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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Setting the record straight on what we do around salmon farming

Opposition to net-cage salmon aquaculture in BC continues to escalate, particularly with new revelations of more positive findings for ISAv (Infectious Salmon Anemia virus). Lately, however, we've been alerted to some misunderstandings that are circulating with regard to our work to eradicate net-cages on the BC Coast. For the record, here are the facts.

We’d like to first stress that since its inception over a decade ago, Living Oceans has been committed to the total removal of all net-cage salmon farms from our oceans and a transition of the industry to closed containment. That commitment is shared by our partner organizations in CAAR (Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform) and has never wavered.

Citizens groups, fishermen, communities, activists and numerous First Nations have been protesting the proliferation of farms on the BC coast for over twenty years. But successive governments, both Federal and Provincial, have been equally committed to maintaining salmon aquaculture. It's a tough and ongoing struggle and sadly no strategies, to date, have succeeded in ensuring the removal of these farms.

By 2008, the weight of scientific evidence of the harm to juvenile wild salmon from farm-origin lice had become overwhelming. Living Oceans and our partners in CAAR decided that in the face of government and industry intransigence, interim measures needed to be tried in an effort to relieve some of the pressure on our wild stocks while we continued to pursue the goal of an end to net-cage farming.

To that end, we negotiated an agreement with BC's largest producer, Marine Harvest Canada, to fallow all farms on two key wild salmon out-migration routes in the Broughton Archipelago. During odd years, farms on the northern Tribune-Fife corridor would be emptied of lice-breeding farm fish during the migratory period of March 1 to June 1. On even years, the southern Knight Inlet route would be fallowed. This was an emergency, temporary measure designed to try to reduce some of the damage to wild stocks while we continued to press for a total transition to closed containment and the permanent removal of all net-cages.

To fully accomplish this, and entirely empty the routes, Marine Harvest required amendments to a couple of farms that would allow them to fallow all farms on each route during the designated period. The CAAR groups agreed not to actively oppose these amendment applications and in addition, negotiated an agreement with Marine Harvest and the Provincial government that any amendments issued to facilitate the fallowing plan would be time-limited and temporary in nature. The farms would not be granted permanent license amendments for increased production at any site, as the alternating fallow routes were only an interim measure on the road to closed containment. At no time has CAAR ever supported any increase in overall production.

The amendments have not been granted but the company has continued to implement the fallowing program, emptying the majority of farms on the designated route each year. A multi-year scientific study of the effectiveness of the program was undertaken in cooperation with Dr. Marty Krkosek, a well-known and highly regarded scientist with expertise in lice infestation of juvenile wild salmon in the region. Preliminary indications from this study, which is part of a multi-party program called the Broughton Archipelago Monitoring Plan (BAMP), are that the fallowing program has been effective in reducing lice levels on wild salmon in the Broughton.

All salmon farm production amendment applications have been voided for more than three years with the change of jurisdiction on salmon farming regulation to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). Given that agreements with the Province no longer stand, CAAR is strongly opposing any increase in salmon farm production on the BC coast or in any specific area of the BC coast. CAAR is very concerned that salmon farming companies may try to expand their production at particular farm sites now that DFO is in charge, and we intend to fight any such production expansion.

Living Oceans and CAAR remain committed to our goal: the total removal of all net-cage salmon farms on the BC coast and a complete transition to closed containment. We are pleased that while we struggle to reach that goal, our efforts with Marine Harvest have at least brought some measure of relief to BC's beleaguered wild salmon.

We all understand the critical importance of diversity in natural ecosystems. Just as ecological diversity maintains the health of our planet, diversity in strategies and approaches sustains the health of any movement for change.

Our work in the marketplace with major retailers has been incredibly effective in raising the issues around net-cage aquaculture. Thanks to Living Oceans and CAAR's efforts, grocery chains such as Overwaitea (Save-On, Price Smart) have been phasing out net-cage farmed salmon products and replacing them with closed containment farmed and wild salmon options. Safeway is working with closed containment salmon producers and has written, at our request, to Canada's Prime Minister encouraging investment in closed containment. We will continue to advocate for change through discussion with governments, negotiation with industry, dialogue and proactive work with retailers, cooperation with allies from coast to coast and communication with concerned citizens.

Sometimes our allies in this struggle for change choose different tactics than CAAR. While we may not always agree on the pathway to change, we respect their efforts and know that, like us, they too want an end to net-cage salmon farming. We can only hope that respect is mutual. We're all in this to protect wild salmon and the health of our oceans.

Catherine Stewart is Living Oceans Society's Salmon Farming Campaign Manager.


  1. Surely you can see how many consider your participation in CAAR to be "fraternizing with the enemy", as the salmon farms continue to use their agreements with CAAR as proof that they are a caring, good corporate citizen. Many people who have been fighting the industry for years think that Living Oceans is being used by the industry to prolong their use of open cages and to maintain and increase the volume of product they put out. Among many the reputation of the fish farm industry is so bad that any contact will taint the group or persons involved, and that perception is not about to change until the farms are out of the ocean.

