Wild Salmon Threat Increases with New Fish Farm, Feds Fail Again

Posted by Anna Kemp on

VANCOUVER – Conservation groups called proposed action by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans “irresponsible” in a letter released today, concerning the federal government’s intention to grant a new salmon farm licence on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  The application by Grieg Seafood Ltd. is for a site called Lutes Creek in Esperanza Inlet, near Zeballos, where the company already operates three farms.  Internal government emails reveal that the company can’t control sea lice in the region and that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans purported management measures are completely unenforceable.  As a result, lice numbers soared to levels known to be lethal to young wild salmon.  Local wild salmon stocks are critically low, which means any additional sea louse impact threatens them with extinction.

The conservation groups note that awarding a company experiencing massive sea louse outbreaks a new licence is completely inconsistent with the Minister of Fisheries’ “Enhanced Sustainability in Aquaculture Initiative” which promises sweeping revision to the way his Department manages farmed salmon practices. Those changes are not expected until next year, at the earliest.

The letter cites correspondence between government veterinarians that reveals that Grieg’s husbandry contributed to the development of drug resistance in the lice.  A government veterinarian forbade further use of the drug SLICE™ and demanded a new treatment plan, but the company did not respond quickly enough to protect the 2017 out-migrating wild salmon.  Grieg was nevertheless allowed to restock its Esperanza Inlet farms in 2018 and lice numbers soared again to an average of 53 per fish.  When government field staff tried to press charges, they found the regulations were “unenforceable.”

“The Department has essentially thrown up its hands and left it to salmon farming companies to make what they can of sea louse control,” says the letter, written by Living Oceans Executive Director Karen Wristen on behalf of several conservation organizations. Emails obtained through Access to Information requests reveal that senior Aquaculture Management had earlier refused to act on advice from Conservation and Protection staff to tighten sea louse management conditions so that they would be enforceable.

KEY FACTS:

  • In nearby Clayoquot Sound in 2018, when on-farm lice levels reached heights similar to those in Esperanza, the numbers of lice per juvenile wild salmon reached lethal levels. With 40-96% of the juveniles being infected, extinction of local populations of wild salmon is highly likely. There is no published, independent monitoring of wild juvenile salmon in Esperanza Inlet.
  • The most recent published stream count for Esperanza salmon-bearing streams found no pink salmon; and critically low Chinook numbers (ranging from 93 to 253). Only hatchery-enhanced chum salmon were present in anything close to historic run sizes. WCVI Chinook salmon are considered a “stock of concern” by DFO.
  • When on-farm lice levels reach 3 per fish during the spring outmigration, farms are required to have, and to implement, a lice reduction plan. There is no enforceable requirement for the plan to work; and no timeline within which lice levels must be reduced. No farm has ever been charged for failure to control lice during the outmigration of juvenile wild salmon.

QUOTES:

“The science is clear: open net fish farms produce and export enormous quantities of sea lice larvae that attack juvenile wild salmon, causing their deaths and endangering their populations. It would be incredibly irresponsible to add more farms in an area where sea lice levels on the existing farms cannot be controlled.” –Dr. Lawrence Dill, Simon Fraser University

“It is unfathomable that the department would consider issuing a new salmon farm licence under a management regime that it admits has failed. The Minister’s Enhanced Sustainability in Aquaculture Initiative is being tasked right now with making concrete recommendations to improve management for the protection of wild salmon and charged with reporting out by December, 2019. Surely this site, dormant for ten years already, can await the results.” –Karen Wristen, Living Oceans Society

“The federal rules that govern salmon farms are broken. Fines are non-existent and aquaculture licences aren’t revoked if parasites get out of control on salmon farms. Imagine if that were the case with drivers speeding over the legal limit on our highways?” –Stan Proboszcz, Watershed Watch Salmon Society

 

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Contact Information

Contacts:

Dr. Lawrence Dill, Professor Emeritus, Marine Ecology, Simon Fraser University 236-464-3332

Karen Wristen, Living Oceans Society 604-788-5634

Stan Proboszcz, Science Advisor, Watershed Watch Salmon Society 604-314-2713

Read the letter to DFO here.