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.
After their 2018 sea lice epidemic, which saw lice numbers on Cermaq’s operations soaring as high as 80-100 lice per fish, Cermaq promised to do better. They applied for an Emergency Drug Release to use Lufenuron—an insecticide which is not approved for use on fish farms in Canada. The drug is so toxic that the flesh of treated fish cannot be consumed by humans for 350 days after treatment. Banned worldwide (except in Chile), Lufenuron is used to manage sea lice on salmon farms. An application to have Lufenuron approved in Norway—Cermaq’s country of origin—was withdrawn.
There are serious concerns about this chemical entering the marine environment—Cermaq is required to sample the feces which accumulates beneath their farms for presence of Lufenuron.
Cermaq also had a $13.5 million Hydrolicer barge built in Holland. This machine basically power washes the farmed salmon to remove lice. This mechanical method of treatment is hard on the salmon, and has been known to cause viral outbreaks and major die-off events. If this were the silver bullet, one would think that Norway would have solved their sea lice problem. Yet in Norway the industry continues to lose about US $2 billion annually, due to the high cost of lice treatment, and the loss of up to 20% of their fish each year.
The Hydrolicer arrived in Clayoquot Sound in June—too late for this year’s juvenile wild salmon. It sat unused at their Tofino fish plant for a couple of weeks. In August, Cermaq reported the vessel was undergoing ‘trials’ in Dixon Bay, but hadn’t been needed all summer due to low lice counts. Our Clayoquot Salmon Investigation (CSI) field team has been following the Hydrolicer’s movements in the Sound. Lice numbers have spiked at two of their Clayoquot salmon farms—the very farms where the Hydrolicer was undergoing trials.
Cermaq apologized to local communities for their sea lice epidemic of 2018 and they promised to do better. Nonetheless lice counts on juvenile wild salmon in 2019 were again at fatal levels. How many more years should Cermaq be allowed to experiment with treatments which put local ecosystems at risk? The only responsible thing for Cermaq to do is to remove their open-net pen salmon farms from the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region in order to stop harming wild salmon.
Ahousaht First Nation, in whose territory Cermaq operates, has put the company on notice to do better in their management of sea lice.
Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.
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.
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.
Norwegian salmon farming giant Cermaq has a salmon lice problem on their Clayoquot Sound salmon farms. Documents released through Access to Information indicate Cermaq obtained an Emergency Drug Release to use the insecticide Lufenuron to control salmon lice in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region.
Last year saw salmon lice numbers in Clayoquot spike to levels never before seen in British Columbia, up to 55 lice per farmed fish—eighteen times the threshold for treatment set out by Department of Fisheries (DFO). Independent monitoring found wild salmon juveniles had lice counts as high as 50 per fish.
Cermaq is unable to control their salmon lice epidemic in Clayoquot Sound. Their 2018 lice outbreak likely devastated last year’s wild salmon cohort, and their 2019 numbers are already up to 5 times the DFO limit, right at the beginning of the wild salmon out-migration window.
In 2018 the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region saw salmon lice reach levels never seen before on the BC coast.
The source of these pests was the open-net pen salmon farms which clutter local wild salmon migration routes. Because salmon farms rear fish in crowded conditions, they act like lice incubators. The lice are then free to pass through the open nets to infest baby wild salmon, which would not normally encounter lice before they are old enough to have fully developed scales for protection.
A lice count of three or more per fish is the threshold for treatment on salmon farms. At one point, one of Norwegian-owned Cermaq’s Clayoquot farm sites reported lice levels of 54.7 per fish! With half a million fish per farm, that’s an explosion of 27 million lice—right when 2018’s tiny salmon smolts were migrating out of the rivers to their near-shore nurseries.
Doug’s family settled in Clayoquot Sound in 1920 and, since then, generation after generation of Kimotos have called this coast home. Doug recalls that he has fished since he was a child. The boat pictured here was purchased by his father in 1950—a vessel now steeped in Kimoto family history.
In fact, the Kimotos’ livelihoods have been intertwined with the lives of salmon for decades—Doug is a third generation commercial salmon troller. This means that they have witnessed changes in Clayoquot’s wild salmon population first-hand. Doug’s father used to fish year-round but now they face so many restrictions that “it’s really hard to make a living.” Doug points out that he has not fished Coho salmon commercially since 1996.
Doug describes the struggle of people on this coast “to cope with money, being able to support your family, and pay your bills” due to declining wild salmon populations.
Now 68 years old, Doug has been heavily involved in protecting wild salmon in Clayoquot Sound. He has donated his time to help the hatcheries, and participated in various restoration projects including forest renewal. Despite these projects, Doug points out that the salmon runs have still not improved. He calls for better management from DFO and declares that fish farms have to go, pointing to rising sea lice numbers as a major source of concern.
To Doug, salmon “means everything.” His entire family are salmon people, and their futures as fishers are dependent on the survival of salmon.
Wild salmon are in the news a lot these days. Just this week the Union of BC Municipalities passed a resolution calling on the provincial government to move salmon farms out of the ocean!
People power works. Now is the time to continue building pressure until open-net pen salmon farms are removed from the ocean.
Clayoquot Action has launched a bold new campaign to save wild salmon forever. We have a vision, and we have a plan—and you can help make it happen.
Clayoquot Sound can lead the world, by creating a made-in-BC solution that works for everyone, generating healthy food, great long term jobs, and protecting a healthy ecosystem for future generations.
But to do this, polluting salmon farms have to go. Clayoquot Action will track and expose salmon farming’s dirty secrets, keep this story in the news, advocate for job transition and ecosystem restoration, and mobilize people power to make big change.
Please take a moment to check out SalmonPeople.ca and take the Salmon People Pledge. Together we can win this, just like the massive clear cutting of Clayoquot Sound was stopped a quarter century ago.
In 2011, the Cohen Commission convened special hearings on disease in salmon farms, forcing fish farm companies and the provincial and federal governments to make their disease data public. When Dr. Kristi Miller took the stand, she revealed that Tofino-based Creative Salmon had for seven years been dealing with an undiagnosed disease which was causing jaundice in their fish. They had asked her to investigate. Her study revealed that Creative’s Chinook salmon had Piscine reovirus (PRV).
A massive outbreak of salmon lice in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is threatening to wipe out this year’s salmon runs. Cermaq’s documentation on salmon lice for April show that the numbers of salmon lice on seven of their fourteen Clayoquot farm sites are up to ten times higher than the threshold which requires treatment. The regulatory threshold is three motile salmon lice per farm fish.
There are 20 open net-pen salmon farms in Clayoquot Sound, all located on wild salmon migration routes. The salmon lice outbreak is occurring as wild salmon smolts are leaving Clayoquot’s rivers to begin their life at sea.
Cermaq to move ahead with toxic sea lice treatment
The provincial government has granted Norwegian salmon farming giant Cermaq a permit to dump over 2 million litres of pesticide into the pristine waters of Clayoquot Sound. That’s enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The pesticide use application sparked controversy last fall, when thirty four thousand people signed a SumOfUs petition opposing the permit.
Environment Minister George Heyman announced in December that his government will be reviewing all pesticide use on open-net pen salmon farms in BC. That review is not yet finalized. On their website Cermaq says it has ‘no immediate plans to use this treatment’—so what’s the big rush?