Time is running out for wild salmon. Open-net pen salmon farms have pushed wild salmon stocks to the brink of extinction. This short film follows researchers on a journey into Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region, where they look at the devastating impacts of sea lice from fish farms on wild juvenile salmon. For the third year in a row, these vulnerable young salmon are carrying fatal loads of lice.
Sea lice proliferate on crowded salmon farms and spread to wild salmon through the open-net pens. Juvenile wild salmon, often too young to have formed scales, are extremely vulnerable to sea lice, which they would not likely encounter in the absence of fish farms. One louse per gram of body weight is a lethal load—and there was an average of 3.1 lice on juvenile wild salmon sampled during the 2020 spring outmigration..
By the time we touched down in Halifax back in February, the ice storm had passed. The power was still off in some parts of the city, and a bitter wind whipped our coats as we hailed a ride downtown. It was the ‘before time’ and my travelling companion and I were unaware that in little more then two weeks Canada would be in Covid-19 shut down. But for now we were free to travel…
Global fish farm giant Cermaq was planning an expansion into Nova Scotia. Community concern was mounting as grassroots groups got organized ahead of Cermaq’s public open house sessions. Cermaq called their outreach “Hello Nova Scotia”. Ecology Action Centre had invited Karen Wristen (Living Oceans Society), Bob Chamberlin (First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance) and me on a speaking tour of Nova Scotia communities. We planned to bring lessons learned from the BC salmon farm fight.
Unlike in British Columbia, in Nova Scotia open net-pen aquaculture is regulated primarily by the provincial government. In 2019 the province granted Cermaq an “option to lease” in four regions of the province.
Cermaq planned major expansion for Nova Scotia
Cermaq was proposing a five hundred million dollar expansion including between fifteen to twenty farm sites, four hatcheries and two processing plants. Target production levels would be similar to Cermaq’s BC operations—around twenty thousand metric tons of fish. The expansion would have taken the number of open net-pen fish farms in Nova Scotia from eight to twenty eight.
Public concern surrounding salmon farms in Nova Scotia is not new. In 2013, public opposition to the expansion of the fish farm industry brought a moratorium on new licences until the regulatory system had been reviewed and revised. Unwittingly fuelling public mistrust of their proposal, Cermaq hired Vickie Savoie as their Sustainable Development Director. Savoie’s former position was as manager of aquaculture development in the provincial department in charge of the regulatory review process. This revolving door between industry and government is not unfamiliar in BC.
Our delegation piled in to a mini van and headed for Digby, where the St. Mary’s Bay Protectors hosted a panel discussion. The church hall was full to capacity as we shared firsthand our accounts of the damage the fish farm industry has done in BC, and the work that has been done to get the farms out. The Q&A session was charged with anger and tears as people tried to comprehend the impending environmental disaster facing them if Cermaq was to get the go-ahead to operate in Nova Scotia.
Next it was on to the St. Margaret’s Bay Arena where the Twin Bays Coalition had organized a panel discussion attended by over three hundred people. We heard from speakers representing lobster fisherman, tourism, inshore fishermen and a Nova Scotian land-based closed containment salmon farm company. Nova Scotia and BC are at opposite ends of the country, but the similarities between our coastal communities was striking. We value our rural communities, ocean-going livelihoods, and beautiful shorelines. Fierce love of place surfaced at the threat posed by open net-pen fish farming.
Our final presentation, hosted by Protect Liverpool Bay Association, took place at the historic Astor Theatre. Folks in Liverpool are already familiar with the impacts of salmon farming, with Cooke Aquaculture operating a fish farm there. Cooke recently received approval for an expansion of the site and two new licenses in the Bay. In BC, fish farms are typically located up inlets, many miles away from settlements. In Nova Scotia the only protected waters are in bays lined with long-established communities. Brian Muldoon, a Protect Liverpool Bay volunteer, hosted our delegation at his waterfront home. The view was stunning, except for Cooke’s industrial salmon farm just a stone’s throw away. These existing farms are in the faces of locals, overlapping with lobster grounds and diminishing the scenic value for Nova Scotia’s tourism industry.
