Clayoquot Action

In the Field with CSI

The smokey brown orange haze from this fall’s wildfires cast an apocalyptic hue over Cermaq’s Clayoquot Sound operations. In Tofino we track the vehicles; leaving town are semi-trailer after semi-trailer of finished product shipping out, and trailer after trailer of dead fish (morts). Coming into town are chemical trucks and trailers laden with juvenile salmon (smolts). It seems the company deals in death as much as food production. But what happens when the trucks are loaded on barges and head out into the Sound?

White tanks are used to transport farmed salmon from the hatchery to the open net-pens.

That’s what our salmon farm watch dog program (Clayoquot Salmon Investigation—CSI), is here to find out. Here’s some notes from the field…

Lennie John from Ahousaht First Nation met us in Tofino and we headed north. Norwegian fish farm giant Cermaq is installing an experimental production system at one of their existing sites. This site in Millar Channel has long been plagued with mass die-offs, sea lice epidemic and disease. It is located on a wild salmon migration highway across the channel from the Atleo River, an important salmon river in Ahousaht Territory. The bag system is designed to protect Cermaq’s farmed fish from the very marine impacts their practices cause. The Semi-Closed Containment System (SCCS) will pump sea water in for fish rearing, and then back out, unfiltered—the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool every 8 minutes. Spewing sewage and pathogens into the ocean—just like an open-net pen salmon farm.

Cermaq’s Semi-Closed Containment System is not yet operational. The bag enclosure isn’t installed.

Cermaq’s new Semi-Closed Containment System was to replace the old open net-pen farm at the site. However, while on a CSI field trip, we happened to arrive at the Millar site just as a tug boat was towing in a new open-net pen structure.

Cermaq adding new open net-pen structure along side the Semi-Closed Containment System at Millar Channel.

At the next site, Ross Passage, Cermaq is putting a new cohort of juvenile fish (smolts) into the feedlot. We got out the sampling nets and scooped up some tiny fish scales that had come off the smolts during transfer. These will be sent to the lab to test for the the deadly Atlantic piscine orthoreovirus (PRV).

As we rounded Saranac Island, a barge with two mort trailers was pulling away from the Saranac fish farm. A sure sign that a mass die-off is in progress. The stench hits us as we take in the scene and see a slick of fat, with blobs like cotton balls drifting out with the tidal current. Time for another sample! This time we put on the latex gloves, the stink of decomposed farmed salmon is not a smell that is easy to wash off.

A large slick of decomposing fish pours out of Cermaq’s farm. We scooped some fat to sample for PRV. Photo by Nicole Holman
Big tidal currents carry the toxic waste and pathogens deep into the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region with it many salmon bearing creeks and rivers. Photo by Nicole Holman

Back in Tofino over the next days, mort trailers continue to roll through town in a steady stream. So the CSI crew headed back out to investigate further.

We headed up Bedwell Inlet, where Cermaq has a high concentration of fish farms. At the Westside site, we came upon the mort barge and what looked like two dive teams working inside the pens.

 

Divers go into the open net pens and feed the dead fish into a hose for disposal.

But the scene lacks the graphic drama of last year’s mass die-off, when Cermaq’s staff had to toss over 200,000 dead salmon into blue fish totes, which were lifted and dumped into the mort trailers.

Dead farmed salmon are sucked out of the pens, ground up in the building and the slurry is pumped into mort trailers.

With the new system, divers feed the dead fish into large tubes, which move the fish into the building where staff monitor them sliding by. Inside the building, the fish are ground into a slurry and pumped through a hose into the mort trailer. Although less graphic and more automated, these mass die-off events still pollute the marine environment and spread viruses. While at Westside we saw fish in the pens at the surface, hardly moving, noses pointed into the net—a symptom of PRV.

Dead fish from the farm are ground into a grey pink slurry for transport.

We saw evidence of die-offs at four of Cermaq’s farms. At the Fortune Channel site the dead fish waste had produced a large fat slick. As all but one of Cermaq’s farms tested positive for PRV in our Going Viral study, it’s gravely concerning to think these farmed fish could be experiencing a viral outbreak which is weakening (and maybe killing?) them. An infected farm can release 65 billion viral particles an hour. This farm site is near the Bulson River watershed on a wild salmon migration route.

Our crew headed back to Tofino, shaking our heads at the insanity of allowing this polluting industry in the waters of a globally rare ecosystem—Clayoquot Sound.

Bonny Glambeck is Campaigns Director of Clayoquot Action.

Decomposing farmed salmon form a slick on the waters of Warn Bay where wild salmon must swim to return to their spawning grounds on the Bulson River.  Photo by Bonny Glambeck

 

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Wild salmon in Clayoquot Sound are rapidly sliding towards extinction—only 2 Chinook salmon returned to spawn in Tofino Creek last year. We’re working hard to save wild salmon!

Fish farms are having major impacts on wild salmon populations. But momentum is building to get salmon farms out of Clayoquot Sound. We need you to help to make this happen.

Clayoquot Action is a longstanding defender of what makes this place so special. Our founders have over 35 years experience in local waters.

Support this campaign to help keep Clayoquot Sound wild and majestic. These are salmon forests. We are salmon people.

Clayoquot Salmon Investigation (CSI) is our salmon farm watchdog program. During COVID the Department of Fisheries has cut monitoring, making this grassroots program more important than ever before. And now, Cermaq (a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp.) has towed a new experimental fish farm into Millar Channel near Ahousaht, posing new threats that must be monitored and exposed.

