International call for an end to open-net salmon farms

Wild salmon in dangerous decline, scientists tell governments

Renewed calls to reform salmon farming practices around the world were issued internationally Tuesday by environmental groups and scientists who asserted that the farms will soon push many wild salmon populations to extinction.

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,” the B.C. letter says. “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.”

In a telephone interview, 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 B.C. legislative committee made a similar recommendation, although Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pat Bell dismissed the idea as premature—and B.C. salmon farmers said there’s no precedent to demonstrate the conversion would be economic.

Morton said the conversion would be “very easy” and would allow wild and farm salmon to coexist to the benefit of both species.

“My viewpoint is pretty firm. You cannot continue wiping these wild salmon out. These corporations will continue to operate this way as long as they can. But when enough people crack down on them they will tighten their belts, change their methods and move on.”

Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of B.C. 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.

Back to News index page