I spent this past weekend examining young wild salmon migrating through the Discovery Islands off Campbell River. These young salmon are leaving the mighty Fraser River to start their lives out in the open ocean as they have done for thousands of years, but today they have to swim through fish farm pollutants. I am studying how this pollution of viruses, bacteria and lice affects wild salmon. I have been looking at the salmon in this area since 2005. In this area I work with a team of highly-skilled locals who found themselves surrounded by fish farms.
As you can see, salmon farms in BC are sited in narrow channels, and these channels are where juvenile salmon migrate to sea, in this case this farm is in Okisollo Channel - a place the Justice Bruce Cohen salmon farms "cease operations" by 2020 if Fisheries and Oceans cannot prove that they are having less than minimal impact. If the farms were not on BC's biggest wild salmon migration routes, the conflict would never have come up.
We catch the young wild salmon with a hand purse seine from Jody Eriksson's boat run by him and Farlyn Campbell.
Here the net is pulled up to the boat and the fish are in the small circle of net left in the water
The first thing strikes you about juvenile salmon is how beautiful they are.
To get a closer look we put them in plexiglass viewing boxes. This keeps the fish alive while we can examine them.
One of the mysteries in the Discovery Islands is these large deep, open wounds. One guess is that they are made by tiny lamprey eels, though in the past two years of seeing these wounds, we have never seen an eel.
The other two common impacts on young salmon near salmon farms are the sea lice that should not be on these fish at this lifestage. These salmon are far too young to have a large gravid female louse like this on them. There is also a young louse on her cheek, behind her eye and one of a different species on her head. The second issue for this fish is the cloudy white spot in her eye. We know cataracts are a problems for the salmon in the pens, we don't know why it is occurring outside the pens in wild fish.
Same fish, other side, a large male louse on her cheek, another on her side and one stuck to her pectoral fin.
These are "gravid" female lice of two different species each with a set of eggs strings, making more lice. You can see a raw patch of skin underneath the big louse. This is why lice of this size don't belong on a fish so young. The fish's armor of scales has not developed enough and so the lice eat through their skin into their flesh. This is not only painful for the fish, it opens them to infection.
Here a louse has attached to a young salmon's eyeball, Because fish can't blink and don't have hands, they are left to suffer and the lice feed on the their eyes.
Here is a young coho (possible a Chinook, they are very difficult to tell apart at this age) with a long wound, we don't know what it is.
At another farm in Okissollo Channel we found ourselves adrift in a greasy stew of rotting chunks of farmed salmon complete with the tell-tale white stripes of fat and a smelly oil from the decomposing farmed salmon.
Beneath this disgusting mess were the beautiful wild salmon trying to swim to sea and they were actually nibbling at the rotting dead salmon! We are don't know why the farmed salmon died and if what killed them is going to kill the wild salmon, but I don't think there is an honest epidemiologist in the world that would advise that it is safe to have wild animals feeding on dead farmed animals.
This incredible photo below by Tavish Campell sums up the whole problem with farmed salmon in BC waters. Young wild salmon are swimming too close to these industrial feedlots. Wild salmon must be supreme athletes to make a living, while the farmed fish can be infected with piscine reoviruse, and other pathogens and just wait lazily for food to drop out of the sky. The farmed salmon are vaccinated to survive in the highly unnatural farm-environment, but wild salmon are not. However they are being subjected to the same stew of pathogens, lice etc. We don't let wild birds to get this close to chicken factories because we learned to be afraid of avian flu - I don't know how this industry has talked our governments into allowing this to happen to the fish.
That evening the team left the vicinity of the fish farms we had been sampling near all day, and went to seek out healthy kelp forests underwater, where we hoped to document the beauty of these young wild salmon on their journey.
When we looked at the young fish here we realized we were not far away enough from the farms to get away from the sea lice even. Though there was no farm in sight, there were several just around the corner. It is depressing to see government squander wild salmon, always favouring the aggressive dirty salmon farming industry over the fish that bring life to this coast, feed the trees that make the oxygen we breathe, the whales, First Nation culture past and present. In my view, salmon farms will be seen as one of the great crimes perpetuated on this coast, robbing people of food and environment, taking the soul and spark from this coast.
Tavish Campbell, gearing up here to try to document wild salmon traveling through the shelter of bull kelp forests underwater.
And April Bencze doing topside photography and filming.
This picture shows what it is all about! Wild salmon feeding our world as they go to sea. These tiny fish will swim far and wide into the ocean, collect the energy of the sun and sea and bring it home to feed over 100 different species.
Day two... We take to the air!
Farlyn and Arrow in the warm June morning.
Aggressive encounter ...
Here you can see two fishing vessels rafted to a farm where Atlantic salmon are being pumped out of the pen.
There were dead salmon in this pen too.
Sea lice sea lice sea lice
I write these blogs to tell the world what is going here. "Salmon farming" sounds so nice, but it is not. Feedlots belong in quarantine and I will keep getting this message out there in my scientific papers, and photo and films. I need help. I need some big guys to step in here and tell government this cannot go on any more...
What can you do?
Please take a moment to sign and share this petition to legislate the removal of salmon farms from Canada: Sign the Petition
Thanks April Bencze for the photos. [All images copyright of April Bencze, Tavish Campbell or Alexandra Morton.]