I recently spent a week in the Broughton Archipelago monitoring wild juvenile salmon as part of a collaborative endeavor between CAAR, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, independent scientists and all the salmon farming companies operating in the Broughton Archipelago. It’s a very unique project, bringing government, NGOs, scientists and corporations together to assess recent farm management changes on the incidence of lice on wild juvenile salmon.
As many know, this area is the “epicentre” of the sea louse controversy in Canada, which began when independent scientists reported elevated levels of sea lice on wild juvenile salmon as they moved by salmon farms in 2001. In the beginning, governments and farming companies didn’t completely believe the reports. Dr. Marty Krkosek, along with others have studied this area for years now, and in late 2007 published a paper that predicted the rapid local extinction of pink salmon if (an important assumption made in the paper) significant sea lice outbreaks continued. After sampling recently in the Broughton, I can attest to the fact that pink salmon today don’t appear to be on an extinction trajectory, and that things certainly have changed since 2001.
From about 2007, at least one company in the area modified the manner in which they managed their farms with respect to sea lice. Marine Harvest Canada reports the timing of pesticide use on their website, and from this it is apparent that through time their sea louse treatments have been administered earlier in the year, which likely reduces louse production during the early part of the juvenile salmon migration. Marine Harvest also increased the synchronization of their pesticide treatments among farms, which is also likely beneficial in reducing louse infection pressure on wild fish. So, have sea louse outbreaks on wild fish continued in the Broughton? Several researchers in the area say they’ve diminished noticeably in recent years.
Despite all the science and reconfirmations through farm management changes coinciding with rebounds in salmon returns, misinformed conclusions continue to pop-up in the media about the “extinction” paper and how it was “wrong” because pink salmon in the Broughton aren’t disappearing. This misinformation has been used to suggest the negative impacts posed by salmon farming are overblown. To the contrary, the extinction paper (and the rest of the published science) coupled with farm management changes in the Broughton have clearly shown farms do harm wild salmon populations. We also know that feeding pesticides to farmed fish in order to control lice isn’t a long-term solution. Sea louse resistance to the same drug used on BC farms has already been reported in Europe and Eastern Canada. In addition, we don’t even know what the repercussions of this pesticide are on the environment. Yet, Fisheries and Oceans Canada still hasn’t mandated any precautionary action to curb the spread of sea lice by farms—they’re still monitoring the situation.
I know BC’s salmon farming predicament sounds a bit gloomy—seems like just another cliché story about government inaction paired with corporate irresponsibility. But there is a growing light pushing through the clouds. When I first started working on this issue, people were concerned about salmon farms, but generally didn’t know much else about the issue. Today, as I meet new people and they ask me what I do for a living, more and more folks immediately affirm that all farms should be in closed containment. I think we are moving in the right direction, slowly. With increased public understanding, I’m confident we’ll see government fall in line, hopefully sooner rather than later.