Sea Shepherd Investigates Canadian Salmon Farms

salmon farm

Published Jul 17, 2016 7:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has teamed with Canadian biologist Alexandra Morton and actor/activist Pamela Anderson for Operation Virus Hunter, a new campaign investigating the lawfulness of the salmon farming industry in British Columbia.

Operation Virus Hunter, which begins this month in Vancouver, will see Morton travel on board Sea Shepherd’s Martin Sheen over the course of several weeks, tracing the major salmon migration route that stretches from mainland Vancouver to the north end of Vancouver Island. 

Along the route, the Martin Sheen will be stopping at various salmon farms to conduct audits for disease and other factors. This will be done in a non-aggressive and non-harassing manner, says Sea Shepherd. 

“The salmon farming industry thrives on secrecy, shrouding its activities from public view,” said Morton. “Operation Virus Hunter will shine a bright spotlight on this industry. Canada cannot claim it is protecting the oceans, including wild salmon, while at the same time, allowing the farmed salmon industry to release waste into the world’s largest salmon migration route. 

First Nations Leader Chief Ernie Crey says: “Ninety-four Nations of the Fraser River view wild salmon as being essential to who they are, and they have worked to conserve those stocks for thousands of years,” he said. “The recent salmon declines are a threat to our existence and we hold salmon farms as one of the culprits. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans chooses foreign salmon famers over our title and rights again and again. We ask wild salmon be allowed to come and go to this river free from infection with farm salmon disease.”

Industry Initiatives

British Columbia salmon farmers grow 58 percent of all salmon raised in Canada and account for 60 percent of the total landed value of seafood in British Columbia, generating more than $1.14 billion towards the provincial economy.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) says it is helping to bridge knowledge gaps on British Columbia’s wild stocks and coastal environment by developing collaborations on seven research projects, with over 30 researchers from 10 organizations, providing almost $420,000 in funding.

In December 2014, BCSFA created the Marine Environmental Research Program (MERP) and committed $1.5 million over five years (2015 – 2020) to fund research that will provide a better understanding of the marine environment and wild salmon stocks. To date, $417,108 has been committed to funding research.

The research-funding program, open to all research organizations, is managed by a third-party Science Advisory Council (SAC) comprised of members from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver Island University, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Pacific Salmon Foundation, and Vancouver Aquarium, as well as industry experts.  

Project highlights include:

•    Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre: This project will be exploring the effectiveness of a local fish species to “clean” sea lice from cultured Atlantic salmon. This research is the first of its kind in B.C., and results are expected to determine if kelp perch or pile perch are effective in picking sea lice from salmon - an alternative method for managing sea lice in salmon culture.
•    North Island College: This project seeks to gain a better understanding of the aquatic environment around salmon farms, and how wild marine species interact with the habitats that are created by the presence of a salmon farm.
•    Pacific Salmon Foundation and the University of British Columbia: This project will be using acoustic tag tracking technology to follow migration routes and rates of juvenile Sockeye, Coho and Chinook salmon, and the survival of tagged fish through the Strait of Georgia, and the Discovery Islands area.

Management Practices

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance website says that the welfare of farmed salmon is the primary factor that determines farm management practices. Salmon farmers ensure that their farms are located in well-flushed waters that meet a variety of specific criteria (e.g. temperature, salinity and depth) necessary for salmon to thrive. With the active support of veterinarians and scientists, salmon farmers undertake many preventative measures to ensure the health of their salmon from hatching to harvest. The health of all breeding stock is carefully assessed before they are used as a source of eggs. To provide further protection, salmon farmers seek to prevent disease-causing fish pathogens from entering the hatcheries.

Despite all of the preventative measures, some salmon do occasionally become ill, states the Alliance website. A veterinarian will then examine the fish and determine the appropriate action to be taken. As with all farm animals, the veterinarian may sometimes decide that the illness requires antibiotic treatment. Following antibiotic use, a strictly regulated withdrawal period and testing program ensures that no harvesting of the treated salmon occurs until the medication has cleared from their system. Salmon farms have the longest regulated antibiotic withdrawal period of any agricultural sector in the world.