible mis-management on a host of issues.

      As to the other species, well that remains to be seen, but each salmon species migrates to sea on different years, and lumping them is useless.

      On the southwest corner of Vancouver Island the Somass River sockeye did not pass a salmon farm on their way to sea and they are returning at 2xs the number DFO forecast.

      There is something very wrong here. Government is guessing, while ignoring the one factor we could fix and is causing EXACTLY this problem worldwide. Only a massive public voice will force government to see the salmon farm issue for what it is.

      Please join 16,000 people in signing a letter to the MInister of Fisheries asking that the laws of Canada finally be applied to salmon farms at

      Little green men

      Aug 13, 2009 at 5:47pm

      What a wonderful pretext to allow the government to regulate something else. Oh, and this guy can be hired as well to oversee it - double score. Fabricate a dire problem, garner a groundswell reaction and provide a solution that only you know how to implement - instant government grant and employment.

      Government climate interventionists are using the same method of sale as well...

      Smart guy - knows the game.


      Aug 13, 2009 at 10:48pm

      I have said it before. If you want to know who benefits from the demise of wild salmon, FOLLOW THE MONEY. Of course fish farms benefit the most. Guess which political parties the fish farms management contributed to during the last provincial and federal elections? You guessed it, FOLLOW THE MONEY. As Shell Busie would say, "It's just that easy".

      Skeena Fisherman

      Aug 14, 2009 at 7:32am

      Sockeye returns are lower than predicted in the Skeena, to be sure, but nowhere near the loss to the Fraser system. Grout is looking for any excuse to eliminate fish farms as a factor in the 90% decline of returning Sockeye.
      All other species of salmon are returning to the Skeena in large numbers but my guess is the Fraser will see a huge loss to their Pink salmon run as well this year.


      Aug 14, 2009 at 9:47am

      Mary Ellen Walling, the executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, responds to this situation by stating:

      “In the case of Fraser River sockeye, since the closest salmon farm is over 110 kilometres away from the Fraser River's mouth, there is no opportunity for out-migrating Fraser River salmon fry to come in contact with farmed salmon during their critical early life stages and; therefore, no chance for sea louse transmission to occur,”

      At least by blathering this nonsense, she is allowing us an opportunity to see how little she or her industry knows or cares about wild salmon.

      Salmon have tails. Salmon swim. Salmon swim THOUSANDS of kilometers as smolts from their natal streams, past places as the Broughtons (as in the case of Fraser sockeye smolts) out to the Alaska gyre for between 1.5 years (pinks) to ~ 5 years (some chinooks) and back along the coast (which includes the Broughtons) to spawn and die.

      Anyone who knows anything about salmon knows this (which apparently excludes Walling), and anyone who cares about wild salmon is concerned about this (again, excluding Walling).


      Aug 14, 2009 at 12:26pm

      It is telling that Mary Ellen Walling finally acknowledges above, in "agentaqua's" quote of her that sea lice transmission is an issue. How many years has it taken for this simple acknowledgment? This goes to the credibility of all salmon farmers and those that represent them.

      Is there a scientist in the house?

      Aug 15, 2009 at 1:43am

      Honest to god, nothing is worse than everyone else's shallow analysis of a scientific paper that probably nobody has read. Do you know what this article amounts to?

      Stop the hysterics... please just stop.


      Aug 15, 2009 at 6:58pm

      This whole issue is being blamed on fish farms . Fish farmers are not the managing authority who over see the resource; DFO is. Why are they not being studied for poor, wasteful regulatory and management practices instead of scapegoating?

      I hate fish farms

      Aug 16, 2009 at 1:38pm

      It's funny and sad at the same time...

      Anything that government touches seems to affect things to a huge degree.

      I was up in the Bella Bella region fishing this past week and as a result of the closure to commercial fishing for herring this year I personally viewed anglers catching some of the largest Coho Salmon I have ever seen. One angler caught a 23 lb coho. I caught a 19 lb coho. The average catch was over 11 lbs. On previous trips a 15lb coho would have been considered a winner in our derby. This year a 23 pounder.

      This goes to show you that when the fish have the adequate food supply then they get the chance to grow.

      The funny thing is the 23 pounder wasn't even ready to head to the river, it had one more year to go.


      Aug 16, 2009 at 11:21pm

      Is their a measure for tolerance of wild salmon to sea lice?

      Isn't it weird that all of them don't show up?

      Is it possible that someone just got there and grabbed lots of them?

      Do we check for these things or do we just assume that yes, my paper I wrote is correct so see? Do we do due diligence as well in every instance?

      Thank you for the englightening information though and yes, it is a possibility to consider. But as a citizen I would like to see a thorough investigation that includes:
      A) Sea Lice thresholds in relation to rising temperatures
      B) Sea Lice thresholds in relation to farmed salmon
      C) Maps of Ships in the area of the 'funnel'
      D) A map of undersea radar activity and is there anything new there?
      E) Seismic activity - Fish do know what goes on under the sea?
      F) None of the above? What else?

      Give us a picture, not just your paper.