Retrieving farmed fish samples from Cermaq’s Hydrolicer on a fish farm near Tofino

Our fish farm monitoring program, Clayoquot Salmon Investigation (CSI) gets out on the water near Tofino. We keep an eye on this polluting industry, which otherwise operates out of sight, out of mind. We’ve been able to expose stories which no-one would have heard about, such as mass die-offs, viral outbreaks, sea lice epidemics; and we get those stories in the news to build political pressure.

Our Going Viral project (powered up by our 2019 Indiegogo!) was able to expose the fact that all but one salmon farm tested in Clayoquot Sound was contaminated with the deadly Norwegian Piscine orthoreovirus (PRV).

We travel deep up Clayoquot Sound, year-round in all weather, to collect samples and monitor what’s happening on the ground. This year, we’ll be paying special attention to the new experimental farm, and how we can minimize its threat to wild salmon.

Your donation will power up CSI by putting gas in volunteers’ boats, chartering boats when necessary, sending samples to the lab for testing, and helping with the costs of equipment and video production to help spread the word.

Donate generously and get great perks in return!

Experimental Fish Farm Arrives in Clayoquot Sound

Bonny was cooking an elaborate brunch on a Sunday afternoon when the phone rang. It was Lennie John from Ahousaht First Nation. Tsimka Martin from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation had been hiking up the hill at Cox Bay with her partner John when they spotted something bizarre-looking being towed north, past the Lennard Island lighthouse, into Clayoquot Sound. They realized that this was Cermaq’s new experimental salmon farm, what Cermaq calls a Semi Closed Containment System (SCCS).

Tsimka called Lennie who called Bonny. Cancel frittata! Start scrambling eggs, and scrambling to get our cameras and gear ready. A quick bite later, Lennie pulls up at our beach. We hop off the rocks into his boat and zoom off towards Tofino to pick up Tsimka and John. What is going to happen?

It’s overcast and calm; no fog. A light rain begins to fall as we motor out to intercept the apparatus, which is now inside Wickaninnish Island opposite Tin Wis. It looks like they are swapping tugboats out; the floating framework is slowly starting to move again as the original tug starts heading back to Tofino.

Bonny has been frantically mustering our Clayoquot Salmon Investigation volunteers. Sure enough, a couple of teams are able to mobilize. Keegan and Storm show up first; then Lee with a couple of friends in another boat. The beginnings of a flotilla forming up! 

Polluting poop and pathogens

There’s a reason the founders of the Nuuchahnulth Salmon Alliance and Clayoquot Action are alarmed by this arrival. The device is experimental, and holds out little promise for wild salmon. It’s not clear exactly what will be contained by this device. Pumps will be used to move an Olympic swimming pool in and out of the pen—eight every hour. That’s almost two hundred swimming pools a day, every day.

There will be no way to filter out viral particles or other pathogens—and Cermaq admits they have the deadly Norwegian Piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) on their farms. (To be clear, they do not admit it is from the Atlantic; nor that it is deadly. Their story is that PRV is from BC, and harmless to wild salmon. Simply not true.)

It came out during Cermaq’s presentation to Tofino Council that this device will not even filter out the fish poop. A fish farm containing half a million fish emits the equivalent sewage of a city of 150,000 people! And Cermaq has 14 operations here in Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region.

With the federal government having promised to remove salmon farms from BC waters by 2025, Cermaq’s SCCS is a step in the wrong direction, and a waste of their money. Of course they’re not stupid or planning to waste money. Which means this is a cynical attempt to preempt the requirement to remove their farms from the ocean with a half-measure designed to confuse the public who might believe this thing is somehow better than a standard open-net pen salmon farm.

As the rain clouds thickened, darkening the late afternoon, our flotilla headed back to Tofino. We were there to bear witness together, which felt good. This story is far from over…

Take action now—please sign this petition and share with your friends:

Watch the Video in the link below: Semi-Closed Containment Fish Farm Enters Clayoquot Sound

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

A false solution for salmon farming

During Clayoquot Action’s 2016 Wild Salmon Delegation to Norway, a major salmon farming company coincidentally announced they would be shifting production to ocean-based closed containment. The Norwegian government pledged to help fund the company’s research. We were alarmed, because we knew if this was the direction Norway chose to go, we would have to work that much harder to have Canadian salmon farms removed from the oceans. Norwegian companies enjoy operating in Canada because standards are slacker—regarding everything from tenure fees to salmon lice thresholds. So we were relieved in 2019 when the Liberal government promised to move salmon farms out of BC waters by 2025.

Enter Cermaq Canada, the Norwegian company rearing Atlantic salmon here in Clayoquot Sound. Cermaq recently announced they will start sea trials this fall at their Millar Channel site in Ahousaht First Nations territory. The system they want to experiment with is called a Semi-Closed Containment System (SCCS). So is this a step in the right direction? Read More

Sea Lice Push Wild Salmon to the Brink

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..

Tell this government to remove all BC fish farms now: salmonpeople.ca/fishfarms-out

Hello Nova Scotia, Goodbye Cermaq

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. Read More

Deadly chinook salmon virus in Tofino Harbour

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

Fish farms want to break rules during COVID!

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

Harmful Norwegian salmon virus found on Clayoquot fish farms

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.”

Click here to read the report.

We can stop the spread of this virus. Tell the government to immediately stop the transfer of PRV infected salmon into BC waters today. Sign the petition now.

 

2019—a year of momentum for wild salmon!

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!