Coordinated Area Management – Interim Measures in the Broughton Archipelago

Background

For years, CAAR has been working diligently for the removal of all open net-cage salmon farms from coastal BC waters and a transition to closed containment technology. With both the provincial and federal governments denying the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence, it’s an ongoing and uphill battle to bring about positive change. Meanwhile, BC’s wild juvenile salmon continued to fall victim to the plague of sea lice breeding in the net-cage salmon farms. The evidence was clear and compelling.

Something had to be done. CAAR began applying pressure to the salmon farming companies to implement emergency interim measures in order to bring relief to at least some of the out-migrating wild salmon.

In the spring of 2008, Marine Harvest Canada (MHC) tabled a proposal. Their plan would create alternating “fallow” routes, emptying farms along one of two key migratory corridors in the Broughton Archipelago during the wild salmon out-migration period, and ensuring farms on the second route contained only sub-adult fish which studies in Europe show have lower lice levels.

Though the initial draft plan had many shortcomings (see below), CAAR decided there was enough potential to negotiate enhanced commitments from the company. The resulting agreement, a six year Coordinated Area Management Plan (CAMP), was ultimately agreed to by both CAAR and MHC in June 2008, and implementation planning began.

In June 2008, CAAR announced cautious support for the CAMP, read the original press release.

Broughton Archipelago Coordinated Area Management Plan

Under CAMP, MHC agreed to empty all farms on the northern out-migration route (green line) of Tribune Channel and Fife Sound in odd years (2009, 2011 etc.). Farms on the southern migration route (pink line) of Knight Inlet would contain only sub-adult fish during the spring out-migration of wild salmon and would be proactively treated with the parasiticide SLICE to ensure lice levels were low at this time. CAAR is fundamentally opposed to the use of toxins in the marine environment but until all farms move to closed containment, measures must be taken on non-fallowed farms to reduce the threat of sea lice to out-migrating juvenile wild salmon.

In even years (2010, 2012 etc.) the opposite would be implemented: MHC farms on Tribune Channel and Fife Sound would contain sub-adult fish and the Knight Inlet route would be fallowed.

To accomplish this while maintaining current production levels (a bottom-line for the company), MHC required amendments to their licenses to give them the ability to maintain production while fallowing half their farms in the region. But to ensure that there was no increase in the overall number of farmed salmon being raised in this beleaguered region, CAAR and MHC negotiated a cap in total production for the Broughton Archipelago. However, production amendments required to fully implement CAMP have not been issued by government to date – hence, out-migration corridors have only been partially achieved since the CAMP began.

In the spring of 2009 during the wild salmon out-migration (March 1st-June 30th), MHC began implementing CAMP. Only the farm at Wicklow Point at the far western end of Fife Sound was still stocked as the company could not obtain the necessary license amendments to move the fish to the Knight Inlet route that year.

Although not participants of CAMP, Mainstream Canada’s Burdwood Islands farm, in the heart of the Tribune-Fife channel, was also empty during the first two months of the 2009 wild salmon out-migration. Mainstream’s Sir Edmund Bay farm, to the north of the fallow route on Penphrase Passage, remained fully stocked. Given scientific research indicating the area of impact of lice from a farm can extend to 30km beyond the tenure boundary, it is possible prevailing currents could carry lice from this Mainstream farm into the Tribune/Fife fallow corridor.

Preliminary Results and Effectiveness

To begin to evaluate the effectiveness of the CAMP in reducing the potential for farmed salmon to contribute sea lice to juvenile wild salmon, CAAR and MHC developed and co-funded a monitoring program for 2009. Led in the field by Dr. Martin Krkošek of the University of Washington and overseen by Dr. Crawford Revie of the University of Prince Edward Island, the program involved collecting sea lice data from active farms and sampling wild salmon in both Tribune-Fife and Lower Knight corridors.

Analysis of the data is ongoing, however in July 2009, MHC and CAAR issued a joint media release noting that both their results and the results of independent Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) research suggested lower levels of sea lice in 2009 in the Broughton Archipelago. DFO researcher Brent Hargreaves independently conducted wild fish surveys in 2009 with results indicating that levels of lice on wild fish during March and April 2009 were generally much lower than the levels that occurred from 2003-2007.1

Shortcomings

As an emergency interim measure, CAMP may help to reduce lice levels that threaten juvenile wild salmon. But that is all it does. Fallowing and pro-active lice treatment fails to address a host of other environmental concerns linked to open net-cage salmon farming that are affecting the marine ecosystem locally and globally. Therefore, CAMP and similar area-management regimes cannot be considered a long-term solution.

  • In order for CAMP to work, salmon farmers must treat all farms on the non-fallowed route with emamectin benzoate (marketed as SLICE®) in advance of the wild salmon out-migration before sea lice levels on fish begin to rise. SLICE is a known neurotoxin and is classified as a marine pollutant. In-depth research has not been conducted on the effects of SLICE on non-target organisms and the environment in BC but in June 2009, Health Canada quietly approved the use of this chemical in marine ecosystems. Further, reliance on SLICE to treat sea lice outbreaks is proving increasingly problematic internationally, as sea lice are becoming resistant to this chemical. In turn, this has resulted in the application of other toxins to control lice outbreaks. Lobster die-offs on Canada’s east coast have been linked to the chemical cypermethrin, also used to treat sea lice in some jurisdictions but banned for marine use in Canada.
  • CAMP offers no measures to capture or contain fish feces, waste feed, or chemical residues.
  • Continued use of open net-cages under CAMP does not prevent the transfer of disease between wild and farmed fish.
  • Lethal entanglements and deliberate kills of marine mammals still occur.

Only a transition to closed containment technology can offer long-term and more sustainable solutions to the problems posed by open net-cage salmon farming. To that end, CAMP also contains a commitment by Marine Harvest Canada to join CAAR in calling on the federal government to make a significant investment in the development of closed containment technology.

Moving Forward

As a continuation of the monitoring that was undertaken by CAAR and MHC in 2009, the Broughton Archipelago Monitoring Plan (BAMP) was initiated in 2010 as a more extensive, multi-year lice monitoring and research program involving Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the three salmon farming producers in the Broughton Archipelago (MHC, Mainstream Canada and Grieg Seafood), the four member groups of CAAR, and researchers from the University of Otago (Dr. Marty Krkošek) and University of Prince Edward Island (Dr. Crawford Revie). The BAMP website with information on sea lice monitoring, data sharing and research was launched in November 2011.

While Marine Harvest is still the only salmon farming company actually fallowing farms and managing their production in a coordinated area approach, the other two producers are engaging in the collaborative lice monitoring research and data analysis.

As part of BAMP, a more detailed analysis of historical sea lice trends and how they relate to farm management initiatives is planned for later in 2011 and into 2012. Some preliminary historical analysis results are also anticipated for later in 2011.

CAAR’s ultimate goal remains the removal of all open-net cage farms and an industry-wide transition to closed containment in BC. But as an interim emergency measure, we are encouraged that our efforts and Marine Harvest’s management measures appear to be helping some of the Broughton’s wild salmon survive their out-migration.

Changes to Broughton Area Monitoring Program (BAMP)


References

1 Comparable data for previous years are available on the DFO website; Marine Harvest Canada has posted sea lice data for each farm on their website since 2003.