Fisheries minister congratulated on Discovery Islands decision

LETTERS

Dear Minister Jordan:

The Sierra Club of Quadra Island would like to congratulate you on your decision to close open net-pen salmon farms in the Discovery Islands along the east coast of Vancouver Island.

Indeed, problems began from the moment the salmon farming industry arrived in British Columbia’s coastal waters.

The environmental affronts began with the conflict between the safety of their salmon and the local wildlife, of which there was plenty in the locations where they placed their farms. Literally thousands of seals were killed in those early years, not to mention sea lions and uncounted other wild creatures that predated the farmed fish: otters, eagles, herons, mink. Whales also died from becoming entangled in salmon farm nets.

Then came problems with sea lice and viruses affecting wild salmon. These problems have simply escalated over the years, as the lice have become resistant to pesticides, and the viruses have become both novel and ubiquitous. The salmon farming industry has lost control of both, to the detriment of the wild species.

While the industry expresses concern, their fundamental strategy has always been to make themselves economically indispensable, regardless of the ecological damage they cause. This is a murderous trajectory for the entire West Coast marine ecology for which wild salmon are both a keystone species and a necessity for First Nations’ culture. The lice emanating from the salmon farms is only one indication of the fundamental incompatibility of the open net-pen salmon farms in a rich and diverse marine environment. Another is piscine reovirus (PRV).

The evidence is fairly conclusive that PRV was a creation of the Norwegian salmon farming industry circa 1999, the extremely rare genetic combination of a highly contagious orthoreovirus from infected chicken offal being fed to salmon infected with an aquareovirus. The new virus then arrived in British Columbia via infected salmon eggs. It is now endemic in almost all their farmed Atlantic salmon, with widespread effects on wild salmon, some of which are known and some of which are uncertain and difficult to confirm because of premature mortality. The state of Alaska has avoided this problem by banning salmon farming outright, and Washington has belatedly taken similar measures.

While salmon farms are responsible for serious environmental problems, they have — as the industry intended — become part of the economic fabric of many West Coast communities. The solution to the conflict between the viability of wild salmon and the security of fish farm jobs is provided by the 2020 economic study funded by the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association. It anticipates that the industry could invest up to $1.4 billion by 2050 if it were given clearer direction by government policy. Your decision as Minister of Fisheries is now providing that clarity. Land-based, closed-containment salmon farms is an investment opportunity that will provide stability to these corporations and their employees, while removing a scientifically demonstrable threat from the wild salmon so vital to a healthy West Coast marine ecology and to First Nations’ cultures.

Thank you again for your difficult but considered decision. We trust that this is the first of many similar ones that will benefit British Columbia’s environmental health and give the salmon farming industry the clear and unequivocal guidance it desires.

Ray Grigg, on behalf 0f the Sierra Club of B.C., Quadra Island Group