Unprecedented salmon lice epidemic

Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region wild salmon are heavily infected with sea lice from Norwegian salmon farming giant Cermaq. This is an emergency situation pushing wild salmon stocks in the region towards rapid extinction unless the open-net pen salmon farms stop breeding sea lice.

Researchers sampling wild smolts are finding up to a 100% infection rate, with counts as high as 20-50 lice per smolt—this is unprecedented in BC. One to three lice is a fatal load for tiny young salmon without protective scales. This means salmon farms are pushing Clayoquot Sound wild salmon to extinction.

Lice are out of control
Wild salmon began leaving rivers around March 1st to start their lives at sea. This outmigration will continue until the end of June, and the fish will be rearing in nearshore waters during the summer. Sea lice numbers on Cermaq’s Clayoquot salmon farms have been up to 5 times over the threshold set by DFO. When drug treatments fail to keep numbers below the threshold, companies are expected to harvest infested fish in time to protect wild salmon. Cermaq has clearly failed to do this—for the second year in a row.

Making matters worse DFO staff report that DFO sea lice regulations are unenforceable. Their hands are tied as sea lice pour out of the farms. The salmon farming industry helped write these regulations.

Clayoquot Action on the frontlines
Clayoquot Action has been on the frontlines of this crisis. Our Clayoquot Salmon Investigation (CSI) volunteer crews have been in the field observing Cermaq’s emergency harvest of heavily lice-infected salmon, while collecting samples for our new virus monitoring program. Meanwhile in the office we’ve been working hard to get the story out in the media—here’s one example of the coverage quoting campaigns director Bonny Glambeck, and another featuring CA footage.

Clayoquot Action members have been sending a message to Ottawa, which is pushing politicians to act. Tofino’s MP Gord Johns (NDP Fisheries critic) has been challenging the Minister in the House of Commons. Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has sent a warning letter to Cermaq, but this is not enough.

It’s time to demand that Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson take a stand for wild salmon. He needs to immediately amend the salmon farm Conditions of License coastwide to make them enforceable, with stiff penalties for companies that put wild salmon at risk of infection with deadly sea lice. This must include every farm over the limit today.

Add your voice today!
Show Minister Wilkinson that you are not going to stand by and let sea lice from salmon farms destroy BC’s wild salmon! Please send your letter today—add how this makes you feel to add even more impact.

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

Photo courtesy of Tavish Campbell Coastal Photography