The reckless expansion of salmon farms

Why is the federal government so enthusiastically promoting something so potentially damaging to fisheries and the environment?

Like many thoughtful British Columbians, I am dumbfounded that the Harper government has given a green light to the expansion of salmon farms along the BC coast.

Never mind the multitude of warnings against the perils of open-net farming, its epidemic of sea lice, its dissemination of lethal viruses, its dumping of toxic chemicals. And never mind the wise but disregarded recommendations of the $26 million dollar Cohen Commission, the damning evidence of science, and the widespread public rejection of the industry.

You wonder how Justice Bruce Cohen feels after his painstaking inquiry into the collapse of the sockeye salmon in the Fraser River. In his eight recommendations specific to BC, the Judge stated unequivocally that the salmon farms along the migration route in the Discovery Islands were a potential source of disease. He called for removing the promotion of aquaculture from DFO’s mandate, as it contradicted the department’s responsibility to protect wild salmon. He said that DFO should fully implement and fund both the 2005 Wild Salmon Policy and the 1986 Habitat Policy with its “No Net Loss” principle, and that the health of wild salmon should take priority over suitability for aquaculture when choosing locations for farms.

Furthermore, DFO should not issue new licences for net-pen salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, or permit increases in production at any existing farms along these Islands until September 2020. That’s six years from now!

The provincial government accepted “the intent” of all the Commission’s recommendations.

All Judge Cohen’s recommendations have been ignored and the Commission’s website has been “archived.”

Meanwhile, Marine Harvest, the biggest salmon farming company in BC and the world, has got itself listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Their press release trumpets a plan to “lead the blue revolution similar to 5,000 years ago when we went from hunting to farming.” In a video of the event, we witness its promoter – the richest man in Norway – smiling and clapping ever so happily.

Behind this jubilation remains the fact that wild salmon-counts decline everywhere salmon farms are located (Ford and Myers 2008). Norway, a country that destroyed its own wild salmon due to open-net farms, own 98 per cent of the industry in BC. The Norwegian government itself owns the largest share of Cermaq.

And now the Canadian Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is conniving to sweep aside all regulatory obstacles to expansion by writing a “stand  alone” Aquaculture Act.

On Feb. 25, DFO testified to the Senate Committee that the Federal Government intends to remove the most important section of the Canadian Fisheries Act, Section 36, because the salmon farming industry asked them to.

DFO spokesperson, a Mr. Bevan, said, “I think the first steps that we were asked to take by the industry were to resolve the issue around the use of therapeutants and other treatments. Under section 36, it’s illegal to put into the water any harmful substances, so that was a very critical impediment to further operation of the aquaculture industry, so that’s what we’re currently dealing with.”

Let us not forget that the people in charge of wild salmon are the same people that led the North Atlantic cod into commercial extinction.

At a conference on aquaculture in Nanaimo in March, Senator Green Raine gave her support to salmon farms and made this profoundly puzzling statement: “At the end of the day, there is no solid evidence that salmon farms here impact wild salmon stocks.”

The inevitable conclusion to be drawn from these anomalies is that big money is involved. I ran into a figure somewhere quoting $800 million from salmon farms in yearly revenue for the Federal Government. No doubt that is a lot of money, but is it really worth the extermination of wild salmon, a mainstay of coastal ecology and economy, as well as provisioning people in the interior of BC?

It would be more intelligent to remove the obnoxious fish farms to containers on land while giving full support to the resurgence of wild salmon stocks, creatures able to fend for themselves without daily “management,” if only free from contamination, and which have the pleasing habit, from time immemorial, of swimming upriver to deliver themselves into our hands.

By what twist of logic can we justify the destruction of this natural gift?

It is to be remembered that the government of BC is the landlord of fish farms. Licences of occupation can be denied or revoked at any time.  Therefore, if, like me, you are concerned about the fate of wild salmon, at least write your MLA and Christie Clark and let them know how you feel.

For a more complete analysis of the current salmon situation, see, or refer to her website.

Van Andruss

Moha, BC


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