Dwindling coho and super bugs: evidence of net pen salmon farming impacts continues to grow

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Dwindling coho and super bugs: evidence of net pen salmon farming impacts continues to grow

Coho salmon with louse infection. Photo: Stan Proboszcz

Two new sea lice papers published online last week in the Journal of Applied Ecology suggest that sea lice from salmon farms may be dramatically affecting the health of coho salmon populations in the Broughton Archipelago. The findings in these papers continue to build on the global understanding that net pen salmon farming – whether in Scotland, Ireland, Norway or B.C. – eventually degrades wild fish populations within their vicinity. (Read our media release.)

The first paper, co-sponsored by CAAR’s Watershed Watch Salmon Society, finds that sea lice loads on coho salmon increased after preying on schools of infected pink salmon, thereby increasing infection on coho by 2 to 3 fold in salmon farming areas. The second paper, which looked at coho salmon returns from 1975-2007, found that infected coho in the Broughton Archipelago suffered a 7-fold decrease in productivity during a period of recurrent sea louse infestations associated with salmon farms, relative to unexposed coho populations. (Read our blog post on the papers.)

Another study also found that bacteria near salmon pens is becoming resistant to antibiotics in the Broughton Archipelago. The widespread use of antibiotics in the intensive livestock industry – be it chickens, cows or fish – leads to drug resistant bacteria being passed on to people. In the case of net pen salmon farms in the open water, it appears that antibiotic resistance is affecting the natural bacteria of the ocean within a wide radius of farms as well.

As the scientific evidence continues to pile up, salmon farming companies that deny the environmental impacts of net pens and discount advancements in sustainable technology such as closed containment are simply putting the longevity of their businesses at risk.

Conservationists demand that concealed disease and sea lice data be released to the Cohen Inquiry

A lepeophtheirus salmonis, or common sea louse. Photo: Stan Proboszcz

The Cohen Inquiry into the decline of Fraser River sockeye has now been underway for almost one year. Participating as a member of the Conservation Coalition, CAAR has been actively involved in the process and is now waiting for one of the first big decisions to come out of the Inquiry – how much data from salmon farming operations must be released.

How can you conduct a thorough scientific investigation with huge gaps in information? You can’t, and the release of sea lice, disease and stocking information – historically withheld by the secretive salmon farming industry – is critical if the Inquiry hopes to properly fulfill its mandate. Without this information, no one can assess whether salmon farms have harmed Fraser sockeye.

The Conservation Coalition petitioned Justice Bruce Cohen to obtain these data from salmon farm representatives who have to-date objected to their release. In response, Justice Cohen called a hearing on Wednesday September 22nd to discuss the reservations the industry, provincial and federal governments have for not handing over the data. (Read our media release.)

Research submitted to the Inquiry by David W. Welch et al. further supports the requirement for farms to disclose fish health data. The study monitored acoustically tagged juvenile Fraser sockeye salmon during their 2007 migration. The smolts experienced high mortality after passing through the Discovery Islands and the Broughton Archipelago—an area with a high concentration of net pen fish farms—and before they reached Hecate Strait.

A decision from this hearing is forthcoming but CAAR is hopeful that a useful amount of information will be released. This may be the first significant break in the ongoing struggle to access concealed fish health data from salmon farms in order to determine subsequent impacts on the marine environment. Watch our website for news on Justice Cohen’s decision.

Read CAAR’s submission to the first Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue draft

The first public comment period for the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue (SAD) draft global standards for salmon aquaculture closed on October 3rd. Thanks to those of you who weighed in on this issue. CAAR’s submission has now been posted on the website.

CAAR believes the SAD process has come a long way and led to improved understanding of the risks and opportunities for moving to more sustainable salmon farming practices. However, several specific improvements are still necessary and some big picture concerns must be addressed if the SAD standard is to become a meaningful eco-label that drives positive change in the salmon farming industry.

The next SAD meeting will be held November 1st and 2nd in St. John, New Brunswick to discuss the feedback received so the draft can be revised and re-posted for a final public comment period. CAAR looks forward to participating in these discussions and will let you know when the second and final draft is available for public review.

Click here to learn more about the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue.

Paddle for wild salmon in October

CAAR groups aren’t the only ones pushing hard for changes to open net pen aquaculture. A follow up to last May’s Get Out Migration, community organizers are planning a series of public events to highlight the plight of wild salmon as the Cohen Inquiry’s evidentiary hearings get set to begin in late October.

The Paddle for Wild Salmon, led by Alexandra Morton and First Nations leaders, will begin October 20th in Hope, BC. Paddlers will attend various events en route to Vancouver where on October 25th, they will be welcomed at a ceremony on Jericho Beach. Later, a flotilla will arrive at the shore of Vanier Park and marchers will head across the Burrard Bridge towards the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) offices and the federal court downtown Vancouver where the Cohen Inquiry will be holding evidentiary hearings. Finally a rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery will take place at noon and later the “Spirit of the Salmon Celebration” will take place at W2 Storyeum from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.

For more details and a full itinerary visit the Salmon are Sacred website. If you can, get out and walk or paddle for wild salmon. Support the campaign to get salmon farms out of the ocean and into closed containment!