Mary Ellen Walling: Blaming salmon farms glosses over bigger issues in sockeye decline

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      By Mary Ellen Walling

      In January 2009, after four years of study, consultation, and debate, the Pacific Salmon Forum released its final report and recommendations for the long-term conservation of perhaps this province’s most significant cultural symbol.

      “Today, in many watersheds, across the Province, wild salmon face unprecedented threats to their survival and many stocks are declining. Worse yet, these threats are growing because of changes in climate affecting both ocean and freshwater habitat,” said the panel of independent citizens.

      Their extensive report says that, with the right management, B.C.’s salmon farming industry is an important economic driver. They made clear recommendations which continue to be worked on—much of them focused on how to build public trust, ensure the long-term success of marine environments, and reach the highest standard of operations. All of these are goals B.C. salmon farmers strive to exceed.

      The report, however, also talks about much more and highlights just how complicated the issue of wild salmon declines is. From climate change to logging, industrial activity in key watersheds to development of important habitats, the forum’s members said it simply with this: “No single human activity or industry is responsible for endangering wild salmon. We all share in the responsibility.”

      Now, the federal government will take its own look at the great salmon question with the Cohen Commission, an inquiry into poor returns of the Fraser River sockeye in 2009.

      It’s certainly a passionate issue. The Honourable Bruce Cohen received more applications for standing than other judges did for inquiries into the Air India bombing or the Liberal party’s sponsorship scandal. Opponents to salmon farming would like to make this inquiry one about the industry alone—we feel that glosses over bigger issues.

      The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, representing the 6,000 men and women who work in the province’s industry, was granted standing at the inquiry. We want to be there to answer any questions, share information about our operations, and correct misinformation that’s been spread.

      Some of those messages are simple: sea lice on B.C.’s salmon farms are well managed. Their numbers, along with the amount of treatment used on farmed fish have declined in the last five years, and the industry, along with its government regulators, is open about its reporting and auditing process. Our regulations are among the strictest in the world, and our fish health management protocols are exemplary. That information is made public through a regular auditing process with the provincial government and reports are posted on its Web site. Our companies are working to increase the information available publicly as well—for example, the two largest producers post site-by-site lice counts on their Web sites.

      That being said, science is still trying to determine the relationship between sea lice, wild fish, and farmed salmon. Research has shown that the naturally occurring parasite doesn’t seem to harm Pacific salmon once they reach a certain size—and that even in lab tests where lice are concentrated onto the fish, they are even in some cases able to shed them. Genetics testing has determined that the sea louse found in the Pacific ocean is different than that of the Atlantic ocean. While critics said the pink salmon in the Broughton Archipelago were going to be decimated due to sea lice, last year saw such a large return that a commercial fishery was opened while farms continued their fish health management plans.

      There are lots of questions about the salmon-farming industry and we’re happy to answer them. Public farm tours, informational mail-outs, and a detailed Web site are among the ways we reach out to the residents of the province. They should know that sustainability—for the environment, communities, and economy—is always top of mind. If we don’t make every effort to constantly improve we won’t be able to continue operating—it’s as simple as that.

      And while it might feel like a simple answer to blame salmon declines on our farmers, it misses all the other issues—and these are the ones more challenging to address and require every British Columbians’ involvement.

      Mary Ellen Walling is the executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.

      Comments

      7 Comments

      Interesting

      Jun 14, 2010 at 10:39pm

      About time the salmon farming industry spoke up. I have never understood the public's tactic of avoiding farmed salmon. How are you going to save the wild fish by eating them exclusively?

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      Skeena Fisherman

      Jun 15, 2010 at 10:09am

      The key words in this article are: "with the right management, B.C.’s salmon farming industry is an important economic driver." This has not been the case so far. We are heading down the same road with our wild salmon as the east coast did with their cod. We are waiting to long to act. again. Salmon when they get to a certain size can shed the sea lice but smolts and fry are not that certain size and they suffer tremendous losses because of their lack of protection against seal lice. Salmon farms are also responsible for polluting our oceans and destroying the sea floor underneath them. The picture accompanying this article shows you just a small number of open nets. There are hundreds more like this and all of them are polluters and sea l ice attractors. Time to close the pens or put them on land.

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      RodSmelser

      Jun 16, 2010 at 8:48am

      From the article:

      "The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, representing the 6,000 men and women who work in the province’s industry, ... "
      ==================================

      We see this kind of argument all the time when business interest groups lobby the government or attempt to influence public opinion. The business association reprenting the companies in a sector will claim to speak for their employees. That's quite inaccurate. They speak for their shareholders.

      Rod Smelser

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      HOlney

      Jun 17, 2010 at 11:39am

      Ask the 6000 people employed directly and in association with the industry if their voice isn't represented by the industry speaking out ? Time people quit believing the propaganda spread by American funded activists and started listening to the real science. Salmon farming and aquaculture in general will save declining wild stocks. Fish stocks are in trouble the world over and the only thing that will save them will be to stop fishing them and start using aquaculture to protect them.

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      in2fish

      Jun 17, 2010 at 6:02pm

      "Their extensive report says that, with the right management, B.C.'s salmon farming industry is an important economic driver."
      DFO is taking over management in December, right? If I was a salmon farmer, I'd be very, very worried.

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      salmon

      Jun 20, 2010 at 8:34pm

      With aquaculture being the top BC export, all the negative press about salmon farming is frustrating. Blaming everything on Salmon Farmers is making false accusations. There is so much more to this situation than many understand. Even at the grocery store yesterday someone was double checking to make sure they had Wild instead of Farmed salmon, I kindly asked why, the only answer she could give me was because her trainer told her so. I gave her some background on the positives of farmed salmon and she changed her mind. So many are mis-informed and It's great to see the salmon farming industry speaking up and speaking out to educate everyone on the benefits of farmed salmon.

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      Dante

      Aug 10, 2010 at 11:11am

      Farmed salmon are poison - they are fed a very nasty pesticide to kill the lice - emamectin benzoate (also known as Slice). Google it, it is very dangerous chemical that was never intended to be used on a food source.

      The fish pens themselves are painted with anti-fouling paint that has a skull & crossbones on the label.

      There are probably less than 2000 people employed directly by the fish farming industry. The largest fish farm company (that owns 80% of the fish farms) have about 800 people on staff.

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