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International News, January 2005

Tsunami troubles in Asia

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports (13th January) that the tsunami waves have had a devastating impact on the fisheries and fish farming sectors in many countries of the Indian Ocean.

In Sri Lanka, more than 7,500 fishers have been killed by the tsunami and over 5,600 are still missing. 4,500 boats were lost in Thailand and 2,000 in India where already 300,000 fishermen lost their jobs. 15,580 fish cages were lost in Thailand and about 1,000 fish farms having been completely destroyed in northern Sumatra.

In the Seychelles, coastal fish farms and the artisanal fisheries sector suffered extensively. The Thai News Agency reported (13th January) that two-thirds of Thailand’s shrimp farming capacity had been lost. This had the potential to lead to a 30% loss in exports for Thailand - the world’s largest shrimp exporter – thus an estimated export revenue loss of 20 billion baht.

According to The Washington Times (10th January), this was as much a man-made as a natural disaster: “Since the 1960s, the Asian sea-coast region has been plundered by the large industrialized shrimp firms that brought environmentally-unfriendly aquaculture to its sea shores,” writes Devinder Sharma. “Shrimp farming continued its destructive spree, eating away more than half of the world's mangroves. Since the 1960's, for instance, aquaculture in Thailand resulted in a loss of over 65,000 hectares of mangroves.

“In Indonesia, Java lost 70 per cent of its mangroves, Sulawesi 49 per cent and Sumatra 36 per cent. So much so that at the time the tsunami struck in all its fury, logging companies were busy axing mangroves in the Aceh province of Indonesia for exports to Malaysia and Singapore”.

Sharma argues that: “Mangrove swamps have been nature's protection for the coastal regions from the large waves, weathering the impact of cyclones, and serving as a nursery for three-fourth of the commercial fish species that spend part of their life cycle in the mangrove swamps….

“If only the mangroves were intact, the damage from tsunami would have been greatly minimized. Ecologists tell us that mangroves provide double protection - the first layer of red mangroves with their flexible branches and tangled roots hanging in the coastal waters absorb the first shock waves. The second layer of tall black mangroves then operates like a wall withstanding much of the sea's fury”.

“This is one of those opportunities in which conservation can truly serve people,” said World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Vice-President Bill Eichbaum. “An important lesson of this disaster is that one of the best defenses against natural disasters is nature itself”. “Healthy ecosystems can save lives,” said Isabelle Louis, Director of the WWF Asia Pacific Program.

“Places that had healthy coral reefs and intact mangroves, which act as natural buffers, were less badly hit by the tsunami than those where the reefs had been damaged and mangroves ripped out and replaced by prawn farms and poorly planned beachfront hotels.”

Naked Chef “whore” in Hollywood deal?

Celebrity chefs are making headlines around the world with their support for farmed salmon. The celebrity chef Jamie Oliver (aka The Naked Chef) is even rumoured to be in talks with Hollywood studio executives over selling his life story – the sordid tale of how he sold his soul to Sainsbury’s over farmed salmon is sure to feature prominently.

California based Chef John Pisto also seems to be pitching for a deal with a supermarket or a salmon farming company. “Farmed salmon is superior for cooking and eating and the supposed environmental threats are overblown,” he wrote in his weekly column on 29th December. Chef Pisto acknowledged that his conclusions “will make some people mad” but added he “never shies away from controversy”.

The Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver, is certainly courting controversy. According to The Times (20th December): “A celebrity row over salmon farming spilt into the street outside Jamie Oliver’s London restaurant yesterday when campaigners picketed his Sunday lunchtime customers.

The Naked Chef has been accused of ‘selling his soul’ after a Christmas advertising campaign for Sainsbury’s had him promoting farmed salmon as healthy, while campaigners say that the practice is damaging the environment and killing off wild salmon stocks.” The campaigners in question were from the SFPG (see photo).

“Jamie Oliver is supporting what is probably a defective farm and he is supporting a product which he doesn’t eat,” Ms Dickson Wright told The Times. “I think he’s a whore. Isn’t that what whores do, take money for something they wouldn’t do otherwise? Jamie has sold his soul carte blanche to Sainsbury’s and turns up wherever they want him.”

Bruce Sandison, Chairman of the SFPG said: “'Jamie Oliver is prostituting himself by promoting a product he is not willing to serve in his own restaurant”. The Naked Chef is now brazenly hawking his himself around Hollywood in the hope of raking in yet more money. Seafood Intelligence (14th January) reports that: “Oliver is reportedly in negotiations over a Hollywood movie being made based on his life starring Brad Pitt, the latest media exposure should thus please the script writers”.

