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

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Clayoquot Salmon with lice

Clayoquot emergency drug trial

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. Continue reading

Clayoquot sea lice epidemic

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. Continue reading

Doug Kimoto west coast commercial fisherman, Ucluelet, and Tofino, BC

Salmon People: meet Doug Kimoto

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.

Join Salmon People by taking the Pledge—together we can protect wild salmon.

salmon people logo. artwork by Joe David, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations

Introducing Salmon People

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.

Creative Chinook sick

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). Continue reading

Wild juvenile Chum salmon loaded with salmon lice

Clayoquot salmon lice outbreak devastating

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. Continue reading

Clayoquot pesticide permit approved

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?
Continue reading

Kwekwecnewtxw—Protect the Inlet

Kinder Morgan began their TransMountain pipeline expansion last fall—without permits. The company quickly demonstrated their lack of care for the environment, when they illegally laid down plastic snow fencing in salmon streams to prevent spawning, in anticipation of work being done early this year. They received a letter from the National Energy Board which stated “The Board reminds Trans Mountain that construction of the pipeline shall not be undertaken until such time that Trans Mountain receives the applicable approvals…” Continue reading

Fish farms under pressure

Last fall Norwegian-owned salmon farming giant Cermaq applied for a permit to deposit over 2 million litres of pesticides in Clayoquot Sound. Clayoquot Action teamed up with SumOfUs to launch a petition opposing Cermaq’s application. Over 34,000 people signed that petition. The Tofino Chamber of Commerce and other stakeholders wrote letters opposing the application. The story hit the media—and the pressure was on!

Cermaq’s application not approved; province-wide sea lice review launched
The good news is that as a result of all this effort, Cermaq’s pesticide application has not been approved. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition and wrote letters—it worked! Not only that, but the province will be looking at all sea lice treatments on BC fish farms… Continue reading