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?
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…”
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…
Wilderness photographer Tavish Campbell grew up on a remote BC island and has spent most of his life exploring the coastline of British Columbia above and below water. He recently dove under the Browns Bay plant near Campbell River—which processes Cermaq’s farmed salmon—and was disgusted to see a plume of blood water shooting out into wild salmon habitat. The effluent contained fish tissues, which were sent to the Atlantic Veterinary College for analysis. The samples tested positive for Piscine reovirus (PRV).
Creative Salmon in Tofino
Campbell then drove to Tofino to see what was happening with the effluent from the plant processing Creative Salmon’s farmed Chinook salmon.
A small ad appeared in Tofino’s newspaper about a week ago. It stated that Norwegian-based salmon farming giant Cermaq was applying to the BC Ministry of Environment for a permit to use Interox® Paramove® 50 to combat sea lice. A bit of searching on Cermaq’s website revealed their application is to deposit 2.3 million litres of pesticide—enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool—into the pristine waters of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve over a three-year period.
(Clayoquot Action is based in Tofino. We occasionally travel to other regions when relevant to our campaigns to protect Clayoquot Sound from mining, oil spills and salmon farms. For example, Imperial Metals’ 2014 Mount Polley disaster, and ongoing protests against Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion. We recently travelled to northern Vancouver Island to support First Nations occupying fish farms there. Clayoquot Action recognises and supports the indigenous rights and title of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations).
A tattered Canadian courtesy flag flaps from the stern of the Norwegian-registered fish transport vessel MV Viktoria Viking. A traditional song rings clear in the early morning breeze—hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred from the ‘Namgis Nation is preparing to board a Marine Harvest fish farm near Alert Bay.
I knew back in the 1980s when Norwegian salmon farming companies began to move to Canada that it would not be good for the BC coast. This concern was confirmed when Patrick Moore, Greenpeace cofounder turned anti-environmentalist, showed up at a public meeting in Vancouver to defend the fledgling industry. Back then I was (rightly) concerned that they would be located in the remote bays and inlets I loved to explore by kayak. It was many years before we began to fully understand the ecological impacts.
Disease transfer from farmed to wild salmon is dangerously easy
One of the big fears is the transfer of diseases from farmed to wild salmon. When you understand the mechanism of transfer, the implications are chilling. It came out during Canada’s 2010 Cohen Commission that an infected farm can shed up to 65 billion viral particles per hour. BC’s big tides cause strong currents, which can spread these viral particles far and wide. Remember, fish breath through gills, so the water they swim through comes in direct contact with their blood and voila—those viral particles are in the wild fish!
In 1990 I took 3 months to circumnavigate Vancouver Island by kayak as a transition to my new life in Tofino. Coming around Estevan Point from the north, I caught my first glimpse of Flores Island, in Ahousaht First Nations territory. At that point I’d been paddling past horrendous clear cuts for over a month—most of the mountains on the west coast of Vancouver Island were logged bare during the 80s. Flores Island stuck out like a gem. There is something about seeing a landscape not dominated by industrial humans. It is so rare to see on Planet Earth at this point—it’s an incredibly healing sight.