Chile and Norway battle to be No.1

The battle between Chile and Norway over who is the world’s #1 salmon farming nation is getting ever closer. According to the Norwegian Seafood Export Council and Statistics Norway, 506,946 tonnes of farmed salmon (measured in round weight) were slaughtered and exported to (in order) Denmark, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Japan and Russia.

Although Chile is catching up fast it is still behind Norway. In 2002 Chile almost became the world’s leading producer with 506,000 tons compared to the 530,000 tons of Norway. In 2003 production dropped because a slump in prices forced a contraction in exports.

According to Seafood Intelligence (11th January): “In announcing its forecast for 2005 farmed salmon production and the closing of the 2004 growth cycle, the Chilean salmon industry Association – SalmonChile – said last Thursday that it was ‘very probable’ Chile would not overtake Norway as the world’s leading salmon producing country”.

SalmonChile noted that exports of salmon and trout between the months of January and November of 2004 totaled 311,071 tonnes, representing a value of US$ 1,266 million. 130,384 tonnes of salmon (mostly frozen fillets) were exported to Japan (42%), 112,774 tonnes to the United States (36%) and 22,014 tonnes to the European Union (EU; 7%); with 7% - 20,225t - sent to Latin American countries. However, it is merely a matter of time before Chile overtakes Norway as the world’s #1 salmon farming nation.

A new Intrafish report – “A New Era of Chilean Salmon Farming” - details how Chile has come from nowhere to be champion elect. “Something is changing in the worldwide salmon industry: in the last few years Chilean salmon has started to capture market shares and leading positions, and this productive sector – unknown in Chile and the world up to 20 years ago – has begun to reach maturity and to seek fresh, more challenging, more demanding and also much more promising horizons,” states the Intrafish report. “Against all the drawbacks it has now become the main salmon and trout producer in the world, or at least will be in a matter of months”.

The report asks: “How did this situation come about? How has a country located on the opposite side of the world become the leader?”. Ironically, for Norway, the answer lies close to home – the expansion of the Chilean salmon farming industry has been largely driven by Norwegian financial investment and by Norwegian-owned multinationals.

The ‘filthy five’ in British Columbia

Norwegian multinationals such as Cermaq, Stolt and Pan Fish are exporting pollution to the West coast of Canada. A new report – “Diminishing Returns: An Investigation Into the Five Multinational Corporations That Control British Columbia's Salmon Farming Industry” – published by the Raincoast Conservation Society in December lifts the lid on the five biggest multinationals operating in British Columbia. The ‘Diminishing Returns’ report takes an in-depth look at disease outbreaks, financial woes, chemical use and the global track record of Nutreco, Stolt, Cermaq, Pan Fish and Heritage.

The Raincoast report, written by Sara Cox, reveals that these five companies operate 80% of B.C.’s marine salmon farm sites. In 2002 and 2003, four of “the Big Five” lost money on salmon farming operations – a combined half a billion dollars. In fact, Norwegian salmon farming companies were amongst the worst performers for 2004 on the Oslo stock exchange. Pan Fish shares fell in value by 62%, Domstein by 31% and Fjord Seafood by 19%. On the Dutch EuroNext, stock listed company Nutreco shares fell by 15% during 2004.

All time, the use of antibiotics and other chemicals is increasing. In 2003, more than 25,000 kilograms of antibiotics were used on B.C. salmon farms – twice that used in 1995. When measured per tonne, antibiotic use in 2003 was the highest it has been since 1998. In 2003, the B.C. salmon farming industry spent $5 million on therapeutants, an increase from $4.5 million the previous year.

This included a huge increase in the use of the marine pollutant Emamectin benzoate – used by salmon farmers under the trade name ‘Slice’. “Documents we obtained reveal that over 170 million farmed salmon have been given Slice in the last five years - over 35 million in 2003 alone,” said Theresa Rothenbush, Aquaculture Specialist for the Raincoast Conservation Society. “Our report chronicles the truth about Slice and tells an astonishing story of disease in the industry.”

Documents also show that in 2000, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency began finding residues of Slice in farmed salmon. At that time, the Agency had zero tolerance for Slice consumption. Rather than notify the public and issue a recall, Health Canada decided to change its policy and accept Slice residues in farmed salmon up to a maximum of 50 parts per billion. Only two parts per billion of emamectin benzoate are allowable under guidelines for meat set by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The use of Slice in farmed salmon is a concern to scientists. “Emamectin is one of a class of drugs known to block a major inhibitory neural transmitter in the brain,” said Dr. David O. Carpenter, M.D., Director of the Institute for Health and Environment at the University of Albany in New York and author of a prominent PCB study published in Science this year. “We should not have to consume these chemicals in our salmon.”

