Alexandra Morton: Canada is changing its laws for dirty salmon

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      On the January 10, 2015, hurricane-force winds hit the coast of Norway.

      Over 100,000 farm fish escaped during the storm, including 63,000 North American steelhead.

      Sport fishermen, furious that these foreign fish were teeming through the fjords near Bergen, set to work recapturing the oddly disfigured steelhead. They sent samples to a lab at the University of Bergen, where their fears were confirmed. The farm fish were positive for a suite of farm viruses.

      The race was on. Using hooks, nets, and even spear guns, they recaptured 30,000 of the diseased fish in an effort to stop them from entering nearby rivers, spreading disease, and disturbing the wild Atlantic salmon eggs in the gravel there. As fishermen posted horrific images of what our magnificent steelhead had become in the cages of Norway, major media ran stories and within a month, the Norwegian government enacted a new law: a fine for fish farm escapes.

      The Central and Green parties of Norway made calls to move this troublesome industry onto land in order to save the last of the country’s wild salmon and the industry itself. They suggested waiving the more than $1 million licence fee for any farm that went ashore.

      The reason for the uproar: only 500,000 wild Atlantic salmon exist in Norway today, less than half the number in a single fish farm. For that, Norwegians blame salmon farms as one of the primary causes.

      Here in Canada, we are mirror image: people are trying to protect wild Pacific salmon from farmed Atlantic salmon.

      Ninety-eight percent of salmon farms in B.C. have their head office in Norway; however, there is no recognition of the serious problems there.

      Canadians need to know our laws are being rewritten to accommodate this industry that is risking our wild salmon.

      On February 15, 2015, the Harper government announced it will offer nine-yearlicence terms to the salmon farming industry, up from the single-year licences granted over the past five years. These sites throughout B.C., on nearly every south coast migration route, will be locked down for nine years.

      “It is just not acceptable to have millions and millions of dollars invested in the industry for one-year licences,” complained Mary Ellen Walling, ex-director of the B.C Salmon Farmers Association in the Feb-Mar 2013 edition of SOAR.

      “Millions of dollars” sounds important, so who are these investors?

      They are Statoil Pension, U.S. and Norwegian banks, ex-Norwegian billionaire John Fredricksen, a Norwegian bulk carrier shipping company, and so on. The profits from expanding this industry in B.C. go to Norway, even as Norway recognizes the industry is an unacceptable risk to their wild salmon.

      Generally speaking, Norway is a country of exceptionally high moral standard. They choose the Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Oslo is a beautiful city with bicycles everywhere for people to share as they commute, and in a move of extraordinary global significance, earlier this month Norway divested its vast sovereign wealth fund from dirty coal and dirty oil. Thank you Norway. But what about dirty salmon? Big agribusiness is releasing tons of industrial biological waste daily per farm into some of our world’s last wild salmon migration routes. Isn’t investment in salmon farming dirty salmon?

      A letter asking citizens of Norway to divest dirty salmon investments is making its way around the world. Thousands of people, most from Canada, are signing. But there are also over 100 Norwegian names and very strong comments from those people.

      “Fish farms are nasty. And the politicians that support them are corrupt,” reads one.

      “It’s all about greed, and little or nothing else,” reads another.

      The Province of British Columbia is currently reviewing new salmon farm applications sited closer together than provincial standards allow. That’s the same biological brick wall this industry runs into repeatedly: placing too many fish too close together, sparking devastating viral epidemics such as in Chile 2007-2009. A farm now owned by Mitsubishi wants to triple the number of Atlantic salmon at the mouth to Kingcome Inlet. Will this be the final straw to the herring and salmon that seem unable to rebound despite decades of fishing closures?

      Eastern Canada is also in uproar. A broad coalition of fishermen, businessmen, lawyers, scientists, and citizens is calling on Prime Minister Harper to halt the removal of section 36 from the Fisheries Act. Section 36 prohibits the release of substances that kill fish into the oceans of Canada. But the salmon farming industry constantly needs new drugs in their war on sea lice. March 2014, the CEO for Marine Harvest, the biggest salmon farming corporation in the world, and B.C., made headlines in Norway. “Whoever solves sea lice, come and seem me, because we need help,” one read.

