In the 1980,’s British Columbia’s 1st salmon feedlot developers decided it would be good for them to import Atlantic salmon. Atlantic salmon were the money fish, known to survive intensive feedlot operations. The Steelhead Society of British Columbia, United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, BC Ministry of Environment, even members of the federal fisheries salmon transplant committee, and the Director General of Fisheries and Oceans, Pacific Region strongly opposed import of Atlantic salmon eggs. They all cited concern that exotic diseases would accompany these shipments. It would appear they were right, but now as this evidence mounts – everyone has fallen silent. There are now just a handful of individuals still standing and I have no doubt we will also be silenced unless others take a visible stand.
1986 – “I trust that you and your staff fully appreciate that this question of the introduction of exotic races of salmonids into British Columbia is probably the most critical issue ever to face the maintenance of wild salmon stocks.” Director, Dave Narver, BC Ministry of Environment to Bruch Hackett Assistant deputy Minister MAFF
1991 – “I want to formally state this agency’s opposition to changing the Federal-Provincial policy on the import of Atlantic salmon eggs” Narver to Chamut
1986 – “I am disappointed with what appears to be the prevailing attitude of a number of companies that fish health regulations to protect wild stocks are great, but give us an exception... If we continue the way the aquaculture industry seems to dictate, we can expect to introduce new diseases... Which company is prepared to be accountable for the introductions of VHS, IPN, IPN or Whirling disease to British Columbia” Narver to Dale Blackburn, Sea Farm Canada, Inc.
When Gordon Campbell was elected premier of BC, the Ministry of Environment was cancelled, Narver’s group was disbanded, and a huge voice was silenced. That was the end of a voice within the BC government working to protect the wild salmon and trout of British Columbia.
Opposition to salmon feedlots was silenced in many ways. The opposition by Canada’s federal fisheries to Atlantic salmon imports was silenced by the threat of trade sanctions, real or imagined, if the salmon feedlot industry did not get its way.
“In 1990, the US West Coast Salmon industry complained that the 1987 ‘British Columbia Policy on the Importation of Atlantic Salmon into British Columbia’ constituted a barrier to trade.” Draft Briefing Note for Deputy, Nov. 22, 1991
1991 “... 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 be done to avoid a Free Trade ruling... Let us stick with the existing policy rather than revising it to the point that it defeats the very purpose that we implemented in the first place.” Dave Narver Director, MoE to Pat Chamut, DFO Director General Sept. 30, 1991.
The Director General Pacific Region, Pat Chamut pushed back hard against egg imports.
1990 – “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 B.C. could be both biologically damaging to the resources and economically devastating to its user groups.” DFO Director General, Pat Chamut to Director Pacific Rim & Trade, A. Sarnia
Chamut understood the risk.
no date – “Unlike terrestrial animals, where complete containment and isolation is possible, fish are difficult to contain as well as isolate. Once an infectious agent becomes established in a wild population of fish, it is impossible to eradicate.” Pat Chamut, Director General DFO signed statement
Chamut was the highest-ranking DFO official in British Columbia, but the decision came down from somewhere to override him. Wherever Pat Chamut is now, I would like to thank him for trying and to let him know he was right. I would also like to say please consider weighing in again.
A Director General previous to Chamut did manage to stop import of Atlantic salmon directly from Norway:
“DFO Pacific will not approve any requests for importation of Atlantic salmon originating from continental Europe until more is known about Hittra disease.” Jan. 10, 1985 letter from C.W. Shinners, Director General DFO to E. Anthony, Assistant Deputy Minister provincial Ministry of Environment.
But I don’t think it mattered that we did not get Atlantic salmon “directly” from Norway.
The Mowi strain was established from many Norwegian Rivers.
“Two unique strains of brood stock, Mowi and McConnell, are used at MHC. To date they have been reared as separate brood lines and only crossed as production fish.” link
“Stofnfiskur distributes salmon eggs of the SAGA stock (a mixture of the old Mowi and Bolaks Norwegian strains) Irish Sea Fisheries Board Aquaculture Newsletter, B.I.M.” BC has received nearly 8 million Stofnfiskur eggs since 2004,
even though it does not meet the Canadian Fish Health Protection Regulations.
“Two BC salmon farming companies wish to import Atlantic salmon eggs from Stofnfiskur, an 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...” Oct. 3, 2003 Briefing Note For The Director General
Dr. Gary Hoskins, a federal Fish Health Officer for DFO in Nanaimo also tried to protect BC salmon from European disease.
“In summary, the risks of introducing an infectious agent with Atlantic salmon eggs is high, as well as real, if large, repeated shipments are allowed without protective measures beyond those offered by CFHPR [Canadian Fish Health Protection Regulations]” Memo by Dr. Gary Hoskins, July 13, 1991.
Some in DFO seemed to be moving in an entirely different direction.
1985 – Minutes of November 6, 1985, meeting of the Transplant Committee at Nanaimo “Dorothee Keiser outlined the contents of a letter that she proposed to send to all salmon farmers. It exempts them from a requirement to seek Committee approval for transplants of salmon eggs and juvenile salmon...”
The Fishermen’s Union, UFAWU was a very strong voice of concern about salmon feedlots, and not afraid to name them.
“The Rockefeller-owned IBEC farm operations near Port McNeill has already imported eggs from a Scottish hatchery which provided eggs now blamed for a disastrous disease outbreak in Norway” THE FISHERMAN April 18, 1986
Indeed, those IBEC feedlots were operating around my home in Echo Bay. A massive furunculosis outbreak occurred in the feedlots and then in the local coho hatchery. The ten-year average mortality in Scott Cove Hatchery was 3%. During the IBEC furunculosis outbreak 28% of the broodstock died and antibiotics were required to keep the rest alive – for better or worse.
IBEC “... operated on the premise that a private American business corporation that focused on developing the basic economies" of developing countries could turn a profit and encourage others”, but IBEC sold out immediately after the outbreak started to Norwegian Stolt and stopped salmon farming in B.C. When the Stolt representatives met with my community of Echo Bay, in Bill Proctor’s home, they said the dying farm salmon had been infected before entering seawater. By the winter of 1994, no one could catch a resident chinook salmon, the fishing lodges began to close and the community of Echo Bay slid into decline. Today there are 27 Norwegian feedlots, our school is closed, there are less than 10 residents. We were silenced. They took over.
“The B.C. Wildlife Federation, with its 30,000 members, supports the fishermen’s stand and strongly urges you to reconsider your position of importing atlantic salmon eggs for the benefit only of fish farming in B.C.” Letter to the federal Minister of Fisheries from Stewart W. Reeder, B.C. Wildlife Federation Nov. 15, 1985
All these men came out swinging without even knowing about the looming threat of the salmon flu-like virus, ISAv, the Norwegian heart-wasting virus, PRV or Salmon Alpha virus – but they were right. When you added exotic viruses to the already challenging life of a salmon – you decrease the chances that stock will make it home. And recalling viruses may be impossible.
Dr. Brian Riddell is the former DFO Science, Division Manager, Salmon Assessment and Freshwater Ecosystems and now CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation. Riddell wrote the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 2009, before we all learned DFO scientist, Simon Jones was sitting on ISA virus positive results in 100% of the Cultus Lake sockeye tested:
“...Morton makes a comment that is very serious given the current situation with ISA around the world...if there was ever an application of the precautionary principle...this should be it! The comment in Alex’s letter that is very troubling to me was “there is no ‘strong evidence’ that it travels in the eggs (this is a quote from Minister’s Shea’s previous letter to me)” ...assuming the context of this quote is correct then it is clearly contrary to Canada’s commitment to the precautionary principle...a lack of ‘strong evidence’ can not be used as an excuse. ...I chose to emphasize Ms. Morton’s point as the risk to wild Pacific salmon is real and unnecessary” Nov. 2009 email from Riddell to Minister of Fisheries Gail Shea.
Riddell is clear. The Minister’s position that BC was safe from ISA virus was ill-founded. I remain hopeful his Pacific Salmon Foundation, will inform its partners, which include government agencies, salmon enhancement groups, restaurants, lodges and banks, about the threat suggested by the positive test results coming from government and university labs for three European viruses. I remain hopeful the PSF will lend a hand to ensure there is no further interference in the ongoing non-government work to determine the state of European salmon viruses in BC. The PSF would also be doing B.C. a valuable service to make it clear that hatcheries must allow non-government lab testing. Hatcheries have the potential to spread and alter these viruses, they HAVE to know, they cannot operate in the dark, it would be irresponsible to all Canadians. When did salmon disease become a federal secret?
Many of B.C.’s biggest environmental organizations united under www.farmedanddangerous.org to protect wild salmon from salmon feedlots. At first there were powerful messages from this organization. http://www.farmedanddangerous.org/media-publications
After years of effort, the deal died on the table, apparently Marine Harvest reneged on the agreement:
“Georgia Strait Alliance, as part of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform recently sent a letter to Marine Harvest Canada informing them that we are no longer part of the Framework for Dialogue as a result of MHC’s decision to cancel their closed containment pilot project and to unilaterally pull out of a near-completed Benefit/Cost Analysis comparing the pilot project to their net-cage salmon farm operations. While there have been some positive gains through the course of the working relationship, our commitment to work constructively towards solutions has been met with endless stalling and eventual reneging on agreements on the part of Marine Harvest” http://www.georgiastrait.org/?q=node/1069
Exhausted and their funds used-up, these groups were silenced. If you are a member of this organization please support them in picking up this issue again. If we allow these viruses to mutate, spread and infect wild salmon year after year, we can only expect the collapse of BC wild salmon. We should know better by now than to allow influenza-type viruses to pour out of feedlots into the wild over a valuable food resource.
