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An rud bhios na do bhroin, cha bhi e na do thiomhnadh
"That which you have wasted will not be there for future generations"

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Guest Column, June 2003

Alexandra Morton courageously fights to protect British Columbia wild salmon from the impact of fish farm disease and pollution. Her battle has brought her into direct conflict with the British Columbian authorities, and with the Canadian fish farming industry - it has also brought her international recognition and acclaim.

The Fight Against British Columbia's Salmon Farms

In October 1984 I followed a family of killer whales into the Broughton Archipelago. It was a wet, fall day in beautiful shades of grey. As the whales moved deeper into the archipelago I thought we had traveled off the edge of the known world, this pristine maze of islands was brimming with life. After several hours I noticed smoke coming from a house floating on a raft of logs and as the fog was now trickling down my back, the thought of a warm hearth drew me to this odd little dwelling. A young family welcomed me, my three year old son and my husband. The next day we moved to Echo Bay, British Columbia to study killer whales.

In 1989 the first salmon farm appeared in tow behind a small tug. I looked at it and thought “good idea.” Thinking it would bring jobs, keep our tiny school open and offer me shelter in storms as I plied these waters in search of whales, I was wrong – they were the storm. The government appeared, all smiles, and asked our local fishermen, “were don’t you want salmon farms,” and then they put them in exactly those places. They had used promises of protection to find the richest areas best suited to raising Atlantic salmon.

Furunculosis broke out in our enhanced coho, for the first time immediately after one of the earliest farmers on this coast put furunculosis infected smolts right on the coho migration route. Government and Industry said “Don’t worry”, the disease in the wild and farmed fish is not the same, but they would not let us match the two strains.

The killer whales disappeared when the farmers began using underwater acoustic harassment devices (Morton and Symmonds ICES 2001). In Canada, displacing whales is a violation of the Fisheries Act, but nothing was done.

As the impacts mounted, I wrote 10,000 pages of letters to all levels of government. They said my evidence was “anecdotal” and ignored me. So I decided to do the science myself. In the summer of 2000 I began going up to commercial fisherman to count their catch of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon. In six weeks over 10,000 Atlantic salmon were gillnetted in these Pacific waters and contrary to government and industry up to 23% in some locations were successfully eating wild food (Morton and Volpe Alaska Fisheries Research Bulletin 2002).

In the spring of 2001 a local fisherman brought me a 5cm pink salmon fry with 15 sea lice attached to its tiny body. Having read a great deal of literature on salmon farms, I knew of the disastrous relationship between salmon farms, sea lice and sea trout collapse. I began looking at juvenile salmon throughout the Broughton and discovered 80% had more lice on them than was necessary to kill young salmon. I got on the internet, and found several Norwegian and Scottish scientists who were willing to help me study this, but they warned me, my government and the farmers would not like my results. When the young fish I studied came back to spawn 98% of them had vanished in the biggest stock collapse in the history of the B.C. coast (PFRCC 2002 And government and industry became furious with me.

When the various salmon farmers from Norway came to B.C., they left behind the strict rules which dictate exactly how many sea lice they are allowed on their farm fish. As a result this nightmare came with them and now they refuse to acknowledge they are the problem.

However, the B.C. coast is not kind to Atlantic salmon. Over ¼ of the industry is suffering losses to IHN, a very contagious virus common to sockeye salmon. Many farms in my area have pumped tones of rotting fish out of their pens, marketing the ones still alive in this soup of offal. Large quantities of B.C. farm salmon are infected with Kudoa, a parasite which liquefies the flesh of fish a few days after death. Some First Nations communities are resisting the promise of jobs and refusing now to allow salmon farms into their territories, but the farmers are muscling in anyway. Communities have attempted to protect their wild fish by re-zoning areas as farm free, but the farmers are attempting to over-turn this. In response to the sea lice crisis, Stolt demanded another farm site in the most sensitive habitat, claiming there were no juvenile salmon there, when in fact there are millions.

It is extremely difficult to watch a place you love destroyed by sheer sloppiness and greed. My finances, career and body have been threatened, but I am determined to continue the research. If the salmon farmers had respected local communities, kept their farms few and far between, off wild salmon migration routes and other wild fisheries, they would still be welcomed on this coast, but they have shown themselves to be ruthless, with no respect for life. I can only see them as a cancer, explosive, uncontrollable growth which kills the ecosystem which supports them. I have opened a research station here and welcome international scientists interested in studying the impact of aquaculture. This is a worldwide concern as farms spread into all the temperate coastlines of our planet.