What are salmon farms?Salmon farms are floating industrial operations that rear about a million fish per farm each year. They dump tons of waste per day into once-pristine bays and channels, because it is cheaper than dealing with their waste. Norwegian companies and Mitsubishi own the salmon farms in British Columbia. Salmon farms are extremely harmful to wild fish because they break the natural laws, releasing dangerous levels of viruses, bacteria and sea lice. What young wild salmon experience as they swim past salmon farms on their way out to sea is like walking your child through an infectious disease ward on her way to school. Wild salmon are declining wherever there are salmon farms. Salmon farms don’t “feed the world” because they use wild fish as feed for the farm salmon. While making very few jobs, they threaten jobs in wilderness tourism and fishing. They use First Nation territories with or without their permission. The wild salmon economy is much bigger than the salmon farming industry in BC, but somehow the salmon farming industry receives more protection from government than the thousands of Canadians who depend on and simply love wild salmon. There is a much better way. Salmon farmers could build land-based, closed-containment fish farms—a cleaner and more socially acceptable way to undertake aquaculture in Canada—and we could restore wild salmon with the cutting-edge tool known as genomic profiling. In British Columbia, these issues are of serious concern to the economy and environment. This industry is too dirty to be operating in the ocean and it is expanding.
The Canadian government has allowed salmon farms into critical wild salmon habitatThe salmon farming companies seem to know that the best place to grow farmed salmon is where the wild salmon thrive and congregate. Salmon farms have been sited in some of the best wild salmon habitat in British Columbia, many of them along the critical Fraser migration route. Salmon farms must have marine finfish licences from the Canadian Government (Fisheries and Oceans Canada). In recent years, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has only granted one-year licences to BC salmon farms. However, the Trudeau government has just awarded six-year licences to these fish farms despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of the harm caused to wild salmon. This short video shows how the Fraser sockeye runs have changed since the introduction of fish farms.
Salmon farms are a dirty businessSalmon farming is a dirty industry that uses Canada’s largest wild salmon migration routes as an open sewer. Viruses from salmon farms pour out across entire channels in a plume stretching 40 km. Billions of sea lice swarm out of the pens and eat young wild salmon to death. The tons of farm fish feces are smothering the seafloor and are never cleaned up. Bacteria breeding in the crowded salmon farms become more virulent and flow out into the ocean. We know feedlots breed dangerous diseases. Today, no one allows wild birds to land in chicken factories because of dangerous avian influenza and other diseases. Salmon farms are feedlots in the ocean, surrounded only by nets, pouring feedlot-pathogens over wild fish that migrate and feed wildlife and people. Salmon farms should be contained as the terrestrial feedlots are.
Diseases from salmon farms affect wild salmonThe greatest threat from salmon farming in the ocean is their viruses. In the wild, predators eat the slower, weaker, sick fish and so keep the population healthy. However, salmon farms crowd and stress fish and keep the predators out and so they give viruses the perfect circumstances to mutate, amplify, become more deadly and spill out into the surrounding ocean at levels wild fish have never seen before. It is like the difference between walking through a crowd with one sick person vs. 100,000 people coughing and sneezing in your face. One of the current viruses of concern is piscine reovirus (PRV). See video.
Piscine reovirus is in BC and has become a matter before the courtsPRV is highly contagious and strongly linked to a heart disease in salmon called Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI). Over 80% of the farmed salmon in BC are infected with PRV and therefore the wild salmon are swimming through a soup of this virus. It appears BC has a Norwegian strain of PRV. Infected fish are physically stunted and their muscles are so weakened that they have trouble swimming or even pumping blood. The disease spread very rapidly through Norway. Researchers suspect that wild salmon that develop this disease will not be able to swim up a river to spawn.
In 2015, the Federal Court of Canada ruled that it is unlawful for private companies to transfer young farmed salmon infected with viruses from the land-based hatcheries into open-pen farms in the ocean, unless the Minister of Fisheries gives permission for each transfer of infected fish. Today, a year later, we are unable to find any evidence that BC salmon farming industry is abiding by this ruling. Marine Harvest and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) attempted to appeal this decision so that the industry could use diseased fish, but just before the appeal date a government scientist released new information and the lawyer for Canada paused the case. Canada is scheduled to go to court in October with Marine Harvest to overturn this ruling so the industry can use diseased fish.