New study suggesting sea lice not to blame for harming wild salmon inconclusive, unconvincing

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New study suggesting sea lice not to blame for harming wild salmon inconclusive, unconvincing

A new paper published this week suggesting that sea lice do not harm wild Pacific salmon does not provide conclusive evidence and fails to convince when weighed against the full scope of previous science on the subject. Salmon farming has myriad negative impacts on wild fish and ecosystems and CAAR believes, as do most scientists who publish on lice impacts, that the evidence of these impacts remains solid.

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Major progress in 2010; Next stop: federal funding for closed containment

2010 was a significant year in the campaign to protect wild salmon, coastal ecosystems, coastal communities and human health from destructive fish farming practices. Closed containment technology took a giant leap forward; no new fish farming licenses were issued in BC thanks to continued public pressure; and in an extraordinary twist, the Fraser River sockeye themselves showed us in their abundant return this year what salmon runs would look like every year should we succeed in restoring a healthy marine environment. So as we get set to continue working to eliminate the threat of net-cage fish farms in 2011, let’s take a look at what else shaped this year’s accomplishments.

2010 marks the year we saw closed containment-raised salmon hit grocery store shelves in Canada. Overwaitea Food Group now sells closed containment-raised Pacific coho salmon from Washington State at its stores across BC and Alberta. A number of small-scale closed containment farms are in production with more in the planning stages such as Marine Harvest Canada’s (MHC) commercial-scale pilot project. Announced by the biggest fish farmer in the world over a year ago now, the project is scheduled to move ahead significantly in the first quarter of 2011 so keep an eye out for a big announcement on that front! Finally, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) released a new report cautiously affirming the economic viability of closed containment technology for salmon aquaculture and recommending the construction of a pilot scale or demonstration system as a next step. A lot of progress in one year!

The retail and grocery sector increased their commitment to sustainable seafood in 2010. Target in the US announced its plan to eliminate all farmed salmon from its fresh, frozen, and smoked seafood offerings in all of their 1,744 stores in 49 states. Safeway in the US also announced a partnership with FishWise to develop and implement a comprehensive sustainable seafood policy. It is becoming clear to retailers that supporting unsustainable practices like open net-cage salmon farming is bad for business.

The Cohen Commission is just over a year into its investigation into the decline of the Fraser River sockeye. CAAR has been actively involved in the process as a member of the Conservation Coalition and is very pleased that just last week Justice Bruce Cohen ruled that salmon farms must provide the Commission with extensive access to farmed fish health data (including sea lice and disease information). The release of these data, historically withheld by the industry, is a significant step forward in conducting a comprehensive investigation into the industry’s potential impacts on Fraser River sockeye and other salmon species. CAAR members worked hard to help secure this favourable ruling by first filing a submission requesting the data, and later by convincing Justice Bruce Cohen that the information is critical to the overall investigation. A report on these data will likely be submitted to the Cohen Commission early next year.

Adding to the global understanding that net-cage salmon farming can degrade wild fish populations within their vicinity, two new sea lice papers were published suggesting that sea lice from salmon farms may be dramatically affecting the health of coho salmon populations in the Broughton Archipelago. Notably, both papers have DFO co-authors. CAAR also continued its work with industry, DFO and independent scientists on a sea lice monitoring and research program in the Broughton Archipelago.

Moving forward, the aquaculture industry will now be regulated by the federal government. CAAR hoped that in taking over management, DFO would finally acknowledge the net-cage industry’s negative environmental impacts and write regulations that would prioritize the health of wild fish and the marine environment – therefore encouraging the transition to closed containment for salmon aquaculture. However, they failed to do so. Clearly, we cannot rely on DFO to enforce responsible and sustainable salmon farming practices. Instead, we need to focus on supporting innovative businesses to take us to the next level.

The next major milestone in the campaign to transition the open net-cage salmon farming industry to more sustainable production methods is to secure funding from the federal government for the development of closed containment aquaculture  – and CAAR will be leading this charge in 2011. Investment and support on the part of government is an essential requirement, as is the case with most emerging green technologies, to fully establish a closed containment aquaculture industry. Please join us in urging the federal government to allocate funding to closed containment projects while budget discussions are still underway in Ottawa. The 2011 budget will be decided near the end of January so contact your MP now, or send this fax to Stockwell Day asking for funding.

Happy Holidays from all of us at CAAR and thank you for all of your support and efforts to take action in 2010!