“Cod farming could be even bigger than salmon farming”

Nutreco – the undisputed world’s No.1 salmon farming company – is fast turning to cod farming as a salvation for the health and environmental problems in salmon farming. Nutreco’s CEO, Wout Dekker, told Reuters (14th January) that by 2030, aquaculture would rule the world's supply for seafood and that farmed cod could be even rival farmed salmon.

“Cod is one of the most promising new species for fish farming that we have,” said the Nutreco boss. “By 2030 aquaculture will dominate fish supplies. Eventually cod farming could even bigger than salmon farming. It's not unthinkable. The potential is there.”

Reuters reports that Nutreco is ‘diving into cod’. The Reuters report – “Dutch giant eyes new fish to fry” – states that: “The firm believes output of farmed cod could expand rapidly, outpacing growth seen in the early years of salmon farming, the start of which some 30 years ago ushered in the era of modern aquaculture.

Nutreco, which produces about 20 percent of the world's farmed salmon, says global production could reach as much as 700,000 tonnes by 2015. That compares with a starting point of almost zero in 2002 and would nearly equal current output from commercial fishing. Cod production in Norway alone is seen reaching up to 400,000 tonnes within the next decade”.

Across Europe, salmon farming giants such as Nutreco, Stolt and Cermaq are all investing heavily into Atlantic cod farms. Similarly, on the East coast of North America, Atlantic cod farming is taking off in much the same way as Atlantic salmon farming did twenty years ago. And along the Pacific coast of Canada black cod or sablefish farming is surreptitiously gaining ground.

Why, asks Canadian Sablefish Association executive director Eric Wickham, did the British Columbian government quietly approve 47 licences for salmon farms to raise black cod - without public consultation or environmental assessments? “The government is covering its eyes and pretending it doesn't know what is going on,” he said in an interview with The Straight.

Heritage told to fish off

Heritage Salmon says they’ve given up on farms in the Comox-Strathcona Regional District - but are looking for new sites on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, the North Island and the North Coast. “Tired of regional district politics, Heritage Salmon Ltd. plans to take its business elsewhere,” reported The Campbell River Mirror (29th December).

“The regional district clearly prefers pristine wilderness to jobs, that's their decision,” said Dr. Ted Needham, director of Heritage Salmon. In late December, Heritage decided to withdraw an application to start a farm in the Downie Range area of Bute Inlet. Heritage’s decision is a victory by First Nations and environmental groups who have opposed the planned farm for years.

“We're seeing that as a positive step - federally they've withdrawn it from the process,” Eric Blueschke, spokesman for the Georgia Strait Alliance, said. “We've been working since 2001 to ensure that local concerns about salmon farms in Bute Inlet would be heard by decision-makers and believe that these concerns contributed to Heritage's decision to withdraw”.

Heritage is now scouting out for new sites: “The key political elements in the regional district were passionately opposed to salmon farming as we know it in BC so we will be applying outside the Comox-Strathcona Regional District for our future salmon farming operations. They clearly don't want us here. Until there is a significant political change in the regional district, I feel there is no future for salmon farming in their area and I'm thoroughly discouraged by the whole enterprise,” said Needham.

Heritage’s plight did not find sympathy with George Sirk, Regional Director for Cortes Island, Comox-Strathcona Regional District. In a letter published in The Campbell River Mirror (5th January), he wrote: “Heritage sheds crocodile tears and no one has a hanky... It is clear that it took Heritage Salmon a long time of force-feeding their dribble to the public to finally precipitate the public to regurgitate Heritage's totally inappropriate proposals to put fish farms in Bute Inlet.

Their own data stated that 1,000 foot long anchor lines (and possibly longer!) would have to be used to hold their rafts against the howling Bute winds. Give me a break! Yes, please do take your disasters elsewhere. We directors were inundated with presentations opposed to Heritage's proposals.

We not only listen to the merits of any proposal (jobs, jobs, JOBS!) but when a screwball plan of siting raft upon raft in an area that deserves to be considered more as a national park than an industrial disaster zone is condemned by the public with such passion and logic we had an easy choice at the public hearing. I wish all public hearings were so clear and decisive. Let this send a clear message to the industry: the whole coast of B.C. is not up for grabs - pick your area carefully and avoid future crocodile tears”.

First Nations tell Marine Harvest to sling their hook

Heritage is not the only multinational unwelcome in Bute Inlet. CBC News reported on Christmas Eve that: “A B.C. Supreme Court judge has ordered a fish farm to stop putting controversial Atlantic salmon smolts into its pens in Bute Inlet”.

