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

Salmon harming harms wild salmon

Sick fish in the Sound

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!

Salmon farm slaughters 15 sea lions

Norwegian-owned Cermaq Canada conducted a marine mammal massacre at a Clayoquot Sound salmon farm last December. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) recently released their Authorized Marine Mammal Control Activities data, showing that between October and December 2015, fifteen California Sea Lions were shot by Cermaq at their Binns Island salmon farm. The wildlife was threatening Cermaq’s open-net pen facility.