  2. So facts no longer matter to your organization. There is ZERO evidence of ISA on any BC fishfarm.

    Your crediubility goes down with each false statement you make.

    Robert Wager

    1. Absolutely the truth Robert. Alex Morton's claims become more ludicrous every time she speaks. Personally she can stop the claim she speaks for BC residents anytime soon. She does NOT speak for me or hundreds of thousands of other BC residents. I'd also like to know where she purchased Atlantic salmon heads and what their source was. As usual she has very conveniently circumvented the facts. Heather Olney

  3. Catherine, very well said, and thanks so much for this clear, informative, respectful and honest report of what's been behind some of the decisions in this long and difficult campaign. As one who was deeply immersed in the campaign for more years than I wish to remember, I'm well aware of the intense challenges that face anyone working to protect our precious wild salmon from the insanity of open netcage salmon farms. Thanks for all your hard work.

  4. Thank you for the feedback. A couple of responses. First to Robert: I urge you to read the transcripts of the 3 days of ISA hearings at the Cohen Commission (Dec 15,16 & 19). Dr. Kristi Miller of DFO testified that 25 percent of the fish samples she secured at Creative Salmon farms in the Clayoquot region were positive for the ISA virus. Dr. Miller also noted the virus has not been fully sequenced and she believes it may be a new strain. While the aquaculture industry in BC continually points to the ‘thousands’ of negative tests run by Dr. Gary Marty in BC’s Provincial laboratory to bolster their claim to be ISA-free, Dr. Marty’s testing methodology was seriously questioned by Dr. Miller, Dr. Fred Kibenge of the OIE-certified lab at the University of Prince Edward Island and Dr. Are Nylund of Norway. Based on the testimony given under oath, it would appear BC’s claims of ‘no ISAv’ may be rather suspect. If the testing is flawed – it is possible the results are as well. We’re encouraging the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to both review the methodology of the provincial lab and include farmed salmon in their upcoming ISA Surveillance Plan. Meanwhile, the three major Norwegian farming corporations should give Dr. Miller permission to test their fish. If industry is so confident farmed salmon are free of the virus, why do they persist in refusing to allow Dr. Miller access to their fish?
    More to come...

  5. Jim, I appreciate your comments and understand the perceptions that exist in some quarters and how industry tries to use our work with them in a vain attempt to greenwash their ongoing harm to our oceans. That concerns us, of course, but fortunately most British Columbians see through the industry’s claims and know that a little bit of dialogue and joint research with environmental groups doesn’t, in any way, mitigate, excuse or justify their negative impact on our oceans. If it were as simple as ‘CAAR leaves the dialogue and the industry will immediately shut down’ – we would leave tomorrow. But we all know that wouldn’t change the fact that the net-cage farm sector has the solid and tireless backing of both the provincial and federal governments and far too many retailers and consumers are still buying their destructive product. CAAR is working to change that – at every level. When CAAR groups started pushing closed containment in 2000 the response was derisive. Industry and government dismissed the concept out of hand. Now, thanks to our work, there are closed containment-raised salmon in Overwaitea stores, pilot projects on the north island, some federal funding for closed system pilots and growing support in the marketplace. The joint research underway through BAMP may also be a turning point, forcing industry and government to finally publicly acknowledge the evidence of harm from net-cage operations.
    More to come....

  6. In closing:
    No one knows what will prove to be the tipping point. Personally, I first started working to remove net-cages in 1989 while with Greenpeace. I participated in the Salmon Aquaculture Review in the mid-1990s. I organized and (with Living Oceans help) coordinated the Greenpeace-led protest flotilla in 2004 at the Burdwood farm site, bringing the MV Arctic Sunrise to the Broughton to help the cause. When I joined Living Oceans in 2005, CAAR member groups (and individuals) had been working tirelessly for years for the removal of net-cages. Negotiations with Stolt (now Marine Harvest) were already well under way. I supported CAAR’s decision to try this new tactic – because despite nearly two decades of protest, science, markets work and political pressure, the farms were still there. Now it’s seven years later -- and the farms are still there. At some point CAAR may decide negotiations are also futile. But in a twenty-plus year struggle, all strategies should at least be attempted. I believe that eventually, between protests, markets work, government pressure, negotiation, growing consumer awareness, mounting scientific evidence and community action – all of us together will succeed in getting net-cages out of BC waters.
    Best, Catherine

  7. I am disappointed to see you parrot Morton's false ISA findings. She cries ISA and even though her alleged confirmed findings cannot be duplicated by CIFA, DFO or even the same lab she claims to have used you are promoting it as truth. There is NO confirmed cases of ISA in BC. If there was ISA in BC the salmon farms would now be wiped out totally. They are not. Nor do they have ISA.
    You have also made a great show of supporting so called closed containment. Isn't it ironic that Agri Marine and their highly publicised demonstration closed containment system is the only one that sustained damage and fish loss in the recent severe storm to hit Campbell River. Do you still support them and their over rated system ? Heather Olney