Marine Mammal Deaths

Sea lion caught in farm net. Photo: Twyla Roscovitch

News update, February 2012: Charges laid against Grieg Seafoods for deaths of dozens of marine mammals. Details here

When consumers see a farmed salmon steak on the supermarket shelf they are likely unaware that marine mammals, such as seals, sea lions and porpoises, may have been killed as the result of the production of the farmed fish.

Open net-cages attract marine mammals who are natural predators of salmon. Whether a salmon farm obtains a license to shoot the mammals that threaten their stock or the creatures are ensnared and drowned in the nets surrounding open net-cages, as routinely takes place, the death of seals, sea lions, porpoises and birds is a cost of farmed salmon production that is hidden from the consumer.

Citizen and community reports and footage shed light on the magnitude of marine mammal deaths caused by entanglements in salmon farm predator nets.

Watch a short video from callingfromthecoast.com of a sea lion caught in an underwater net pen at Wehlis Bay.

With an average of 85 active salmon farms in British Columbia, reports of marine mammal deaths are frequent:

  • In September 2011, DFO posted the counts of marine mammals shot or drowned at active salmon farms during the first quarter of 2011. A total of 141 California sea lions were deliberately shot; 37 harbour seals were reported shot or drowned in the nets; and perhaps most worrisome, two Steller sea lions, a species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) as ‘of special concern’, were shot by Mainstream at their West Side farm in the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve.
  • In April 2007, 51 California sea lions were found dead at one of Creative Salmon’s open net-cage fish pens in Clayoquot Sound. At least 110 sea lions drowned in Creative Salmon’s nets in Clayoquot Sound in 2007, with 46 sea lions dying in their nets in 2006.
  • Within a two week period in March, 2007 one harbour porpoise, a steller sea lion (both listed as species of special concern under Canada’s Species at Risk Act) and a Pacific white sided dolphin were all drowned in the predator nets at Mainstream’s Wehlis Bay farm in the Broughton Archipelago. The deaths of these mammals only came to light because a filmmaker was shooting underwater footage in the area after receiving a tip from a concerned citizen.
  • In a report released by the DFO, the BC salmon farming industry, between 1989 – 2000 legally killed 6,243 seals and sea lions. The number of drowning deaths for this period is unreported and unknown.

Learn about how closed containment systems would reduce the risks for marine mammals.