Sockeye inquiry reveals potential virus that may be linked to sockeye deaths

March 31, 2011 eNews

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Sockeye inquiry reveals a potential virus that may be linked to mass in-river sockeye deaths and hears testimony that suggests salmon farms should be tested

A large number of Fraser sockeye salmon are dying en-route to their spawning grounds, and stresses induced from warmer water temperatures are a factor. Salmon do well in temperatures around 16 degrees but over the past 20 years, the temperature of the Fraser River has increased by about 2 degrees resulting in warmer waters at migration time. However, another piece to this puzzle was revealed in the inquiry: a purported virus linked to the en-route deaths.

Salmon biology expert Dr. Scott Hinch, a professor at UBC, wrote a report on climate change effects on Fraser sockeye and presented his findings to the Commission of Inquiry earlier this month. (See Project 9 on the Technical Reports page on the Cohen Commission website.) During his testimony Dr. Hinch was asked about the purported virus research he was involved in with Dr. Kristi Miller from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) that was published earlier this year. Dr. Hinch indicated this may be an important factor contributing to large mortalities of Fraser sockeye and he also suggested that testing salmon farms for this potential viral signature is important.

Subsequently the inquiry heard from Dr. Laura Richards, Director of Science for the Pacific Region of DFO, on the virus issue on March 17th. Various participants suggested that DFO management suppressed scientific information – it is clear the issue of this purported virus is turning red hot in the sockeye inquiry. All this evidence is raising some huge questions. If a virus is killing large numbers of salmon, did it come from salmon farms? Or is it being amplified by salmon farms? And why does it appear as though DFO has been suppressing information about this virus theory? Stay tuned to the sockeye inquiry and view the documents and transcripts as they appear here on the Cohen Commission website.

Further reading:
Researcher suggests ‘salmon leukemia’ is to blame for decline of Fraser sockeye


Let federal election candidates know that to get your vote, they must commit to protecting wild salmon and furthering the development of closed containment

As wild juvenile salmon migrate from their watersheds out to sea, Canadians will be making their way to the ballot box again for a federal election this May. Help make the protection of wild salmon a campaign issue in BC. Let candidates in your riding know that in order to get your vote, you need to hear an action plan around transitioning the aquaculture industry to more sustainable practices.

In the six-weeks leading up to the May 2nd election, attend a campaign rally, make a phone call or send an email asking candidates where their party stands on:

  • a commitment to the development and funding of closed containment technology
  • a plan with a timeline to transition net-cages out of the water and into closed containment
  • the protection of wild salmon from the impacts of net-cage salmon farming

British Columbians overwhelmingly want change on this issue so let’s take this opportunity to raise our voices and let candidates know that the protection of wild salmon is a top priority and that we want to see a timeline for action on net-cage aquaculture included in their platform.

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Conservative Party | Find your Conservative Party candidate
Green Party | Find your riding
Liberal Party | Find your Liberal Party candidate
NDP | Find your riding


DFO fails to follow through on information transparency concerning salmon farming licenses

Over three months into the federal management of aquaculture in BC, the government still hasn’t come through on what was supposed to be a cornerstone of the new regulations: transparency of industry reporting.

Throughout consultations leading up to the release of the new regulations, CAAR was constantly reassured that there would be increased transparency of industry reporting. Appearing before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in October 2010, Federal Aquaculture Director General Trevor Swerdfager said:

“In 2011, information regarding license terms and conditions, farm-related environmental monitoring data, sea lice levels, disease incidences and responses, fish escapes, and a host of other operational matters will be posted on the DFO website pursuant to the information-related provisions of these regulations.” Source

So far this information does not appear on the DFO website and CAAR has not received complete copies of salmon farm licenses from DFO as promised. DFO has only provided a 98-page document outlining all of the standard conditions and regulations that apply to BC salmon farms – but the specific conditions that apply to each individual farm are missing. These specific details are the most important as they include information such as what species is being raised at the farm, production levels allowed and conditions related to specific environmental considerations where the farm is sited.

In response to CAAR’s request for the complete licensing information, DFO’s response was that they are “working to respond to the request and they hope to have the information available in the next few weeks.” CAAR received this message in January.

When the new regulations were released, CAAR criticized DFO bureaucrats for promising increased transparency but failing to mandate transparency in the regulations themselves. Over three months after taking control, DFO has failed to follow through on their promise and with that, is failing to deliver on one of their stated objectives with the new regulations: to deliver a Pacific Aquaculture management regime that rebuilds public confidence in the sector.


Costco: the latest retail giant to announce a sustainable seafood policy

Costco has announced they are dropping red-listed fish from their stores! Under international pressure to sell a better product to their customers, the corporation announced a revised seafood policy late last month. The new policy covers most of Costco’s seafood inventory and halts the sale of 12 kinds of fish associated with severe environmental concerns, such as shark, orange roughy, Chilean sea bass and Atlantic halibut. While this list doesn’t include farmed salmon the company stated it will assess certification standards around farmed salmon.

Costco has one of the worst track records when it comes to seafood policy and ranked 14th out of 20 in Greenpeace’s 2010 Carting Away the Oceans report for sustainability performance in the retail sector. There is still much room for improvement but these first steps are extremely positive.

Costco joins a growing list of retailers who are listening to their customers and are taking sustainable seafood more seriously. Last September, Whole Foods launched a science-based color-coded sustainability rating program for wild-caught seafood with the help of partners Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Earlier in 2010 Target announced its plan to remove net-cage farmed salmon from its shelves and Safeway partnered with Fishwise to implement a comprehensive sustainable seafood policy.