There were large Atlantic salmon imports to BC from eastern Canada decades ago in a deeply misguided venture to establish Atlantic salmon among healthy Pacific salmon stocks. They did not survive for long, but could have left a legacy of pathogens.
This blog reports on a series of excerpts from provincial and federal documents chronicling the conversations around the more recent Atlantic salmon egg imports into BC waters for the purpose of salmon farming. Since the 1980s, people in government have voiced serious biological concerns, trying to defend BC. Most recently today Dr. Sally Goldes who worked for the Province of BC in fish health came forward, Times Colonist article. Despite their efforts the threat of trade sanctions appears to have dominated decision making. The source of eggs changes, suggesting problems, and each time it is preceded by industry pressure. The biology caved to the demands of commerce. But the irony is that the pristine, oxygenated, nutrient-rich waters of British Columbia - that the industry so desperately craves - has become the casualty. All our lines of defence against viral activity in salmon farms were removed one-by-one. There are some heroes in government who really tried and are still trying to protect BC wild salmon.
1982 – Canadian government and Norwegian and Canadian business interests meet:
• “have requested consideration of alternative approaches to inspection and certification of salmon culture facilities” (Tim Carey, DFO, Senior Program Advisor, Aquaculture and Fish Health, letter to Pritchard, DFO* Aquaculture & Resource Development re: importation of Atlantic salmon from Norway)
1984 – Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) approves limited importation of Atlantic salmon, although this is not made public.
1985 – Draft Importation of Salmonids Policy states:
• Imports will cease March 1989
• Source hatcheries must meet Canadian Fish Health Protection Regulations
• 12 month quarantine
• 300,000 eggs per hatchery to maintain reasonable security
• “I am getting increasingly anxious about our importing of Atlantic eggs. My concern is shared by many of my colleagues in both provincial and federal agencies…The fish health measures agree-to jointly by DFO and ourselves in the fall of 1984 are not foolproof. They are based on statistical sampling, so we are taking a risk when it comes to the introductions of virus. That means a risk to the nearly one-billion-dollar wild salmonid fisheries of British Columbia” (Dave Narver, MOE* to Anthony ADM, MOE, Feb 26)
130,000 Atlantic salmon eggs imported from Scotland
1986 – Import policy remains unsigned and is not public
• "…We are deeply concerned with the fact that the risk of exotic diseases is dependent on both the number of imports and their size… Government has made a commitment to support aquaculture, but surely not at the risk of a nearly $1 billion resource in the wild salmon fisheries of British Columbia. The direction the aquaculture industry wants us to go will insure that we import unwanted diseases that can impact on government hatcheries and wild stocks" (Narver, MOE to Gunn, Pacific Aqua Foods, Nov 6).
• “…Imported fish could be more susceptible to local pathogens than native stocks. An outbreak of disease in an imported stock due to a local pathogen, as well as causing losses to that stock could result in a dramatic increase in the pathogen loads in the system to a level which otherwise refractory native fish may not be able to withstand.” (CFSAC Advisory Document 1986) This is an extremely important observation, the unnatural salmon farm environment can cause local pathogens to become dangerous to local stocks.
• “To start with a general comment, I am disappointed with what appears to be the prevailing attitude of a number for companies, that fish health regulations to protect wild stocks are great, but … If we continue the way the aquaculture industry seems to dictate, we can expect to introduce new diseases.” (Dave Narver, MOE to Dale Blackburn, Stolt Sea Farm Canada Inc.)
1,144,000 eggs imported from Scotland
1987 - Federal-Provincial Policy for the Importation of Live Salmonids was signed, but restrictions were lowered.
• quarantine reduced to 120 days to reduce industry cost of dealing with waste water
• suggestion egg imports continue until 1990 ( Davis, DFO to Chamut, DFO, Jul 23)
• “If challenged in court over denial of any imports, what is the legal likelihood we would be successful in denying imports?” (Chamut, DFO to Davis, DFO, June 27)
1,281,000 eggs imported from Scotland / Washington State
1988 – Davis, DFO’s Regional Director of Science for the Pacific Region suggests extension of egg import to 1991
2,700,000 eggs from Scotland / Washington State
1990 - U.S. salmon farmers claim Canada import restrictions are a trade barrier.
• “Continued large-scale introductions from areas of the world including Washington State, Scotland, Norway and even eastern Canada would eventually result in the introduction of exotic disease agents of which the potential impact on both cultured and wild salmonids in BC could be both biologically damaging to the resource and economically devastating to its user groups” (Chamut former ADM, DFO, to Sarna, Director of Pacific Rim & Trade, Policy Division, International Directories, DFO, 1990)
1991 – The threat of a “Free Trade Ruling” remains, fish farm industry pushes for use of known diseased stocks.
