New footage released to DeSmog Canada shows deformed and disfigured salmon at two salmon farms on the B.C. coast — just as British Columbia reels from news of the escape of up to 305,000 Atlantic farmed salmon from a Washington salmon pen.
Wild salmon advocate and fisheries biologist Alexandra Morton said she was shocked by the footage.
“I was shocked and frankly disgusted,” Morton told DeSmog Canada. “These fish have open sores, sea lice, blisters all over their skin and a disturbing number of them are going blind.”
Morton said the footage also gives an indication of what is now travelling through Pacific waters after the escape of potentially hundreds of thousands of farmed Atlantic salmon in the San Juan Islands just east of Victoria. Atlantic salmon are considered invasive in Pacific waters.
“Now you have potentially 300,000 farmed salmon traveling with wild salmon. We know that is what they do.”
The footage was shot at two salmon farms owned by Grieg Seafood and located near Broughton Island, B.C., in the traditional territory of the Musgmagw Dzawada’enuwx Nation.
“These fish are really sick,” Ernest Alfred, member of the Nagmis and Lawit’sis from Alert Bay, says in the footage. “These fish are polluting the environment that we call home.”
Greig Seafood did not respond to requests for comment.
In a B.C. Salmon Farmers Association statement provided to DeSmog Canada, executive director Jeremy Dunn said, “abnormalities in farm-raised salmon are rare, but — as with any species — do exist for several reasons: growth deformities from birth, mechanical damage resulting in an injury, or poor performers that are outcompeted for food by more aggressive fish.”
Dunn added if individuals are displeased with farmed salmon brought to market he “recommend they return it to the place of purchase.” *
Alfred and Awahawoo Hereditary Chief George Quocksister Jr. shot the footage while travelling to fish farms aboard the research vessel Martin Sheen, provided by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
‘It’s a Mess Every Way You Look at It’
“When I say there is disease in these farmed salmon, this is not a guess,” Morton said. “Over 80 per cent of farmed salmon are infected with piscine reovirus.”
Morton is currently fighting the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Fisheries Minister Dominique Leblanc in court to prevent more Atlantic salmon infected with the virus from being placed in B.C. waters.
Morton said the fish pens are a highly concentrated source of waste and disease that threaten other species.
“From a biological point of view this footage gives you an idea of the scale of the pathogens coming out of these farms and we know that a single particle in this ocean can travel 10 kilometres in a short amount of time.”
It’s been a tough week for wild salmon.
While major salmon fisheries in the Fraser and Skeena rivers are closed due to low returns, a new study released this week revealed the federal government has failed to monitor the majority of struggling stocks on B.C.’s north and central coast.
Meantime, fishermen are being called on to catch as many of the escaped Atlantic farmed salmon as possible.
Morton expressed concern that fishermen will be mixed up with struggling Fraser sockeye salmon that may be caught as bycatch.
“It’s a mess every way you look at it.”
Farming Salmon On Land Reduces Risks
Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society, told the CBC an easy solution to the multiple problems posed by salmon farms is to move pens onland and out of wild salmon waterways.
“We can farm salmon on land where they’re not going to pose any risks to our wild salmon populations.”
“Escapes aren’t the only risk,” he added. “There is growing evidence that these net pens spread diseases, viruses and parasites to our wild salmon populations that make it harder for many of our at risk populations to rebuild.”
Alfred said the window to protect wild salmon stocks in B.C. is closing.
“You know, when I think about our people’s history, I think about the colonization, the stripping of our rights, the stripping of our identity, the fact that our language is disappearing, the potlatch ban, the fish is all we have left and they can’t take our fish.”
“We don’t exist here without our fish.”
* Updated August 23, 2017 at 4:54 pm PST to include a statement from Jeremy Dunn of the B.C. Farmed Salmon Association.