Fish farm crime and… reward?

As fish farms are being closed around British Columbia, Cermaq Canada has begun restocking their newly super-sized farm at Bawden Point near Tofino. This site breached regulations last March, was never charged, and then received a large expansion permit in August.

Sea lice from salmon farms are a major threat to wild salmon. No company has ever figured out how to keep them under control, anywhere in the world. Some species of wild juvenile salmon are not prepared to encounter sea lice—they don’t even have scales to protect themselves. Once the lice latch on, it becomes difficult, if not impossible for a tiny wild salmon to evade predators and feed itself. As few as 1-3 lice can be a lethal load.

Out-migration begins March 1st

Enter the Department of Fisheries, who “acknowledges that the conduct of farming fish will have some impacts” (DFO email to Alexandra Morton, 4 January, 2023). If there are more than 3 adult-stage lice per farm fish, the DFO requires companies to reduce lice numbers on farms in order to protect wild salmon. This is especially important during the first week of March—the start of the annual wild salmon juvenile out-migration period. The fish are just emerging from their streams, and begin heading out to sea.

On March 2nd 2022, a DFO veterinarian counted 14.22 adult lice per farm fish in Cermaq’s Bawden Point facility in Clayoquot Sound. This is nearly 5 times over the legal limit! She emailed her boss, saying “This looks like a violation of COL 6.6 that requires farms to be under the sea lice threshold by the first Counting Event in March”.

Cermaq not charged for violation

Au contraire. They had already applied to increase production levels at their Bawden facility by 50%. This expansion was approved last August—despite the fact they had not been in compliance with sea lice regulations during that crucial week in early March.

So how did Cermaq pull this off? It appears DFO may have decided that Cermaq was in compliance in March 2022—by applying new Conditions of License (COL) which didn’t come into effect until June 2022! Cermaq has lost seven farms in the past two years due to protection measures by the Minister of Fisheries and First Nations. Are they pressuring DFO staff to ignore breaches of licence and approve expansions in an effort to make up for those losses?

Millions of lice on farms

Bigger fish farms have bigger impacts, posing a greater risk to wild salmon. The narrow inlets near Tofino are choked with fish farms. Wild juveniles have to run the gauntlet to make their way out to ocean feeding grounds. When asked if there are any studies showing that fewer larger farms would pose less risk to wild salmon, DFO admitted there are none. Instead they spoke of Cermaq’s desire for “efficiency”—ie increasing corporate profits.

At 2022 production levels, with 14 adult lice per fish, the Bawden facility would have had 7 million lice breeding on site. With current production levels, the same number of adult lice per fish would result in 10.5 million lice on the super-sized farm!

Why expand Clayoquot farms now?

Why is DFO expanding fish farms in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region, at the very same time they are developing a plan to remove fish farms from BC waters by 2025? With the December 2022 announcement from Washington State banning fish farms, British Columbia is the only jurisdiction on the west coast of North America allowing salmon farming in our waters. This puts wild migrating salmon at risk all the way from California to Alaska.

The solution is simple: remove salmon farms from BC waters, as the federal government has already promised to do. This transition is already well underway—and not just because of our federal government. The shishalh nation announced in December that they were banning fish farms in their territories in Sechelt Inlet. And the Broughton transition, driven by the N̓amgis First Nation, should be completed this year.

Let the Minister know: all fish farms out now!

Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray recently made a courageous decision to not renew licenses in the Discovery Islands near Campbell River, in order to protect wild salmon. Surely the wild salmon of Clayoquot Sound deserve at least the same level of protection! Make your views known—be sure to send an email to Minister Murray today.

Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.


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