• “I am very concerned about the discussion which took place about the egg import policy and proposed changes… I think [they] have gone too far… The proposed revisions not only open the window indefinitely but essentially allow for unlimited numbers of eggs. I know your Department argues that this has to done to avoid a Free Trade ruling…” (Narver, MOE to Chamut, DFO, Sept 30)
• “As we have no other disease-free source available [other than Iceland] anywhere in the world, I am requesting that you reconsider your position, particularly in the light of the expected change in the DFO regulations” (Needham, Director Aquaculture, BC Packers, to Hoskins, DFO, Dec 3 )
• “DFO and MOE are responsible for the protection of wild and cultured salmonid stocks in British Columbia. Both…agencies firmly believe that repeated large scale shipments of salmonid eggs…expose BC’s wild and farm salmonid stocks to unnecessary disease risk.” (Ginetz, DFO to BC Trout & Char Producers, Jan 16)
• Document titled, The Need for Restrictions on the Importation of Atlantic Salmon into B.C. Atlantic salmon eggs “clearly carry the risk of the inadvertent introduction of exotic disease, or exotic strains of indigenous agents.” (Gary Hoskins, Scientist, DFO memo, Jul 13)
• “Perhaps most important is the fact that new diseases are continually surfacing – their dynamics…are totally unknown. To suggest therefore that vertical transmission should not be a concern would be irresponsible" (Chamut, DFO to Emberley, Director General, Inspection Services Directorate, Jun 11)
• "The proposed revisions not only open the window indefinitely but essentially allow for unlimited numbers of eggs. I know your Department argues that this has to done to avoid a Free Trade ruling." (Narver, MOE to Chamut, DFO Sep 30)
• "I have the distinct feeling that the seriousness of the interaction between wild/farmed fish has been downplayed by some of your staff" (Narver, MOE to Chamut, DFO Sep 30)
• “I want to therefore emphasize that despite allegations that restrictions were introduced to limit trade for the benefit of BC producers, our foremost and only concern was to protect our wild and cultured stocks from exotic disease… There are a host of examples including cases in the US… where new diseases were accidentally introduced due to inadequate regard for fish health, resulting in significant economic losses to commercial and sport fisheries and more recently the salmon farming community.” (Chamut, DFO to Barrows, Free Trade Coordination Divisions, External Affairs & International Trade, Jan 23)
• “strongly urg[ing] DFO and BCMOE to modify existing policies to provide greater access to larger commercial quantities of Atlantic salmon eggs.” (BC Salmon Farmers Association to Chamut, DFO Jul 15).
735,000 eggs imported from New Brunswick / Ireland / Washington State
1992 – Importation Policy redrafted – signed by Pat Chamut
• No limit on number of eggs per license,
• quarantine reduced from 12 mos., to 120 days or body weight of 3g.
• BC Salmon Farmers Association: “imported fertilized eggs would be more competitive with domestically produced eggs if hatchlings did not have to be raised under quarantine conditions.”
640,000 eggs New Brunswick / Washington State
1993 – The Provincial and Federal government agencies (DFO, MAL*, MOE) Wild/Farmed Salmonid Interactions. Despite all the discusion above and no literature cited it reads:
• “There is also no evidence that wild fish in BC are placed at serious risk from disease occurrence in farmed fish.” (Apr 6).
• Washington State exports 47 million salmon eggs worldwide (10% to BC)
1,447,000 eggs from New Brunswick / Ireland / Washington State
1995 – Pressure from US for BC to relax egg/smolt import regulations
• “Major salmon egg exporters from Washington State agreed that there would be great market potential for their Atlantic salmon eggs in British Columbia if existing import restrictions were removed.” (International Trade – Canada’s Restriction on Certain Salmon Imports, Report to U.S. Senate Slade Gordon, April 1995, GAO/GGD-95-117)
775,000 eggs imported from Washington State / Ireland
1,500,000 eggs imported from Washington State
1,600,000 eggs imported from Washington State
2,400,000 eggs imported from Washington State
2,400,000 eggs imported from Washington State
2,500,000 eggs imported from Washington State
800,000 eggs from Washington State
0 eggs imported
2003 – Dr. Laura Richards Director General, Science, Pacific Region (DFO) petitions John Davis Regional Director, DFO to simply waive the Canadian Fish Health Protection Regulations so Atlantic salmon eggs can come from a hatchery in Iceland that does not meet Canadian protection standard (Oct 2, Cohen Commission, Exhibit)
• “Two BC salmon farming companies wish to import Atlantic salmon eggs from…Icelandic company which is not certified under the Canadian Fish Health Protection regulations (FHPR)
• Failure to provide permission for egg importation may trigger a trade challenge under the World Trade Organization…
• Additionally, DFO could also be viewed as causing a competitive disadvantage of the aquaculture industry by denying them access to alternate strains.”
0 eggs imported
4,700,000 eggs from Iceland
80,000 eggs from Iceland (reported on DFO website), however import permit 05-PBS-1 Jan, 17, 2005 reports 150,000 eggs imported from Iceland that hatched and were destroyed April 19, 2005
0 Eggs imported
1,750,000 eggs from Iceland
800,000 eggs from Iceland
600,000 eggs from Iceland
DFO = federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, renamed Fisheries and Oceans, Canada
MOE = provincial Ministry of Environment (disbanded when Gordon Campbell became Premier of BC)
MAL = provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, assumed control of salmon farm regulation in 1988 and remains responsible for the seafloor leases