      Do these companies belong here if they have not solved their problems at home?

      On February 25, 2014, David Bevan, associate assistant deputy minister at Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), testified to the Senate Standing Committee: “Under section 36, it's illegal to put into the water any harmful substances, so that was a very critical impediment to further operation of the aquaculture industry, so that's what we're currently dealing with.”

      In New Brunswick, a salmon farmer was recently ordered to pay $500,000 in connection to the death of hundreds of lobster due to the use of pesticides used to kill sea lice. Lobster is Canada’s biggest public fishery. Is it in the public interest to allow salmon farming to harm wild fisheries?

      In B.C., the salmon farming industry has just been given a new drug. In addition to soaking the pellets they feed their fish in de-lousing agents, they are now bathing entire farms in hydrogen peroxide and then releasing it into the ocean over prawn, shrimp, rock cod, wild salmon, and many other wild fisheries.

      The formulation is so strong that during treatment, warnings must be posted to “prevent recreational activities in the water around the fish farms”. Approved respirators are required due to the “moderately acutely toxic” effect on humans. The Proposed Registration Document PRD2014-11 blithely notes that no research has been done on the impact of releasing millions of gallons of this industrial-strength formulation over wild juvenile migrating salmon, herring, oolichans, and so on. And yet DFO is handing out permits.

      There are other very unsettling legislative changes under review. The salmon farming industry would like the right to own salmon in the Canadian marine waters.

      Currently, no one can own a fish in the ocean. The moment salmon farmers transfer theirfish from freshwater hatcheries into the saltwater net pens, ownership slips out of their hands. If the Harper government gifts the industry with the unprecedented legal right to own salmon in the ocean, we start down the slippery trail of misfortune worn smooth by those who have gone before us. The B.C. coast will have two kinds: one protected by teams of well-paid lawyers and the other not. Tragedy of the commons hits replay.

      Already, this industry has been issued licences that permit transfer of diseased farm salmon from hatcheries into sea pens on our wild salmon migration routes. This has been challenged in the courts (Morton vs Canada and Marine Harvest, June 2014) and the decision is pending.

      Meanwhile, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is seeking authority to kill wildsalmon to protect farmedsalmon from disease as per the Proposed Aquaculture Regulations. This is of special concern to the nations of the Fraser River, where many sockeye populations thrive as carriers of the IHN virus, which is lethal to the millions of Atlantic salmon in sea pens on sockeye migration routes. There have already been three major epidemics of IHN in B.C. farmed salmon, for which tax-payers compensated the industry.

      As Rafe Mair said, one of the greatest challenges in communicating what our government is doing to B.C. is that their behaviour is simply unbelievable,and so people don’t react.

      Norway’s offer to waive the $1 million licence fee for any farm that establishes on land cannot be extended here in Canada, because currently federal salmon farming licences are issued for free.

      It is time to divest dirty salmon, move toward clean land-based aquaculture, include renewable feed sources, and use cutting edge science now available to bring wild salmon back.

      Want to learn more about how to tell if the salmon on your plate is farmed or wild? Here’s a guide.

      Alexandra Morton is the executive director of the Department of Wild Salmon. The Department of Wild Salmon links together the experience and knowledge of hundreds of salmon groups, First Nations, university departments, and labs.



      Laurie Watt

      Mar 7, 2015 at 10:43am

      Excellent article, Dr. Morton. It's time the general public woke up to the realities of this terrible industry - this article goes a long way in that direction. No-one should eat farmed salmon raised in open net-pens in the ocean.

      esko ikäläinen

      Mar 7, 2015 at 10:52am

      time to end this madness it gets crazier for every day
      iam working on a stop its time for you to take part of the future and act

      Pamela Fitzpatrick

      Mar 7, 2015 at 12:10pm

      We need more voices like Alexandra Morton's, speaking out about the terrible effects of salmon farms on our BC wild salmon stock, about the aggressive push from the industry to change our Canadian laws for their own benefit, and about the chemical nature of farmed salmon promoted as "food". Thanks for your courage and determination, Alexandra! Please sign the petition so we can create change:

      The plain facts

      Mar 7, 2015 at 1:05pm

      Thank you for presenting the facts, and at the same time coining a perfect descriptor, about dirty salmon. Why anyone with half the brain of a turnip would ever choose to eat, let alone support, farmed salmon is astounding to me. While it is cheaper on your wallet it undoubtedly will wreak havoc on your health and your tastebuds. Keep fighting the good fight Alexandra. I support you in my own way by refusing to support restaurants that serve farmed salmon and never buying it at the store.