In 1985, the Steelhead Society of British Columbia was part of the fight. Rob Bell-Irving wrote to the provincial Minister of Environment;
“roughly 65,000 Atlantic salmon eggs by Norwegian Enterprises Inc., and an application for roughly 1.2 million Atlantic salmon eggs by Pacific Aqua Foods. ... the now public Deepwater Bay fiasco, does little to assure The Steelhead Society that the disease issue associated with these regrettable importations is [not] at all well in hand.” Rob Bell-Irving, President, The Steelhead Society of BC to BC Minister of Environment Dec. 28, 1985
April 29, 1985, Dr. Gary Hoskins, Fish Health DFO wrote an email also expressing concern over a 1985 importation:
“Although the contents of the attached letter are based on suspicions only and no action can be taken against [blanked] you should be made aware of the information. If nothing else it reinforces the need for the required quarantine of European Atlantic salmon imported into B.C. and restrictions on the number of shipments allowed.”
“The second shipment mentioned by [blanked] entered Canada March, 19, 1985. I issues the required [blanked] verbal assurance that the shipment consisted entirely of eggs from the certified [blanked].
”In view of the content of this letter I plan to increase surveillance of the [blanked].”
Why did Dr. Hoskins, DFO, see a need to increase surveillance and was he successful in preventing the threat he saw? Millions of Atlantic salmon poured into BC after this memo.
Thank you Dr. Gary Hoskins for what you tried to do, I wish they had listened to you.
Many of the small community groups trying to restore wild salmon stocks that are swimming among the feedlots now have Norwegian salmon feedlot corporations on their boards and listed as supporters. You can see Marine Harvest on the Tsolum River Restoration Society’s “Wall of Fame”. The BC Salmon Farmers Association supports the Oyster River Enhancement Society. Grieg Seafoods gave $114,000 to the tiny Nootka Sound Watershed Society in 2008 and put two people on the board. The Campbell River Salmon Foundation lists Marine Harvest and EWOS as sponsors Marine Harvest has been donating equipment to many hatcheries, hopefully well sterilized. These small organizations are hard-working and very well intentioned, but as DFO abandons them, they increasingly need the money. Hatcheries across BC have closed their doors to independent disease testing. They don’t want to, or are not allowed to know.
We could also add Justice Bruce Cohen to the list of people who government refuses to hear. The Federal government called a review on what has happened to the Fraser sockeye. The Cohen Commission into the Decline of the sockeye of the Fraser River made many recommendations directly related to salmon feedlots. Canadians spent $26 million on this review, and there has not been any response from any level of government.
Almost everyone who spoke against Atlantic salmon entering BC has been silenced. And it continues. The Province of BC was set to pass a law last year that would have made disease reporting in farm animals punishable by 2 years in prison and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has asked the Office of International Epizootics to strip the lab reporting positive results for European viruses in the samples I am taking from BC rivers, lakes, the ocean and supermarkets. Fortunately, both of these actions are on hold for the moment.
For any out there who can hear me, are you up for picking up where everyone else failed? Should we take one last stand, before admitting defeat? While all of the people I name above failed to alter the course we are on, they stood largely alone and without the science to back them up.
I invite the Steelhead Society, BC Wildlife Federation, Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, the UFAWU, the enhancement societies and streamkeepers to contact me and find out what is really going on with these viruses. The media are not accurately representing the situation. I understand if you have doubts, but if we are going to protect wild salmon from this, it is important that you have the facts as they stand.
Salmon disease has become a federal secret. It is inconvenient to free-trade. Narver, Riddell, Chamut, and Hoskins, were all in senior positions - in charge of protecting wild salmon when they said don’t let European salmon diseases into B.C. The more I test salmon in BC the more I agree with them.
1985 –– “It is our opinion that while the risk of exotic disease importation accompanying any single shipment of eggs from abroad is small, the cumulative risk from unlimited introductions in the future is large. Therefore, we recommend that Atlantic salmon imports should be allowed for the next 6 years.” Internal DFO memorandum George Hunter to Dick Beamish and A Wood
1985 – “Although the content of the attached letter are based on suspicions only and no action can be taken against [ crossed out ] you should be made aware of the information. If nothing else it reinforces the need for the required quarantine of European Atlantic salmon imported into B.C. and restriction on the number of shipments allowed.” Gary Hoskin DFO Fish Health Officer, BC to W. Shinners Director General, Pacific Region
1989 – Minister’s Briefing Note by David Narver, MoE, “The first confirmed occurrence of Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN) in net penned Atlantic salmon located at the Rosewall United Fish Farm, Vancouver Island... A working committee has been established to determine where this virus came from and most important, where these fish have been distributed to, i.e. other B.C. farms... To date this issue has been kept confidential... This situation is extremely serious.”
