Clayoquot Action

A false solution for salmon farming

During Clayoquot Action’s 2016 Wild Salmon Delegation to Norway, a major salmon farming company coincidentally announced they would be shifting production to ocean-based closed containment. The Norwegian government pledged to help fund the company’s research. We were alarmed, because we knew if this was the direction Norway chose to go, we would have to work that much harder to have Canadian salmon farms removed from the oceans. Norwegian companies enjoy operating in Canada because standards are slacker—regarding everything from tenure fees to salmon lice thresholds. So we were relieved in 2019 when the Liberal government promised to move salmon farms out of BC waters by 2025.

Enter Cermaq Canada, the Norwegian company rearing Atlantic salmon here in Clayoquot Sound. Cermaq recently announced they will start sea trials this fall at their Millar Channel site in Ahousaht First Nations territory. The system they want to experiment with is called a Semi-Closed Containment System (SCCS). So is this a step in the right direction?

As noted by Cermaq, it’s all in the name. They are being very clear that this is a semi-closed system. Basically the device is a fabric shell instead of the current status quo: open-net pens. So there might be less exchange between the farmed salmon and the natural environment—but there will still be plenty of exchange.

Salmon sewage not contained

Most shocking at first glance, is that the system will still be dumping raw sewage into the otherwise pristine waters of Clayoquot Sound. This is not insignificant—a typical salmon farm produces the equivalent salmon sewage of a city of 150,000 people (see page 12 here). With, say, twelve out of twenty farms in production, Clayoquot Sound is receiving the equivalent sewage of a city of almost 2 million people. What other farmer dumps their sewage directly into adjacent water bodies? But on the ocean, it’s out of sight, out of mind.

Furthermore, SCCS will do nothing for viral particles—they will simply be pumped overboard to infest wild salmon populations. Our Going Viral Report (published earlier this year) found that 11 of Cermaq’s 12 active salmon farms were infected with PRV-1a, a highly contagious and deadly virus from Norway. This new facility will continue to pump 65 billion viral particles per hour into the ocean environment—so it will not address one of the biggest known threats to wild salmon.

Remember, Cermaq has 14 salmon farm tenures in the Clayoquot Biosphere Region. They are only replacing one of them—the rest will continue to spew viruses, sewage, sea lice and chemicals into the marine environment. Price seems to be a barrier—the system has been quoted to cost $5.5 million (although Canadian taxpayers will be subsidizing this Norwegian company to the tune of approximately $1 million dollars). Also, it will be only the second such system in Cermaq’s global operations, so it is not known how it will perform here. The new system is experimental.

Cermaq protecting their own fish—from fish farming impacts!

It appears that the purpose of Cermaq’s new facility might not be to protect wild salmon. Of course profit is the driving value for a corporation like Cermaq—they’re talking about actually increasing the number of fish in their SCCS. And the more one digs, the more it looks like an attempt to protect their own fish stock from the deleterious effects of salmon farming that they themselves are creating!

For example, Cermaq claims the new system will protect their farmed fish from Hazardous Algal Blooms (HABs). As stated on DFO’s website: “Globally, the frequency and magnitude of HABs have increased in recent years, influenced by anthropogenic pressures such as eutrophication [read: salmon farm sewage] and climate change. The production of biotoxins and physical damage to biota caused by HABs affect all levels of the marine ecosystem and can impact the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture. Similar trends are evident in British Columbia, with production losses due to the impact of HABs on the BC salmon aquaculture industry amounting to millions of dollars annually.” Yet Cermaq will continue to deposit the very sewage which fuels unseasonal algal blooms like the one which killed 205,000 Atlantic salmon at their Clayoquot Sound operations last November!

Like trying to stop pregnancy with leaky condoms

Semi-closed containment is a PR stunt—a false solution which will not stop wild salmon from sliding into extinction. It is a bit like handing out leaky condoms in order to appear to be doing something about stopping unwanted pregnancies. Great photo op as you hand out the condoms, but no way the plan is going to succeed!

On a good note, environmentalists, Cermaq and the federal government all agree: there are better ways to rear salmon than the current open-net pen method. Hence the federal promise to remove salmon farms from BC waters by 2025.

In a recent interview about the trial, Cermaq manager David Kiemele said, “The one thing we do need is time”. But wild salmon are on the brink of extinction, with numbers lower than ever seen in Canadian history. This is not the time to invest public money in a dead-end technology. It’s time for Cermaq to face the music: fish farms are coming out of BC waters.

Add your voice in support of removal of salmon farms from the ocean:

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. Read More

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. Read More

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 jaundice problem in their fish. They had asked her to investigate. Her study revealed that Creative’s Chinook salmon had piscine orthoreovirus (PRV). Read More

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. Read More

Tofino’s tainted fish farm blood

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 orthoreovirus (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. Read More

Deny Cermaq’s pesticide permit

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. Read More

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 I began to fully understand the ecological impacts.

Virus transfer from farmed to wild salmon is dangerously easy
One of the big fears is the transfer of viruses 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! Read More