      Trevor Hurtubise

      Mar 7, 2015 at 7:12pm

      Thank you Alexandra Morton and thank you to all of you who continue to support this cause. I have read some of Canadian Department of Fisheries and Ocean's own damning documentation on the ongoing horrific battle with sea lice and the failed attempts at rectifying the problems they themselves have caused. If they only read their own documentation they would realize that salmon farming is an extremely risky and careless, greedy industry. Believe me, by even the DFO's own analysis and conclusions- this industry is a botched experiment, tampering with the natural, balanced ecosystem. It is obvious that keeping salmon that naturally swim thousands of miles in a lifetime in a pen and close proximity to each other clearly breeds disease and sea lice and if allowed to continue, will decimate not only the salmon farming industry but wild salmon as well. now they are proposing to use even more harsh chemicals in open ocean water- unbelievable! Every chance I get, I educate others about this issue and encourage them to pass on the message. I urge everyone to boycott the consumption of farmed salmon and to support the environment, wild salmon sportfishing industries, hatcheries, and a sustainable, regulated healthy commercial fishing industry. I love this country and all it gives us and I want it to remain wild and free.

      Jan Elise (Larssen) Smith

      Mar 8, 2015 at 3:59am

      Dear Alexandra, I have been involved with fishing on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, here in Ucluelet since 1976. I am the wife of Michael Smith. His troller is the Blue Eagle 1. He and Doug Kimoto, on the La Perouse are the last 2 Area G licensed vessels to fish Salmon on the West Coast of Vancouver Island in our community of Ucluelet. I fished for 11 years with my Captain and husband but, it became so crazy with Bob Wright and the sport fishing henchman, that I actually quit. I went to Malaspina College and became a licensed hairdresser and have had my Salon here in Ukee since 91, I am writing to tell you how much I beleive in what you are saying and doing!!!Kathy Scarfo has been the Valkyrie of our dwindling fleet, I have always supported and loved her. It's the same as how I feel about you. Plus, I know you have met each other,
      I just survived 7 months of hell with a broken arm that became staph infected. It was pretty touch and go got awhile. So now I am re-evaluating my life.
      I am soon to be 64 years old. I want to ask you.,, what can I do to help you? What can I do help the survival of the Salmon!Please advise
      Ps I have had lots of experience with fishing, fishplants, working at Thornton Creek Hatchery, as the Chair for like 20 something years, plus clipping and tagging. Then I was at Robertson Cteek Hatchery tagging a million chinook one year.
      Anyhow, you get the drift, please get ahold of me.
      I would love to hear from you please.

      View from the Coast

      Mar 8, 2015 at 7:59am

      It's all about greed folks. We export harmful products that are not sold here, as most consumers in BC get it, (except maybe walmart) but our shareholder loving governments continue to support these corporations with laws & subsidies. We continue to export asbestos even though they know it is causing deaths. The trend is to make people poor and desperate enough to to accept any job no matter how disgusting or harmful at any pay but hey, it's the economy stupid.

      Joanne Eriksson

      Mar 8, 2015 at 11:11am

      Typical of this Federal Gov't, Commission's recommendations--in this case, the Cohen Commission--are ignored, and their own agenda promoted. Recommendations for a moratorium on new salmon farm applications until after September 2020 and initiating DFO studies into the effects of salmon farms on the wild stocks are shelved, as well as the eventual removal of present-day farms if more than negligible deleterious effects are found. Closed-containment farms on land would not only make the argument moot, but would virtually eliminate their own sea lice explosions, deadly algal blooms, viral & bacterial epidemics transferred between farmed and wild hosts, and enable tons of excrement and food wastes to be collected and composted, which should counter any addition costs of moving on land. To encourage this industry to do the responsible thing seems to be beyond this Gov't's capacity--but then again, they don't believe in science!