On January 10th a hurricane hit the southern end of Norway, near Bergen. It was forecast in the days leading up to the storm and the salmon farming industry claimed they were ready, that the chains anchoring their pens full of fish could withstand the winds, that there would be no escapes. This was important, because Norway had just informed the industry there would be zero tolerance for escapes.
The science on escaped Atlantic salmon in Norway, reports that farmed salmon will breed with wild salmon and create offspring, but that these hybrids will fail to return home. Therefore, wild eggs fertilized by farmed salmon means those eggs are lost. Genetic pollution, as it is called, is one of the leading reasons given for the decline of wild salmon in Norway. Farmed salmon are in most rivers, there are only 500,000 wild salmon left, approximately 1/2 the number of fish found in a single fish farm.
The first sport fishermen to venture out on the fjords near Bergen after the storm were sickened by what they saw. The water was boiling with escaped farmed rainbow trout! Technically, because they were in sea water, these would be called steelhead, but they did not look like the magnificent steelhead so beloved to thousands of British Columbians. These were "flabby", blotchy fish with misshapen bodies. They are not native to Norway, these fish came from North America originally.
Worst of all they were mature, ready to spawn and the fishermen knew what that meant. While escaped rainbow trout, have not established in Norway, they do dig in the rivers and thus destroy nests of wild salmon eggs. The precious wild Atlantic salmon eggs were in danger of being dug up by the repulsive invaders and so the fishermen took it on themselves to catch every last one before the damage could be done.
Farmed imported rainbow trout spawning in Norwegian river previous to this escape. (filmed by Uni Research Environment v / Tore Wiers).
Facebook lit up with pictures of the farm rainbow trout and I understood for the first time how the Norwegians feel when they see how salmon farming in BC has disfigured their beautiful wild salmon. Steelhead are close to sacred in BC, but in Norway, they are monsters.
The Askøy Hunter & Fisherman's Association decided to get some of these fish tested for disease, because they looked so sick. They were hemorrhaging blood in their muscle tissue.
Seven farmed trout were sent to Dr. Are Nylund of the nearby University of Bergen. Nylund is a leading salmon disease specialist publishing ground-breaking work on new diseases in farmed salmon. When his team reported that the ISA virus had traveled to Chile in farmed Atlantic salmon eggs, he was hit with accusations of scientific misconduct. He spent year fighting these accusations and was finally cleared, but at great personal cost. However, he survived uncowed and he took the fish from the fishermen.
“All of the fish that I have analyzed were very sick,” Nylund reported to the Norwegian newspaper BA
One was infected with the salmon alphavirus, which causes pancreas disease (PD), which is killing so many farmed fish it is eating into company profits and viability. This was the worst news possible to the fishermen because the escaped rainbow trout were pouring towards the rivers.
Disgusted Norwegian sportfishermen remove escaped farmed rainbow trout from the water, trying to protect the nests of extremely fragile wild Atlantic salmon populations.
The Norwegian government did not see the fishermen's independent testing as helpful. Pancreas Disease is reportable in Norway and there did not seem to be any record of these fish being infected. The government recommended that people only use "official" labs. “It takes an expert to confirm and make such a diagnosis.” A government spokesperson pointed out that just because evidence of PD was found, did not mean the fish was sick. Of course, this is what the Canadian government said when ISA virus was detected by government labs in BC, where the virus officially does not exist. However, the Norwegian fishermen didn't care if the farmed salmon had the disease or not, they were racing to prevent farmed fish carrying the virus from entering the rivers and making the wild salmon sick.
They are catching 60-80 fish each per day. They are angry that the fish farmers did not come to help.
The Director of Fisheries, Liv Holmefjord, made a statement; "I am sure we can prevent similar incidents in the future." But the salmon farmers don't seem to be on a learning curve. They claimed this was not their fault because the chains they purchased had been certified to withstand 70 tons of load and broke at 30 tons.
Norgesmester, Erland Vivelid Nilsen told the media:
"The situation has been dangerous for a long time. We have very few wild fish stocks due to aquaculture and all sea-lice they inflict other fish. The aquaculture industry is the lusefabrikker, lice maker, in the fjords"
Fisherwoman Regine Emilie Mathisen calls the escaped farmed fish an environmental catastrophe for her town of Askøy.
And then, an incredible thing happened, Norwegian politicians, who appear to care about the people of Norway and her wild heritage, came forward and stated the obvious. It was time to do something different.
Deputy Ola Borten Moe, leader of the Center Party, suggested it is time move the salmon farming industry on to land. Furthermore he is asking Norway to to waive the high cost of a salmon farm licence ($11.5 million) for any salmon farm established on land. He points out that this is the only way that Norway will remain competitive and furthermore that this would protect Norway's environment, stimulate innovation and finally solve the industry's escalating disease, sea lice and drug dependency, while increasing jobs.
Norwegian Green Party,Kristin Mørch, made a strong statement aimed directly at the industry "Aquaculture is causing massive destruction and operates large-scale animal cruelty. Change can no longer be refused, restructure is going to push forward whether you want to or not... yes, to farming, but not at the expense of the environment and animal welfare."
Meanwhile the fishermen remain on scene, first responders, slaughtering farmed steelhead, reportedly infected with disease threatening wild Atlantic salmon.
The controversy wages on. At first people were told they could eat the escaped salmon Then the Norwegian Seafood Federation said the gruesome-looking fish were not intended for human consumption. Still others suggested the rainbows had been medicated in December for delousing, which suggests they were not scheduled to be destroyed and the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries finally said they should not be eaten because they could still contain the drug.
I don't think there is much chance of a Norwegian eating these fish, which raises the question, who were these fish destined for?
This event and the reaction in Norway is very significant to us in British Columbia. Norway is the mother of the salmon farming industry and if she is telling the industry it is time to clean up, get out of the ocean and show some respect for wild salmon and all the people who want them, then maybe Canada should consider doing the same. I was shocked to learn the enormous cost of a salmon farming licence in Norway, $11.5 million! While here is Canada it would appear the licences are being handed out for free!!! If anyone can correct me on this please comment below, this can't be true, really is Canada giving out free licences to companies that cost $11.5 million back home?
2011 "Policy and Practice Report: Aquaculture Regulation in British Columbia" Cohen Commission Exhibit PPR20 Cohen Commission Exhibits
In an open letter on January 29th the Norwegian Hunting and Fishing Society demanded that the Fisheries Minister be removed. (Please note this is an online translation of a Norwegian document)
If you want to follow this breaking story, you can find me on Facebook, or check back here. I am posting the stories as they come in and some of the Norwegians out there fishing up these abominations are posting there too.
Please share this story with your federal candidates so that they can see what their peers in Norway are saying about this Norwegian industry. If you have even just $10 to spare please donate on the upper right of this blog so that I can reach out to the public who are putting farmed fish in their mouths. They are the powerhouse behind this industry, when they say no more farmed salmon dinners until the industry gets away from the wild salmon of the world, the industry will pick up and do exactly that so fast it will amaze us all. And then finally we can get back to work bringing BC's and Norway's wild salmon back to us. I leave you with a quote from one of the fishermen out there today trying to get our fish out of her waters.
“This is an environmental catastrophe that only escalates; I feel that those who govern this country are stealing nature from the youth. We can not keep on like this anymore!” Regine Emilie Mathisen.
In case we are forgetting what steelhead actually look like: