BC Salmon Farmers Assoc report makes unsubstantiated claims

Georgia Strait Alliance urges Cohen Inquiry recommendations to be implemented

Vancouver – BC’s salmon farming industry has cherry picked data to misrepresent the role and impacts that open net cage salmon farms play in amplifying sea lice levels on wild juvenile salmon. Georgia Strait Alliance finds it irresponsible for this industry to dismiss scientific evidence that sea lice pose serious health consequences, including death, to wild juvenile salmon, which are at risk of becoming infested as they pass by infected fish farms.

In a recently released untitled report, the BC Salmon Farmers Association states, “sea lice prevalence is not related to the presence or absence of a salmon farm.” However, this claim is unsupported by a weight of scientific evidence to the contrary, as well as the industry’s own sea lice data, and the three regional studies cited in the January report.

“The worst sea lice levels on wild juvenile salmon in the Broughton were in fact found near the heavily infected Wicklow Bay salmon farm,” says Georgia Strait Alliance’s Executive Director Christianne Wilhelmson. “It is astonishing that the industry ignores its own data on sea lice outbreaks on specific salmon farms, and glosses over the threat the parasite outbreaks pose by covering these spikes behind region-wide averages.”

A total of 65 per cent of the sea lice observed on collected wild juvenile salmon in the entire Broughton Archipelago study region were found at Alder Point, fewer than four kilometres from the heavily infected Wicklow Bay farm. And 80 per cent of the lice were found at both Alder Point and the second-nearest location to this fish farm’s sea lice outbreak. Sea lice larvae can travel in the water column up to 30 kilometres from an infected farm, yet the industry claims these heavily infected wild juvenile salmon were not captured near any fish farms.

According to Marine Harvest Canada’s farm lice counts, the levels at the Wicklow Bay salmon farm were more than double the allowable limit when the study was conducted. This data suggests that a sea lice outbreak on even a single salmon farm can have devastating effects on wild juvenile salmon within several kilometres of that farm.

“It is unconscionable that this industry claims to be effectively managing their sea lice given that 31 farms on our coast exceeded the allowable lice threshold during last year’s wild salmon outmigration,” says Wilhelmson. “Of those farms, 17 were heavily infected with parasites – anywhere from double to nine times the limit.”

The salmon farming industry acknowledges that sea lice can be transferred to farmed salmon from wild salmon, which originate in hatcheries that are sea lice free, yet there is a lack of acknowledgement that sea lice also flow out from the farms, and can infect vulnerable out-migrating juvenile salmon. “These types of misrepresentations undermine the credibility of the salmon farming industry, which defends open net-cage practices when there are more sustainable closed containment options,” says Wilhelmson.

“We understand the Honourable Minister Tootoo has met with Justice Cohen,” says Wilhelmson. “We urge the Minister to implement the Cohen Inquiry recommendations and to protect wild salmon from open net cage salmon farms by transitioning this harmful industry to closed containment.”

Christianne Wilhelmson
Executive Director
Georgia Strait Alliance