Sunday, January 16, 2011

Closed Containment: Not a Matter of If But When

The Courier Islander had a article last week on a new closed containment fish farm in Campbell River. Other projects are underway to build closed containment farms on land. It is refreshing to see industry finally tackling the environmental challenges posed by open net pen salmon farms but sadly, most of the big players in the BCs Aquaculture don't seem to be paying attention.

Rather than recognizing the weight of the scientific evidence demonstrating the dangers of open containment fish farms pose to wild salmon the industry has insisted on engaging in a high profile PR blitz to instill uncertainty in the Canadian public. A group of researchers paid by the salmon farming industry released a paper last month which used sea lice data for the last 9 years and trends in local salmon abundance to attempt to disprove the ever growing body of research pointing to salmon farms as one of the leading causes of wild salmon decline in the Georgia Basin. Predictably, they concluded that Broughton pink salmon were not being depressed by the effects of parasitic sea lice however a quick look at the research and it becomes clear the depth of the industry's willingness to deceive the public. The inference was drawn from only 9 years of data. Pink salmon populations are naturally highly variable to the point that even if there was a significant effect of sea lice on wild salmon the chances of detecting no effect in the data series is about 95%. Basically they didn't have data good enough to detect an effect so they concluded that there was none and engaged in a high profile PR campaign to refute the impact of the industry.

Now this week a DFO researcher and a group of collaborators published a paper in science pointing to a viral pathogen as the cause of extremely high rates of prespawn mortality in Fraser River sockeye and a leaked DFO brief revealed that the department has known about the virus since 2009 which has also been detected in both coho and chinook. Even more startling is the fact that the virus has been found in juvenile fish of all species and is thought to dramatically reduce marine survival. While the source of the virus may never be known the fact of the matter is open net pen fish farms are probably one of the best ways possible to expose wild populations to a pathogen. Could it be a coincidence that high prespawn mortality began appearing in migrating sockeye during the last two decades, the same time that the fish farming industry exploded onto the scene on the east side of Vancouver Island? Have these pathogens reached populations of salmon in Puget Sound where marine survival has been chronically low for the last two decades? Wherever fish farms have gone, devastation of wild populations has followed. The impact has been felt from the Broughton Archipelago all the way to the Clayoquot Sound where chinook populations collapsed from runs numbering in the thousands to last year when the run on the Burman river was estimated at 33 fish.

Despite the weight of the anecdotal and correlative evidence and some very well run, high profile research which incriminated salmon farms as the cause of pink salmon declines in the Broughton, DFO and Fish Farming Corporations continue to place the burden of proof on wild fish. All this begs the question, why aren't salmon farming companies seeing the writing on the wall? Why have they been so resistant to moving their operations to closed containment or onto land? Yes it will cost money but the environmental costs of the industry is already beyond our ability to comprehend. It is only a matter of time before the salmon farming industry moves to closed containment and a few visionaries are already leading the way, developing infrastructure and business models that can farm salmon sustainably without the huge cost to wild salmon. So salmon farming industry we're asking you, why wait?

Article in the Courier Islander:

1 comment:

spencer said...

It would be interesting to come up with a list of which farming companies are moving towards closed containment, and which are resisting. Then figure out which of these companies various major grocery stores (if feasible) are sourcing from.

Then launch a PR blitz, calling on stores to buy their salmon from the closed containment farms. If just ONE major store would switch to closed containment, it could pave the way for the rest to do the same.

That map is really cool. Farmed salmon has been very much an out of sight, out of mind issue for me. I don't buy the shit, but I often forget about the impacts from the farms. Being able to visualize just how many farms are in the Straight of Georgia/Fraser corridor is pretty useful, and scary.