Deny Cermaq’s pesticide permit

A small ad appeared in Tofino’s newspaper about a week ago. It stated that Norwegian-based salmon farming giant Cermaq was applying to the BC Ministry of Environment for a permit to use Interox® Paramove® 50 to combat sea lice. A bit of searching on Cermaq’s website revealed their application is to deposit 2.3 million litres of pesticide—enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool—into the pristine waters of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve over a three-year period.

The active ingredient of Paramove® 50 is hydrogen peroxide, touted as being harmless—the stuff your mom used on cuts, right? Turns out that no—moms don’t do that any more because hydrogen peroxide is “now thought to slow healing and lead to scarring because it destroys newly formed skin cells”.

Sea lice resistance plagues industry globally
Cermaq claims they need to use this chemical as an option to control sea lice. Sea lice outbreaks plague the salmon farming industry worldwide, and are known to impact wild salmon, with out-migrating wild smolts being particularly vulnerable to sea lice infestation. Sea lice are also a vector for transmitting disease from farmed fish to wild fish.

As with all other chemical treatments, resistance towards hydrogen peroxide is becoming a problem for salmon lice control. Friede Andersen, a section chief at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority stated that “widespread use of drugs is no future plan”.

It seems that “hydrogen peroxide may affect the ultrastructure of the skin…(and) the composition of the mucous layer, making it easier for sea lice reattachment. Damage to the dermis from this treatment may also release…chemo-attractants causing sea lice to be overly “attracted” to these fish”. The chemical is known to harm farmed fish and has caused mass die-offs, raising concerns over animal welfare.

Cermaq’s pesticide use application indicates they would seine their farmed fish and place them in a tarped-off area or in a well boat. The fish would be immersed in the chemical bath for 30 minutes and returned to their net pen. The pesticide would then be diluted and released into the environment.

A ticking viral bomb?
This treatment is stressful to the farmed salmon, and weakens their immune system. It can take up to two weeks for the fish to recover, during which period they are susceptible to disease outbreaks.

Many BC farmed salmon carry the Norwegian Piscine reovirus (PRV). But when a fish is stressed, PRV causes Heart skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI). A diseased farm can shed up to 65 billion viral particles per hour, which are spread far and wide by ocean currents. Because fish breath water directly through their gills, disease transfer from farmed to wild fish is dangerously easy.

Using Paramove® 50 to combat sea lice could lead to an increased spread of disease from farmed to wild salmon.

Peroxide persists and harms organisms
Proponents claim that hydrogen peroxide quickly breaks down into water and air, causing no harm to the marine environment. However, pesticides are designed to optimise delivery, and “may include solvents, surfactants, and stabilizers. The ingredients in the formulation will affect how the active compound behaves in the environment…Rapid degradation will occur…however… hydrogen peroxide can be an extremely persistent substance in the environment.”

Hydrogen peroxide is known to harm other marine organisms. For example, a University of Bergen study showed that hydrogen peroxide in small doses causes shrimp to die. In the same article, Bjorn Olav Kvamme, head of fish health group at the (Norwegian) Institute of Marine Research stated that while hydrogen peroxide does break down “we thought that it happens faster than it actually does…the substance can spread faster by currents than we thought previously…(and) will probably primarily (affect) surface organisms and those living along the shoreline”. Wild salmon, herring, and prawn and crab larvae all rear in shallow inshore waters.

Paramove® 50 doesn’t actually kill sea lice; it stuns them. They then get knocked off as farmed salmon bump into each other in crowded net pens. The mechanism by which this pesticide effects sea lice is not clearly understood—how then can anyone guarantee it won’t harm other organisms living in the environment?

Permit must be denied
Cermaq states on their website they have “no immediate plans to use this treatment…but has applied to have the option of using it…”. The Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is meant to demonstrate a working balance between conservation and sustainable development. Clearly chemical treatments of sea lice are not sustainable, and harm conservation values. The only long-term solution to the industry’s sea lice crisis is to remove open-net pen salmon farms from the ocean.

In the meantime, BC Environment Minister George Heyman must to do the right thing by denying Cermaq’s permit to dump pesticides into the pristine waters of Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Clayoquot Action has partnered with SumOfUs to fight Cermaq’s application. Please add your voice—sign the online petition here:

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action. Photo of farmed Atlantic salmon after treatment with hydrogen peroxide from DFO.

salmon farm occupation

Fish farms occupied!

(Clayoquot Action is based in Tofino. We occasionally travel to other regions when relevant to our campaigns to protect Clayoquot Sound from mining, oil spills and salmon farms. For example, Imperial Metals’ 2014 Mount Polley disaster, and ongoing protests against Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion. We recently travelled to northern Vancouver Island to support First Nations occupying fish farms there. Clayoquot Action recognises and supports the indigenous rights and title of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations).

