Cohen Commission concludes first week of disease and aquaculture hearings

August 30, 2011 eNews

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Cohen Commission concludes first week of disease and aquaculture hearings

The Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon began hearing evidence on disease and aquaculture last week. Most of the excitement (which saw all 130 seats in the courtroom filled) centered around testimony from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) scientist Kristi Miller – the researcher blocked by the federal government from discussing her work on viral disease related to sockeye salmon with the media. Miller confirmed that federal officials told her not to speak to the public and reserve her comments for the Inquiry. Having completed her testimony, however, Miller could not say when the gag order might be lifted.

Miller testified that the disease (believed to be a parvovirus – the first of its kind to be found in fish) could be a major factor but not necessarily the major factor in the decline of Fraser sockeye. It is also not clear whether the disease is linked to salmon farms because to date, Miller has been unable to analyze Atlantic farmed fish. Documents presented at the Inquiry show that Miller removed references to a potential role that fish farms may have played in the spread of the virus from a DFO briefing document and until two weeks ago, the salmon farming industry had not agreed to let Dr. Miller test its fish. With Miller’s testimony at the Inquiry looming, however, the industry and DFO scrambled to reach an agreement. Dr. Miller finally has the go-ahead to test farmed salmon for the parvovirus but now a new twist – she revealed that her lab does not have the funding to conduct the testing and DFO has not yet approved requests for funding.

Dr. Kristi Miller’s ground-breaking research was published in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals, and word of her findings has drawn interest from around the globe. Throughout her testimony, she and her colleague on the stand emphasized the importance of the work that remains to be done. Is this mortality-related signature in sockeye a parvovirus? Is it infectious? Does it cause disease and mortality? Is it present in farmed Atlantic salmon? Answers to these questions could be critical to the future of wild salmon but boil down to one big question: Will the government of Canada support and fund Miller’s search for answers?

CAAR members will be on the stand starting with Craig Orr of Watershed Watch Salmon Society on September 6th to discuss the scientific evidence around fish farm impacts on wild salmon. On September 7th and 8th Catherine Stewart of Living Oceans Society will take the stand to discuss regulations and policy guiding the net-cage industry, including industry relationships with DFO as well as DFO’s conflicted mandate and their ongoing marketing efforts to promote the fish farm industry. Over the past several months, CAAR members have reviewed thousands of documents only available to participants in the Inquiry and now it’s time to introduce much of this important information into evidence at the hearings. We will keep you posted on the outcomes and as always, any opportunities for action.

If you’re in Vancouver and are interested in attending any of the hearings, check the schedule here. Public seating is limited so be sure to head down early!

New study confirms link between sea lice on salmon farms and wild salmon mortality

A new study published last week by an independent team of academic researchers has confirmed once again that sea lice on farmed salmon can multiply, spread to wild salmon and decrease their survival.

The study was conducted in response to an ‘inconclusive and unconvincing’ paper published in December 2010 (CAAR blogged about this) that attempted to exonerate sea lice from farmed salmon in the decline of wild fish. Researchers including scientists from CAAR member organization Watershed Watch Salmon Society analyzed the same data used by the authors of the 2010 paper which was previously unavailable to non-salmon industry scientists. The re-analysis employed proper spatial and temporal methods to confirm a “direct link between survival and louse abundance on farms” for both coho and pink salmon.

Read the media release and these stories in the media:

CBC: (Audio) Lice from farmed salmon killing wild fish: study
FIS: Link between sea lice and deaths in wild salmon confirmed
TIME: Study says sea lice from farmed salmon do hurt wild fish
Vancouver Sun: Wild salmon deaths linked to sea lice at fish farms: study
CBC News: Sea lice linked to wild salmon mortality

Marine Harvest re-stocking salmon farm implicated in poor health of nearby clam gardens

Unhealthy, blackened butter clams harvested in Waiatt Bay

In May 2010, independent researchers examining the conditions under salmon farms with an underwater camera found what appeared to be large volumes of farm waste smothering the ocean floor under Marine Harvest’s Cyrus Rocks salmon farm. Subsequently, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (MAL) investigated the site, although the results were never disclosed to the public. In June 2010, CAAR group Georgia Strait Alliance (GSA) along with members of the Homalco First Nation found that clam gardens in Waiatt Bay, just north of the Cyrus Rocks farm, were in poor health. In August 2010, Cyrus Rocks salmon farm was emptied of fish.

Now one year later, after an exceptionally long fallow period, Marine Harvest is in the process of re-stocking Cyrus Rocks farm with no explanation to the public concerning last year’s pollution levels and the possible link to the poor health of the nearby clam gardens. GSA, on behalf of CAAR, has sent DFO a letter asking that the restocking of the farm be halted until answers are provided to questions such as:

  • What levels of pollution were observed last year on Cyrus Rocks farm?
  • Will this farm be required to undertake more stringent monitoring due to the problems experienced in the last grow out cycle?
  • What, if any, far field research has been conducted to determine if the farm may have impacted nearby clam gardens and if so, what are the findings of that research?
  • DFO has undertaken a collaborative research study for local First Nations and industry into impacts of salmon farms on shellfish beaches in the Broughton Archipelago. When will the results of the study be known?

The letter also asks that re-stocking be halted given that the Cohen Commission aquaculture hearings are underway and could lead to revised management strategies as a result of increased understanding into salmon farming impact.

GSA and CAAR are now awaiting a response from DFO. Of course CAAR continues to call for the permanent closure of all farms, including Cyrus Rocks, along the Wild Salmon Narrows migration corridor through Hoskyn and Okisollo Channels.

Closed containment systems create less greenhouse gas emissions than net-cages

A new report by Dr. Andrew Wright, Salmon Aquaculture GHG Emissions: A Preliminary Comparison of Land-Based Closed Containment and Open Ocean Net-Pen Aquaculture, compares the greenhouse gas emissions of two salmon farm technologies in BC and finds that closed containment outperforms open net-cages by up to ten times.

Assessing data for power use, transportation and waste, the report concludes, “[closed containment systems] are at worst a little superior to open net-pens and at best represent a massive 10x improvement over the current industrial open ocean net-pen aquaculture practice for GHG emissions.”

Closed containment systems in BC would have fewer GHG emissions due in part to the use of BC Hydro for power, as opposed to the diesel generators that net-cage farms currently rely on. Also, closed systems can capture and process all solid sewage, whereas net-cage operations allow all waste to flow freely, untreated into the marine ecosystem where it decomposes in anaerobic conditions to methane and carbon dioxide.