Threats to Food Fishery

Photo: Travis S.

The establishment of salmon farms on the BC coast has had a disastrous effect on First Nations’ traditional ways of life. Sea lice from salmon farms threaten the survival of entire wild salmon local populations,1 wild salmon that are integral to First Nation communities, their culture, tradition, economy and basic food needs.

“The Thompson Sound grizzlies are starving. Why? Because there are no salmon left for them. Salmon farming is having effects on land as well. The land and sea are very much a part of who we are as a people; if you allow this industry to destroy the food chain, you destroy a way of life we have depended on as coastal people.” – Brian Wadhams, Namgis Councillor and Director of the Board, Musgamagw Tsawataineuk Tribal Council.

Independent science has confirmed elevated levels of mercury in rockfish near salmon farms.2

It is well known that high amounts of mercury can damage the nervous system of people and animals. In the marine environment, mercury is usually found in the inorganic form. The mercury in lakes, streams and oceans can be transformed by bacteria to methyl mercury, an organic and more toxic form. Methyl mercury is the predominant form of mercury in fish and binds tightly to the proteins in fish tissue. Methyl mercury is of greater health significance because it is the form to which humans are primarily exposed when consuming fish as food.

Environmental and human health effects of mercury are a concern because mercury can accumulate in the fatty tissue of rockfish and people. Prolonged exposure to mercury damages the human nervous system.

Rockfish sampled within 750 metres of nine salmon farms, where native communities traditionally harvest seafood, had mercury levels ranging from 1.7 to 3.3 times higher than rockfish found over 3 km away from operating fish farms in the same area. As a result, Health Canada issued an advisory to children and women of child-bearing age to restrict their consumption of this food source.

Mercury builds up near salmon farms in fish feed and waste. It is also biologically more available underneath fish-pen nets where ocean sediments become depleted of oxygen.

Clam beaches near salmon farms are often covered with sludge and contaminated with decomposing fish feces and waste food from the farms, leaving the once pink and healthy clams black and inedible. Clams are a staple of the First Nations’ diet and coastal communities say it is getting harder to find good edible clams.

The Musgamagw Tsawataineuk People have inhabited the Broughton Archipelago for thousands of years and harvested clams for centuries. Now with the arrival of salmon farms, traditional gathering beaches are being contaminated due to farm waste, which includes chemicals and antibiotics.

Currently, there are 29 salmon farms in the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk people’s traditional territories, placed there without their informed consent or meaningful consultations.

The Musgamagw Tsawataineuk people are witnessing harmful changes in marine species since the introduction of salmon farms such as:

  • parasites, ulcers, and lesions on groundfish
  • contaminated clam beds (less abundance and fewer healthy beaches)
  • sea lice outbreaks on wild juvenile salmon
  • collapse of some wild salmon runs exacerbated by sea lice epidemics
  • seal, sea lion and sea bird deaths because they are seen as predators to the net cage fish farms

A scientific study is currently underway with member tribes of MTTC to assess the impacts salmon farming is having on clam gardens in the Broughton Archipelago.

Lack of Consent – Farms In Traditional Territories

The majority of BC’s salmon farms are located in areas near or adjacent to First Nation communities in traditional territories that are important for groundfish, shellfish, salmon, herring, eulachon and other marine resources that aboriginal people rely on for food.

The practice of placing salmon farms in traditional territories without consultation or consent must stop. Impacts include:

  • loss of and degradation of historical salmon runs
  • further erosion of traditional ways of life and associated loss of culture
  • short-term employment opportunities are overshadowed by long term loss of heritage

What Can You Do?


1 Krkosek, M., M.A. Lewis, A. Morton, L.N. Frazer and J.P. Volpe. (2006) Epizootics of wild fish induced by farmed fish. Proceedings of the National Acadamy of Sciences of the USA. 103:15506-15510.

2 Adrian M.H. deBruyn, Marc Trudel, Nicola Eyding, Joel Harding, Heather McNally, Robert Mountain, Craig Orr, Diane Urban, Sergei Verenitch and Asit Mazumder.(2006). Ecosystemic Effects of Salmon Farming Increase Mercury Contamination in Wild Fish. Environmental Science and Technology. 40 (11): 3489-3493.

Morten, A. and R.D. Routledge (2005). Mortality rates for juvenile Pink Oncorhynchus gorbushca and Chum O. Keta salmon infested with sea lice Lepeophtherius salmonis in the broughton Archipelago. The Alaska Fisheries Research Bulletin. 11(2): 146-152.