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Continued opposition to salmon farming in British Columbia

CANADA - On September 17, 2007, thirty-three notable scientists sent an open letter to Prime Minister Stephan Harper and Premier Gordon Campbell regarding the threat to British Columbias wild Pacific salmon from sea lice due to farmed salmon.

Today, many indigenous communities depend on the salmon for their food, spiritual connections and livelihood. The tribes that have thrived from this cultural and nutritional resource still honor these creatures with ceremonies of thanksgiving and prayers for their long journeys and safe return to the people.

With all the negative pressure on wild populations being generally ignored some experts predict that extinction in many areas is a reality in the not so distant future if present situations are not changed.

On the Union of BC Indian Chief’s website Chief Bill Cranmer of the Namgis First Nation states that: “Open net fish farms continue to undermine to our wild salmon, marine ecosystems and traditional way of life. We need to stop the fish farm industry from eradicating the lifeblood of the coast, the wild salmon.”

Alexandra Morton, who signed the letter along with the other 32 scientists, (with many years of combined dedication to these issues) has lived, raised her children and worked in British Columbia, Canada since 1984. She is the Director of the Salmon Coast Field Station in Echo Bay, BC and a member of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform. She works closely with the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk Tribal council to address the problems caused by commercial salmon farms in a non-confrontational manner. For over ten years, Alexandra and tribal representatives, armed with a mountain of scientific evidence have and continue to lobby government officials to stop giving salmon farming permits to foreign companies with little or no success.

Morton is surprised that with all the evidence pointing to the degradation of wild salmon, not only from sea lice, but escapes from Atlantic species that the people in charge of protecting the natural resources of this area have, to date, completely ignored these threats.

Atlantic salmon, which have escaped are more aggressive, spawn at different times, raid wild salmon nesting beds and eat the eggs. The introduction of non-native species of all forms has proven disastrous in almost every instance – from plants to animals.

Other factors challenging the survival of native salmon are pollution from logging that causes silt runoff and alters the water quality beyond the salmon’s tolerance, fossil fuel extraction, and at present the most damaging are the fish farms in Echo and Alert Bays. Alexandra stated that when the farms were first established the combined populations in these farms were approximately 125,000 but that now, these “feed-lots” house three million or more, in approximately 130 farms in British Columbia’s bays and rivers where the pink and chum salmon migrate and spawn in the spring months.

The primary sea lice hosts are adult salmon. Under natural conditions, the adults are far offshore when the juveniles are migrating out to sea. Fish farms put huge concentrations of adult salmon infested with the lice in net pens along the migration routes. The one to two inch juvenile pink and chum salmon must travel through the clouds of sea lice in these areas and it takes only one or two lice to kill a juvenile.

Alexandra makes clear that she does not speak for the indigenous tribes in the area but has worked with the people for many years and has been appalled by the treatment of these communities by these companies once they agree to allow the farms to operate within their territories. These companies initially promise employment opportunities, however, to date there are no natives working within these operations, see no economic advantages and are now suffering from the depletion of wild stocks. In the beginning, many people, to include the indigenous communities and fish biologists were not opposed to the establishment of these farms. And some indigenous communities are still actively engaged and support these operations. However, there is increasingly less tolerance and more active participation in influencing government to close some farms due to ignoring environmental regulations and deny new permits.


Further Reading

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