B.C. First Nations and conservation groups want answers from the federal government for excluding sea lice from its risk assessments of salmon farms on wild stocks.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) announced Sept. 28 that assessments on nine pathogens showed a minimal risks to wild salmon, effectively ending the remote possibility of closing farms in the Discovery Islands by Sept. 30, as recommended in the 2012 Cohen Commission report if the operations exceeded minimal risk to Fraser River Sockeye.
Adding to highly critical statements from many B.C. conservation groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation and Watershed Watch Salmon Society, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations are also questioning DFO’s rationale for not looking at the cumulative impacts of the nine pathogens on wild salmon, nor the more contentious subject of impacts from sea lice.
“The bottom line is that the minister’s decision is contrary to evidence submitted by biologists that sea lice from fish farms threaten the survival of wild salmon, and is contrary to the concerns of First Nations over the chemicals used to treat sea lice in fish farms and the turbulent waters in the Discovery Islands area that could spread sea lice for miles,” UBCIC president, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. “How can the failure to implement the Cohen Commission’s recommendation be justified when the DFO did not even test for sea lice in its assessments of various pathogens and diseases found on fish farms? How can the DFO justify its actions when the livelihoods, cultures, and rights of Indigenous peoples are a stake?”
The David Suzuki Foundation is calling on DFO to embrace the precautionary principle and shut the farms down.
“Considering we saw the lowest returns of Fraser sockeye on record this year, it is unacceptable and irresponsible to ignore the proven risks sea lice from salmon farms pose to wild salmon,” David Suzuki Foundation director general for western Canada Jay Ritchlin said. “Science has established that fish farms can raise sea lice levels, and that these parasites can kill young salmon. If you want to protect struggling salmon populations, you should start by getting these fish farms out of the water.”
DFO told the press Sept. 28 it would have been redundant to include sea lice in their risk assessment, as an extensive body of peer-reviewed science into the spread and treatment of sea lice is already being used to inform management decisions on all B.C. farms. Ongoing research will guide future policy as needed, but current treatment protocols satisfy DFO’s risk concerns with sea lice.
Sea lice are a naturally occurring parasite that can flourish in pens with closely-contained salmon. They are rarely harmful to adults, but high loads on out-migrating juveniles can be lethal, or potentially impact their growth and ability to compete for food. Conservationists point to salmon farms as a major cause of B.C.’s precipitous decline in wild salmon populations, in addition to other factors including global warming, over fishing and increased predation.
The BC Salmon Farmers Association maintains high sea lice levels have been reported in areas both with and without salmon farms, but a modern, integrated approach to controlling the parasite on farms has been highly effective.
The association issued a statement welcoming DFO’s findings on pathogen risk assessment.
“This work clearly shows that ocean-based salmon farms pose no more than a minimal risk of serious harm to wild salmon populations in the Discovery Islands. Sound science will support the stability and shared values our industry is bringing to the coast today and into the future.”
The industry has agreements in place with 20 First Nations where the bulk of B.C. farmed salmon is produced, but DFO is now launching consultations with seven first nations in the Discovery Islands to inform government decisions on whether to renew aquaculture licenses in the area.