In British Columbia, 18 scientists and researchers sent an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Gordon Campbell warning that sea lice transfers from salmon farms to migrating juvenile wild salmon are causing wild salmon population declines in several countries including Canada, Norway, Scotland and Ireland.
Conservation groups in Atlantic Canada, Iceland, Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom issued similar calls in other jurisdictions, citing comments by a shareholder of Marine Harvest, a multinational salmon farming corporation, who recently suggested open net pens should be removed from areas where wild Atlantic salmon migrate. "There is now extensive peer-reviewed science that sea lice spread from farm to wild salmon and kill juvenile wild salmon," says the BC letter. "In some cases, sea lice originating from salmon farms are estimated to have killed up to 95 per cent of the wild juvenile salmon that pass salmon farms during their ocean migrations. This is unacceptable for any industry."
Pacific salmon researcher Alexandra Morton said the weight of evidence linking heavy concentrations of sea lice at farms to wild salmon mortality is "enormous."
Morton and her sometime collaborator at Watershed Watch Salmon Society, Craig Orr, have made repeated calls on government to compel salmon farmers in this province to switch in the immediate future from open net sea pens to close containment pens that would eliminate any possibility of cross-contamination or contact between farm and wild salmon.
A BC legislative committee made a similar recommendation although Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pat Bell dismissed the idea as premature - and BC salmon farmers said there's no precedent to demonstrate the conversion would be economic.
Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of BC Salmon Farmers Association, said farmers in B.C. are committed to researching the possible impacts of the industry upon wild salmon but said closed containment systems remain untested at a commercial scale for salmon. Walling said that the salmon farming industry makes a significant contribution to the BC economy.
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