Our short trip was full of meetings, media interviews, delicious meals shared with community organizers, and sight-seeing on the fly from the mini van. As with Clayoquot Action’s Wild Salmon Delegation to Norway, strong alliances were formed with people working hard to protect our oceans from this polluting fish farm industry.
We returned home to BC and watched as media reported on Cermaq’s open houses. Informed, outraged citizens asked hard questions of Cermaq’s PR team. One CBC news clip showed a demanding audience member waving a copy of Clayoquot Action’s Going Viral Report! As reported by the Halifax Examiner, Cermaq Canada’s managing director David Kiemel responded to questions about mass die-offs, sea lice, pesticides, and viruses on Cermaq’s Clayoquot operations in BC: “Kiemel replied: “Mortality happens on salmon farms. We have a dedicated team of professionals, but shit happens, it’s farming, it’s not easy.”
Half an hour later, a Chester Basin resident spoke about coming from a long line of fisherfolk, and took issue with Kiemel’s attitude. Julie Chiasson:
“I came here tonight with an open mind to hear how you’d respond to what you did in those areas [in BC] and to hear, quite frankly, that… ‘shit happens’ is not really fair to the people in this room who make their livelihood fishing. We are a working shoreline, we have fishermen that make their livelihood off of our coast and we really need to know how are you going to assure us that when this “shit happens” that you have a process in place that you have done your due diligence to make sure that you can handle that so we can protect our fishing rights?”
The message from the Hello Nova Scotia open houses was: Goodbye Cermaq. In the face of overwhelming opposition Cermaq withdrew its proposal. This is a sweet victory for South Shore communities and beyond—proving once again that people power works!
It’s hard to gasp underwater. But that’s what photographer Tavish Campbell did when when he first saw the bright red blood water gushing out of Creative Salmon’s fish processing plant, into Tofino Harbour. It was Autumn 2017. Clayoquot Action sent tissue samples from the blood water to the lab for testing—they found piscine orthoreovirus (PRV).
Piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) is a salmon virus which appears to come from the northern Atlantic Ocean. No PRV genetic sequence had been found in BC prior to 2011—now the evidence suggests PRV is spreading to wild salmon. The most likely way it got here is via the 30 million Atlantic salmon eggs imported to BC. Read More
In her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein describes how corporate elites worldwide have repeatedly used “the public’s disorientation following a collective shock—wars, market crashes, or natural disasters—to push through radical pro-corporate measures.” The 2008 financial collapse would vividly illustrate the dynamics Klein described. The Wall Street giants whose reckless and criminal behaviour ushered in that crisis ended up even bigger and more powerful than before the crisis began.
During the global COVID-19 pandemic, when most people are doing everything in their power to stay home and ‘flatten the curve’, the salmon farming industry appears to be going flat out. Indeed, the industry is actually using the pandemic to ask for regulatory flexibility, financial bailouts, and even enhanced access for ‘front line’ workers to COVID-19 testing and safety equipment. Read More
The goal of our ‘Going Viral’ Report was to establish the presence or absence of piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) on salmon farms in Clayoquot Sound. Samples were collected adjacent to stocked fish farms and sent to the Atlantic Veterinary College for testing by Dr. Fred Kibenge, one of the world’s leading salmon virologists.
The results: we found 90% of Cermaq’s active farms were PRV-infected; 100% of Creative Salmon’s farms were infected as well.
Wild Chinook salmon in Clayoquot Sound are on the brink of extinction. Two federal court judges have ruled in three cases that DFO’S policy of putting farmed salmon into open-net pens without screening for PRV is unlawful, yet DFO continues to allow the transfer of PRV-infected farm salmon. Are we about to witness another collapse on DFO’s watch—like the Atlantic Cod fishery?
Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) continues to deny the origin of this virus, claiming it is endemic to British Columbia and harmless to salmon. No one has come forward with a genetic sequence to back up this claim.
Yet the evidence that PRV is harmful to wild salmon is mounting—a study by DFO’s own genomic lab with the Pacific Salmon Foundation found that PRV-1 in Pacific Chinook is strongly associated with the rupture of red blood cells, overwhelming the vital organs, leading to jaundice, organ failure and death (Di Cicco et al. 2018). The authors concluded “migratory chinook salmon may be at more than a minimal risk of disease from exposure to the high levels of PRV occurring on salmon farms”.
Creative Salmon, operating in Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation territory near Tofino, is rearing Pacific Chinook salmon in open-net pens.
Of particular concern, PRV-1a is replicating in Creative Salmon farms, adapting to a Pacific species (Chinook), and spreading through the waters of Clayoquot Sound.
The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has been clearly mandated by the Prime Minister to remove open- net pen salmon farms from our waters by 2025”, said MP Gord Johns (NDP Fisheries Critic). “Coastal communities are expecting her to report on the necessary actions that will be taken to achieve this objective. This has to include an immediate halt to the transfer of PRV-infected fish into BC fish farms.”
It’s been an eventful year for salmon farm campaigns in Clayoquot Sound. Please take a moment to check out a video summary of the year—and remember, this video features only our Clayoquot Salmon Investigation (CSI) program—without even mentioning the Salmon Forest Salmon People education program or the successful launch of Get Wild! Your support has helped make all this happen—thank you!
The year 2019 is ending on a high note: the federal Liberals have promised to remove salmon farms from BC waters by 2025. That timeline might not be fast enough for wild salmon—but it is so much better than a timeline of ’never’, which was the status quo until 3 months ago. Clayoquot Action will continue working hard to prevent viruses and sea lice from harming wild salmon in the interim.
Tofino’s MP Gord Johns (NDP Fisheries critic) pushed the government to include their promise in the Mandate Letter for the new Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan. Johns has met with Jordan and other Liberal and Opposition MPs to demand immediate legislation, so this Liberal promise is kept. Thank you to everyone who signed Clayoquot Action’s petition to that effect—you are making a difference.
Together we’ve made serious gains for wild salmon in 2019—let’s keep the momentum going in 2020 to protect wild salmon!
On Thursday November 14 at 9pm, Cermaq was observed loading three empty bio-waste trailers onto a barge and heading off into the stormy night. At the same time, three fully loaded bio-waste trailers left Tofino. Read More
Meanwhile, just over the border in BC, wild salmon numbers are crashing. Shocking images of emaciated grizzly bears are making waves in international news media. Bears depend on wild salmon to fatten up for winter.
Yellow wild salmon are showing up across the BC coast.Pacific salmon infected with the piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) are known to turn yellow, and PRV is widespread in farmed salmon. Read More
Cermaq is still having problems with sea lice on their Clayoquot Sound salmon farms. Just last week (mid-September), lice numbers at their Dixon Bay open-net pen operation hit 10.3 lice per fish—more than three times over the threshold for treatment. Despite trying a variety of new treatment methods, Cermaq is failing to control sea lice.
Gazing out from the village of Tofino towards the rainforest-covered mountains of Clayoquot Sound, the view is spectacular. But who would imagine that just out of sight of town, 20 fish farms are tucked away up the emerald inlets, quietly polluting the pristine waters?
One of the challenges of rearing animals in close quarters is that disease can quickly spread through the population, wreaking havoc. We’ve all heard of avian flu outbreaks. Parents who send their kids to school understand this dynamic all too well.
There is a harmful, highly-contagious disease plaguing salmon farms here in BC. It comes from Norway, where open-net pen salmon farming first began decades ago. British Columbia is lagging behind Norway, but we are beginning to experience the same unsolvable problems they do. Norway has nearly destroyed their own wild salmon runs; but the Pacific Northwest still has marvellous wild salmon runs, unrivalled anywhere else in the world. Read More