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Mass die-off on 3 Tofino fish farms

Cermaq is experiencing a mass die-off at three of their salmon farm operations in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region, north of Tofino, British Columbia, in the territory of Ahousaht First Nations.

On Thursday November 14 at 9pm, Cermaq was observed loading three empty bio-waste trailers onto a barge and heading off into the stormy night. At the same time, three fully loaded bio-waste trailers left Tofino.

A Clayoquot Action team on Friday found dive crews at work, and bio-waste trailers being loaded with dead fish, at Cermaq’s Binns Island salmon farm near Ahousat. Similar activity was observed at the adjacent Bawden Bay farm.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not yet publicly released the cause of the die-off.

“Impacts from open-net pen salmon farms, whether introduced viruses, sea lice, pesticide use or algae blooms, pose an unacceptable risk to Clayoquot Sound’s historically low wild salmon populations”, said Clayoquot Action campaigner Bonny Glambeck. “Cermaq seems unable to manage their fish health in such a way as to avoid impacts to wild salmon—it’s past time to remove open-net pen salmon farms from Clayoquot Sound”.

Cermaq reported the die-off is happening due to a Harmful Algae Bloom (HAB). HABs are occurring more frequently around the world due to warming ocean temperatures. They are also influenced by nutrient loading from salmon farms— each farm produces the equivalent sewage of a city of 180,000 people. Cermaq has 14 tenures in the Clayoquot Biosphere Region.

If the die-off is being caused by a HAB, there could be several contributing factors, such as viral outbreaks, or pesticide management using chemicals or mechanical washing. Cermaq stated online that the first tool they use to manage die-offs is to “minimize activity on the farm site to help lower any possible stress for our fish”.

Two of the three farms affected (Ross Passage and Bawden Bay) were recently treated with Cermaq’s new Hydrolicer, which pressure washes lice off the farmed salmon. These treatments are known to trigger viral outbreaks and die- offs. According to Cermaq’s public reporting website, the Ross Passage farm is currently over the lice treatment threshold, but Cermaq would be unable to use the Hydrolicer during an algae bloom.

MP Gord Johns (Courtenay-Alberni) is urging the Prime Minister to honour the Liberal campaign promise to remove salmon farms from B.C. waters by 2025. “The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans must be mandated to take all necessary actions to achieve this objective”, said Mr. Johns. “We will be looking for explicit direction on the removal of all open-net pen salmon farms in the Minister’s mandate letter”, he said.

Salmon returns to British Columbia this year—the International Year of the Salmon—are at historic lows. Clayoquot Sound is no exception—local Chinook populations (critical to endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales which visit the region) are on the verge of extinction.

All videos and photos should be credited by Clayoquot Action.

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

starving grizzly bear

Keep the Liberals to their promise

In Alaska—where open-net pen salmon farms have never been permitted—salmon harvests are some of the largest on record this year.  

Meanwhile, just over the border in BC, wild salmon numbers are crashing. Shocking images of emaciated grizzly bears are making waves in international news media. Bears depend on wild salmon to fatten up for winter.

Yellow wild salmon are showing up across the BC coast.  Pacific salmon infected with the piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) are known to turn yellow, and PRV is widespread in farmed salmon.

On October 4th, during the federal election when there was no sitting Minister of Fisheries, the Department of Fisheries (DFO) made a decision around testing for PRV in response to two court rulings to revise their PRV policy. The Department of Fisheries is deeply divided on the issue of PRV. Some of their scientists believe that PRV is endemic to BC, and harmless.

Others at DFO can see the evidence that PRV is from the Atlantic Ocean, and has now become ubiquitous in BC farmed salmon. A study published in 2018 reported that PRV behaves differently in Pacific Chinook salmon than Atlantic salmon—it causes their red blood cells to explode, leading to liver failure and jaundice!

Keeping DFO to their word

The outcome? The Department decided to test only for the ‘BC strain’ of PRV. DFO scientists disagree whether a BC strain of PRV exists. PRV comes from Norway, and Clayoquot Action’s testing of salmon farms in Clayoquot Sound is showing that the PRV present on Clayoquot fish farms is the Atlantic PRV1a sequence variant.

In 2018 the state of Washington, immediately to the south of BC, banned open-net pen salmon farms from their waters by 2025. In the interim period, they are not allowing salmon infected with PRV to be put into the water. They have ordered that 1.8 million farm fish be destroyed rather than put their wild salmon at risk…

There are two important reasons why we should not allow PRV-infected salmon into BC open-net pens:

1) salmon farms amplify viruses and broadcast them to the surrounding environment, and

2) salmon farms allow the virus to breed, mutate, and become more virulent—as happened in Norway.

Wild salmon are in crisis in British Columbia, and it is past time for all levels of government to act. In Canada, three of the four major political parties are calling for salmon farms to be removed from coastal waters. The charge was led by the federal New Democrat Party (NDP), followed by the Green Party. During the recent federal election, the Liberal Party promised “to develop a responsible plan to transition from open-net pen salmon farming in coastal waters to closed containment systems by 2025.”.

With two major sea lice epidemics in Clayoquot Sound in the last two years, time is running out for wild salmon. Pesticide use, uncontrollable sea lice numbers, and viral outbreaks are a fatal brew which wild salmon clearly will not survive.

Take Action

Now more than ever is the time to rally for wild salmon. Please take a moment to sign our online petition asking Trudeau to keep his promise: salmonpeople.ca/remove-all-fish-farms . Take a stand for wild salmon today!

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.

Photo: Rolf Hicker Photography www.vancouverislandtours.info

Cermaq Fails to Control Sea Lice, Despite New Hydrolicer

Co-founder Bonny Glambeck collects samples beside Cermaq’s Hydrolicer in Millar Channel

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.

Going Viral

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).