A tattered Canadian courtesy flag flaps from the stern of the Norwegian-registered fish transport vessel MV Viktoria Viking. A traditional song rings clear in the early morning breeze—hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred from the ‘Namgis Nation is preparing to board a Marine Harvest fish farm near Alert Bay. Continue reading

Salmon harming harms wild salmon

Sick fish in the Sound

I knew back in the 1980s when Norwegian salmon farming companies began to move to Canada that it would not be good for the BC coast. This concern was confirmed when Patrick Moore, Greenpeace cofounder turned anti-environmentalist, showed up at a public meeting in Vancouver to defend the fledgling industry. Back then I was (rightly) concerned that they would be located in the remote bays and inlets I loved to explore by kayak. It was many years before we began to fully understand the ecological impacts.

Disease transfer from farmed to wild salmon is dangerously easy
One of the big fears is the transfer of diseases from farmed to wild salmon. When you understand the mechanism of transfer, the implications are chilling. It came out during Canada’s 2010 Cohen Commission that an infected farm can shed up to 65 billion viral particles per hour. BC’s big tides cause strong currents, which can spread these viral particles far and wide. Remember, fish breath through gills, so the water they swim through comes in direct contact with their blood and voila—those viral particles are in the wild fish! Continue reading

Moving mountains

In 1990 I took 3 months to circumnavigate Vancouver Island by kayak as a transition to my new life in Tofino. Coming around Estevan Point from the north, I caught my first glimpse of Flores Island, in Ahousaht First Nations territory. At that point I’d been paddling past horrendous clear cuts for over a month—most of the mountains on the west coast of Vancouver Island were logged bare during the 80s. Flores Island stuck out like a gem. There is something about seeing a landscape not dominated by industrial humans. It is so rare to see on Planet Earth at this point—it’s an incredibly healing sight. Continue reading

No penalties for Mount Polley disaster

As we gathered under blue skies in Tofino on the third anniversary of the Mount Polley mining disaster, it was easy to feel connected with the T’exelc  and Xaastull First Nations in whose territories Mount Polley lies. The air was hazy with smoke from the wildfires which had forced both Nations to evacuate from their homes. The haze obscured the view of Catface Mountain, 10 kilometres north of Tofino in Ahousaht First Nations territories, where Imperial Metals is currently pursuing plans to remove the mountaintop to build an open-pit copper mine. Continue reading

water is life

Water is life

This spring a team of Clayoquot Action volunteers gathered to plan an event for the April 29 National Day of Action. Most of the team were graduates of our in-house Doing Democracy course back in November, so had a handle on concepts like the 8 stages of social movements and the 4 roles of activists (Citizen, Rebel, Reformer, Social Change Agent), and were thus equipped to think strategically about what to do.

Nobody had an appetite for marching down Tofino’s 3-block main drag chanting ‘hey hey Kinder Morgan’s got to go’. It’s different in a small town—we needed something fun and inclusive! We began by looking together at the Beautiful Trouble website, and the team quickly settled on the tactic of a human banner. Continue reading

Bingham Canyon Open Pit Copper Mine

A tale of two mines

An open-pit copper mine in the heart of Clayoquot Sound? A historic gold mine re-opened using modern technology to scour out minerals the old-timers couldn’t get at? Is this the best we can hope for, almost 25 years after the Clayoquot Summer peaceful protests put the region on the map of global ecological hotspots?

Imperial Metals sparked controversy this month when interviewed by CBC for a story on mining. When asked about Imperial’s Clayoquot Sound claims, Vice President Steve Robertson said “those mining projects are very valuable to the company, we feel they’re high priority projects”. Robertson was formerly the manager of Imperial’s Mount Polley Mine, until their tailings dam failed catastrophically in 2014, spilling 25 million cubic metres of toxic tailings and slurry into pristine Quesnel Lake—one of the biggest mining disasters in the world. Continue reading

Sydney Valley, Clayoquot Sound

I am the river and the river is me

A Māori tribe made history recently when a New Zealand river was granted legal rights. The Whanganui River has been granted personhood and rights, thus settling the longest running court case in New Zealand’s history.

The Whanganui iwi [tribe] of the Māori fought for 140 years to protect their river. “The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as an indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.” Continue reading

Ahousaht First Nations vision

Ahousahts’ vision

Hereditary chiefs typically designate a speaker to speak for them in public. This is because when they say something, it can’t be taken back. So I was curious when I heard Chief Maquinna from Ahousaht was going to speak at a Raincoast Education Society event in Tofino about old growth forests—how was this going to work?

Lewis George is the hereditary chief of Ahousaht, and bears the traditional title m̓ukʷina (Maquinna), which he received from his late father Earl Maquinna George. The first thing he did last week was to explain why he was speaking. Hereditary chiefs can only speak for themselves when they have good news. And Ahousaht has good news!

The Ahousaht confederacy recently announced their marine- and land-use vision for their traditional territories (ḥaḥuułʔi). The community consensus is to protect their lands and waters, including the globally rare ancient rainforests—the massive cedars and spruces—of which they are the custodians. Continue reading

Clayoquot Science Panel

(Originally published in November/December 2016 issue of Watershed Sentinel)

As I struggled to hoist myself up onto the monumental stump of an ancient red cedar, I wondered how it had come to this. Why, in 2010, were trees like this being cut down in Clayoquot Sound? A place where valley after valley of ancient forests never ravaged by chainsaws undulates downwards from the snowy peaks, to surf rolling in on mile-long sandy beaches. Continue reading