We should all be worried about open net fish farms along BC’s coast.
The last several months there have been reports of the increasing prevalence of sea lice in farmed salmon, and its spread to wild salmon, with evidence showing the negative impacts this parasite has on development of fish.
Last spring, we learned about two diseases affecting farmed salmon: Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation, or HSMI, and Piscine Reovirus, or PRV – both of which pose significant risks to pacific wild salmon. Footage of farmed salmon from two fish farms near Broughton Island, B.C. showed deformed fish with sores and sea lice.
In the fall, horrifying footage of “bloodwater” was brought to light by Tavish Campbell, who released his video footage of the red water streaming from an underground pipe. This effluent, from a fish processing plant near Campbell River, has been shown to contain Piscine Reovirus, and another study has shown that wild pacific salmon exposed to fish farms are nine times more likely to be infected with PRV.
Given the threats to wild salmon posed by fish farms, there are many rational, evidence-based reasons to bring open-net fish farming to an end in BC’s coastal waters. And as I pointed out in Question Period last October, there are also many economic reasons to do everything we can to protect our wild salmon. The Skeena River wild salmon industry alone generates up to $110 million/year.
But after traveling to see the Broughton Archipelago, and meeting with and hearing from the people of the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw Territories and the ‘Namgis, Lawit’sis, and Mamlilikala Nations, I know in my heart that the protection of wild salmon must be a top priority.
My colleague Adam Olsen and I, along with our Legislative Staffer Claire Hume, traveled to Port McNeil on January 22nd, where we were met by Hereditary Chief Ernest Alfred and Nic Dedeluk and Latwis Hereditary Chief Brian Wadhams. We left Port McNeil on what turned out to be a beautiful, chilly, almost sunny day and headed for Swanson Island, where a group of people have been standing their ground against fish farms since August 2017.
During our boat trip to Swanson Island, much of the conversation focused on the importance of wild salmon to the coastal communities, and the increasing evidence of impacts of pollution to the salmon.
We also went to Midsummer Island, passing the enormous nearby fish farm just as the feeding was happening. The unpleasant smell was overwhelming, and the waters within the pens were roiling with thrashing fish.
Our final destination was Alert Bay, where we met with the ‘Namgis Chief and Council, and heard concerns about the impacts to the wild salmon from fish farms, the effects of industrial logging in their watershed, the worry about losing the Cormorant Island Health Centre in Alert Bay, the degradation of the rivers and loss of wild salmon habitat, and the contamination risks from the abandoned Iron Crown Mine, which has not been remediated.
After the meeting, we gathered with the community at a local hall. We were served a delicious meal, and we heard from dozens of community members about their fears for the future of wild salmon, and their hopes that government will act quickly enough to ensure the survival of this species that is so integral to their culture, their community, and their own survival.
Here is a sample of some of what we heard that evening:
“We are the salmon people, and the government took that away from us.”
“If our fish don’t survive, we die.”
“Respect our land, sky, water, that’s what we need to teach our government.”
“Our culture is to love and respect every human being, every living creature.”
“When our minds are cluttered with anger, our hearts are broken with sorrow.”
By the end of the evening, my heart was filled with admiration and respect for all the people we’d met – and in particular for the many young women who are showing such incredible leadership. But my heart was also heavy with the weight of the responsibility that lies with all decision-makers in BC, and in Ottawa. We must recognize that decision-making cannot be short-sighted or short-term; decisions must be rooted in evidence and recognize the debt that we owe to future generations.
It’s of upmost importance that we take seriously the protection of wild salmon; I hope and expect to see swift and concrete action from the provincial and federal governments, working in partnership with First Nations, to ensure this happens.