Sea-lion deaths prompt call for changes to salmon farms

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
23 April 2007, at 1:00am

CANADA - After the drowning deaths of 51 sea lions, trapped in the nets of a Tofino salmon farm, is a fish tank on dry land the way to go?

Catherine Stewart, campaign director with the Living Oceans Society, told The Province Friday that "closed containment systems" can make salmon farming more eco-friendly.

Stewart said seal and sea-lion drownings are a growing concern. Her group will release details this week of further sea-lion drowning deaths on the Broughton Archipelago near Port McNeill.

"We could have a problem of significant scale," said Stewart. "We need to take action to address the inevitability of marine-mammal deaths as long as we have open-net cages."

There are currently no salmon farms in B.C. using a land-based tank system.

A pilot project near Nanaimo plans to use large tanks to raise salmon in seawater for market -- which "keeps the marine-mammal predator problem solved," said Stewart.

Spencer Evans of Creative Salmon Co., the farm where the sea lions died, said the animals got caught up in the nets going after salmon and drowned because although they chewed through the nets, they couldn't find their way out.

Evans has found 110 dead sea lions in his nets since December, including the 51 last week. Last May, he reported a dozen sea lions died in similar circumstances, prompting a redesign of the net system at the southwest Clayoquot Sound farm, but that failed to solve the problem. He's now looking at getting stronger nets.

Mary Ellen Walling, who heads the B.C. Salmon Farming Association, said farm companies oppose keeping salmon in tanks.

"There's nowhere in the world that this technology is being used," she said. "What they've been pushing is a solution that's not really a solution."