We drove to St. Andrews in the rain, the yellow and orange foliage standing out brilliantly in the dark weather. We passed the famous Miramichi River, known for wild Atlantic salmon fishing. Cooke Aquaculture has a lodge on this river. I wonder if they would ever put one of their own salmon feedlots near this river?
In St. Andrews we met up with Matt Abbott, with Fundy Bay Keepers and Geoff Giffin, with the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
We drove directly to Lime Kiln Bay, the birthplace of industrial salmon feedlots in Canada. From the dock we can see several farms. They are much lower tech. than in British Columbia and none of the farms I have seen so far in the Maritimes have a feed shed attached to them. I was told the farmers travel out the farms a couple times a day to feed the fish, often by hand.
I hear a story I have never heard before; that a DFO official on sabbatical to Norway came back to Canada with the vision that salmon farms could supplement the local economy. He thought small operations of 30,000- 40,000 fish could round out the year for fishermen involved in the lobster and scallop fisheries. But it did not work out the way he envisioned. Instead of benefiting these fishermen, the industry is now seen as dark threat, sucking their way of life into oblivion.
The community here in New Brunswick tolerated the arrival of salmon feedlots, because at first it was their neighbours who were in the business. When the dreaded ISA virus went lethal, and the sea lice got out of control, these families lost their farms and their investment. Cooke Aquaculture began buying farm after farm.
Now people feel they duped, they let a predator in. They are afraid. No one wants to speak up; their boats might be damaged. Security guards have appeared on docks recording the names of everyone who comes and goes. “What if something happens on the night I go down to my boat,” says one man who does not want to be identified, “we come and go to our boats at all hours and I don’t like the company recording my movements.”
In 2010, the bay was full of chunks of salmon. People said the stench was unbearable…. Everyone looked the other way. Most of the people in the fishing communities know salmon farms are killing their fisheries, but they are afraid.
Janice tells us the salmon farming industry is on the decline in New Brunswick. It is shrinking. It peaked at 37,000 tons, now the New Brunswick harvest is 10,000 tons less. They are suffering from their own waste, disease and lice. I have bought two farm salmon since I have been here that have had about 30 lice each.
Most of the lice were buried under the gill flap, where they were not washed off during cleaning. There could have been far more lice to begin with. Someone has a big lice problem right now. Janice warns Nova Scotia to beware, that the new Brunswick industry is failing and so it has its eye on the little bays of Nova Scotia.
The fishermen noticed the farms are consolidating and moving around to find clean sea floor. They say that while the industry in their area is shrinking, there has been no clean up. Feces and equipment litter the bottom. The used up areas can’t be fished. Some think their fisheries will be corporatized. Soon they fear they will be buying their lobster bait from Cooke.
I think back to Jordon Bay and Ricky Hallett’s 3-year battle to stop a salmon feedlot that wants to go into water so shallow there will only be 3 meters of water under the farm. Is Cooke trying to buy up the actual lobster grounds? Are they looking at lobster? Is DFO tired of dealing with 1,000s of lobster fishermen? Is the tail wagging the dog?
I finally got to hear about the wild salmon of the Maritimes. In general, Atlantic salmon have been in decline since the 1970s, but the decline in populations that pass close to salmon farms has been much steeper than elsewhere. This is similar to BC wild salmon. Salmon fishing has been closed on all the rivers that flow into the Bay of Fundy. This year the Atlantic salmon that have been in the river for one year have crashed profoundly. No one knows why.
The Atlantic salmon of the Inner Bay of Fundy are a unique strain and unfortunately for them, they never stray far from the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine. These waters are so rich, the salmon did not need to travel out into the North Atlantic.
After the salmon farms arrived the Inner Bay of Fundy, Atlantic salmon populations began to slide downwards from 45,000 to less than 200. In 2003, they were listed as “endangered” and DFO listed aquaculture as one of the top threats to these salmon. But nothing was done – oh this is so familiar sounding!
The wild salmon of the outer Bay of Fundy migrate out towards Greenland. While they are also sliding downwards, their decline has not been nearly so steep. The St John River system in Inner Fundy, was one of the most productive in the world; it rivaled the legendary Miramichi and Restigouch.
The stories pour out. I am told that big aquaculture told the mayors of the local towns to lobby government on their behalf, or they would not use the local dock facilities. They would just benefit towns that worked on their behalf with government.
Fishermen told me that herring weirs that had produced herring for 100 years became barren two years after the salmon feedlots went into the area. I heard the same observations here as in Freeport, that herring will not go near a place where there has been a large fish kill. The fishermen of St. Andrews told me herring avoid the salmon farms and they think it is the presence of the dying farm salmon or the massive areas of the seafloor covered in the industrial waste.
Environment Canada used to be responsible for making unannounced visits to salmon farms to check compliance in delousing drug use. By all accounts Environment Canada was good at this. When fishermen contacted the Fundy North Fishermen’s Association and Fundy Bay Keepers, about massive lobster kills near salmon farms, these groups bravely notified Environment Canada, which did a thorough investigation. While the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was unable to detect Cypermethrin. Environment Canada laid charges.
Senior officials with Cooke Aquaculture each face up to $11 million in fines and up to 30 years in jail. The court proceedings are being conducted behind closed doors and many fear nothing will come of it.
Changes to the Fisheries Act will replace Environment Canada with Health Canada crews who don’t have any boats. They will be hitching a ride on the salmon farm crew boats. How do you make an “unannounced” visit, when you ride with the company?
The sea lice in the extreme high-density sited salmon feedlots in New Brunswick became resistant to the in-feed drug, Slice, and so today well-boats are used. I am told these boats prepare a toxic bath of hydrogen peroxide, or Deltamethrin. The federal and provincial governments funded research into Deltamethrin and even though 3 parts per billion in water kills lobster, they gave the salmon farming industry permission to use this drug and then release the chemical directly into the Inner Bay of Fundy. Research reports this chemical dump produces a plume reaching at least 8 km from the site. The toxin is pouring into lobster nurseries.
Technically no one would be allowed to release such a drug into the ocean. Health Canada, however, will be able to approve these lethal drugs, exempting them from the Fisheries Act and so if a salmon farmer kills lobster in the future, the fish farmers cannot be found guilty of anything.
Young lobster fishermen tell me that the lobster pounds used to see only 2% “shrink.” A pound is a place the fishermen hold the lobster until the price is right. “Shrink” is how many die in these enclosures. Now the same pounds near salmon farms suffer from 15-30% shrink.
When I asked who Cooke Aquaculture really is, a fisherman said, “we don’t know who Cooke really is. We see them flying back and forth to Norway, we believe they are connected to Norway.” Norway – 98% owners of the BC salmon feedlot industry.
One fishermen looked at me, his eyes tearing despite the tight set of his jaw,
“My great, great grandfather started fishing here in 1726 and we been fishing ever since. But I think we are the last generation gonna fish here, I am tired of fighting the salmon farms and their chemicals.” He turns and leaves, can’t talk about it any further.
“It’s a big spider web and we are getting trapped in it.” Anonymous fisherman.