1990 – “I have established that only McConnell strain of Atlantic salmon meet your criteria. As this stock is well-represented in British Columbia there is little value in further imports of this strain for broodstock purposes. On the other hand, the well quarantine Bolaks strain from Iceland fits the industries; requirement to introduce some Norwegian blood into our stocks in BC. Unfortunately their stock by your criteria fail because of isolation of the ubiquitous bacterium Aeromonas salmonicida". Ted Needham BC Packers, to Gary Hoskins, DFO Fish Health Officer, BC
1990 – “A potential sale of a large number of coho eggs by Little Bear Bay Fish Farm (near Campbell River) to a company in Chile required a fish health inspection. Consultants reported a high degree of infection of IHN. Transplant Committee will likely approve future transplant applications for this stock” 24 March 14, 1990 Transplant Committee meeting, Nanaimo.
1991 – “Pat, hatcheries which currently are raising Atlantic salmon do not comply with their licences and escapes are occurring now” Director, Dave Narver, BC Ministry of Environment to Director General DFO, Pat Chamut
1991 – “In 1990, the US West Coast Salmon industry complained that the 1987 ‘British Columbia Policy on the Importation of Atlantic Salmon into British Columbia’ constituted a barrier to trade.” Draft Briefing Note for Deputy
undated – “Policy for the Importation of Live salmonids into the Pacific Region – After March 31, 1987 no further shipments of Atlantic salmon will be permitted”
1992 – “... I understand that DFO and Agriculture and Fisheries have now acknowledged that Atlantic have been found returning to several streams on Vancouver Island... My understanding is that there is no question that Atlantics can hybridize with brown trout and rainbow.” Earl Warnock, MoE to Gerry Armstrong Deputy Minister
1992 – “Apparently the industry is having IHNV epizootics in 150gm saltwater Atlantics. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food is not giving out information, but DFO believes that the losses are high and that the location is roughly ‘North Island’ I think that it is very poor of MAFF not to inform other agencies, particulariy given that it is spawning/migratory season for many Pacific Salmonids.” Sally Goldes to Harvey Andrusak
1992 – Subject: Further News on IHNV in Atlantics “DFO believes (this information however has not been confirmed by MAFF) that the affected Pens are owned by Canada Packers at the Rosewall Site.”
1992 – regarding IHN at the Rosewall United Hatchery “I am concerned that your staff have continued to make themselves available to the media on an issue which we had decided to address internally...offers an opportunity for his hatchery stocks to be examined by our lab at no cost in 1993. Such testing would give Mr. Engest a clear opportunity to have his hatchery announced free of a perceived disease. I had earlier proposed that following the tests, this ministry issue a news release announcing the results.” G.R. Armstrong, Deputy Minister BC MAFF to Gerry Armstrong MoE.
1993 – “Last winter three separate stocks were imported for a total of about 0.5 M eggs. In the case of the Irish stock from Fanad, I seriously doubt if there was any understanding of the stock’s genetic background” Narver to Chamut March 29, 1993
1993 – In a statement from the Provincial Minister Environment Plasmacytoid Leukemia is reported for the first time in freshwater. The infected juvenile chinook salmon were in two fish farm hatcheries discharging into the Salmon River. The Ministry of Environment expresses concern for the “unique run of large, highly-prized steelhead as well as chinook, coho, chum, Dolly Varden and cutthroat. The hatchery operators have agreed to destroy the most heavily infected pond of fish, The remaining three ponds of fish have a very light infection (one in thirty fish sampled). DFO is recommending these fish be released to sea-pen sites where MA has been identified in the past.
• The use of any additional lakes for commercial aquaculture may have to be reviewed”
1995 – “As an aside, there was a recent escape of Yukon River Chinook from a salmon farm in the Clayoquot area. These fish are unmarked and thus cannot be recognized as farmed fish.” Minutes of the fish transplant committee meeting Jan. 5, 6 Vancouver
1986 – “I am disappointed with what appears to be the prevailing attitude of a number of companies that fish health regulations to protect wild stocks are great, but give us an exception... If we continue the way the aquaculture industry seems to dictate, we can expect to introduce new diseases... Which company is prepared to be accountable for the introductions of VHS, IPN, IPN or Whirling disease to British Columbia” Dave Narver to Dale Blackburn, Stolt Sea Farm Canada, Inc. (one of the first Norwegian companies to use BC waters for their feedlots, later bought by Marine Harvest)
Very good point Dr. Narver. Which fish farm company is prepared to be held accountable?