A lawyer for the Homalco First Nation, who has territorial claims over the area, told Mr. Justice Ian Pitfield they were not properly consulted when Marine Harvest Canada (a subsidiary of Nutreco) applied to amend its fish farm licence to permit Atlantic salmon. The Homalco application to the court calls for a reversal of the licence amendment because of the lack of consultation.

The Homalco also claim there is a risk of irreparable damage to wild Pacific salmon because of disease, lice and escapes by the Atlantic smolts. Mr. Justice Pitfield granted the Homalco an interim injunction, ordering Marine Harvest to halt the Atlantic salmon transfers and remove any fish put there after the First Nation filed its claim on 22nd December. The injunction will remain in place until the matter is dealt with in detail in the Supreme Court on 24th January.

Writing in The Vancouver Sun (1st January), Stephen Hume (co-author of “A Stain Upon the Sea”) points out the significance of the case: “Late on Dec. 24, just as the rest of us were preparing for Christmas Eve festivities, a British Columbia Supreme Court judge granted what I believe to be the first interim injunction halting a corporation's activities based on the Haida case.”

According to Hume: “The judge found on the basis of the Haida decision, which instructs government regarding its duty to consult in a meaningful way, that the pattern of conduct by the province in approving an amendment to permit the farming of Atlantic salmon at Church House demonstrated a prima facie case for the Homalco argument that they were not properly consulted”.

Central to the Homalco case are wild salmon. “The judge said a case could be made that irreparable harm to the wild salmon resource that is central to Homalco culture might be done by moving Atlantic salmon into pristine salmon-bearing systems like the Bute Inlet watersheds. This potential harm should be avoided, he ruled, until completion of a full hearing on the government's duty to consult and whether or not it was adequately discharged.

Bute Inlet supports strong runs of wild salmon into the Southgate, Homathko and Orford rivers. Given the on-going controversy over whether or not escaped Atlantics can establish themselves in B.C. rivers, whether or not they pose any disease risks to wild populations and as-yet unanswered questions about the relationship between sea-lice, fish farms and mortalities among migrating wild smolts, it should have been clear to government from the outset that the proposal would generate intense first nations interest”.

Stain Upon the Sea

“Stain Upon the Sea – West coast salmon farming” is a new book co-authored by Alexandra Morton, Stephen Hume, Betty Keller, Rosella Leslie, Otto Langer and Don Staniford. According to Harbour Publishing, ‘A Stain Upon the Sea’: “is an indispensable critique of fish farming practices used in British Columbia and abroad, featuring an all-star cast of contributors.

Journalist Stephen Hume examines the industry through the eyes of the Nuxalk and Heiltsuk Nations and incorporates case studies from Ireland and Alaska. Historians Betty Keller and Rosella M. Leslie explain the development of the industry in BC, from small family operations to large chain farms owned by a handful of multinational conglomerates.

Biologist Alexandra Morton analyzes the biology of sea lice in the pink salmon runs in the Broughton Archipelago. Former federal employee Otto Langer gives an in-depth account of the bureaucratic nightmare that exempted the industry from environmental review.

And scientist Don Staniford analyzes the chemical stew that farmed fish are raised in and the health risk this poses to humans. A Stain Upon the Sea is a must-read for anyone concerned with the quality of the food they eat and the environmental health of the planet”.

According to BC Bookworld (Winter 2004), the book is “a harpoon launched at the industry and government regulators”. Another book review by Kim Petersen published in Dissident Voice (24th December) concludes: “Currently, the corporate-government collusion prioritizes the profiteering of salmon-farming operations with minimal regard for the environment, wild creatures, and the health of workers and consumers while staunchly refusing cost-incurring alternatives.

In western society, citizens caught stealing from corporations are severely punished, but when corporations steal the right of citizens to a clean environment and healthful food they are too often unpunished and seldom penalized harshly. As A Stain Upon the Sea illustrates, this is a scenario that must be changed - the continued existence of wild Pacific salmon may depend on it”.

The truth about sea lice

The issue of sea lice from salmon farms is causing quite a stir. As Dr Daniel Pauly and Dr Lawrence Dill wrote in a recent article – “The Truth About the Science of Fish Lice” - published in The Straight (16th December): “Seldom has a purely biological issue so captured public interest, and so polarized the stakeholders, as the current debate regarding sea lice in B.C.'s Broughton Archipelago, their possible source in salmon farms, and their potential to decimate the wild salmon populations there”.

The article showcases the work of Alexandra Morton, co-author of “A Stain Upon the Sea”: “Alexandra Morton, a biologist who lives in the Broughton Archipelago, believes that net-pen salmon farms, by housing large numbers of Atlantic salmon in one place for extended periods, have provided a breeding ground for sea lice.

As a result, lice larvae are present at high levels in the waters around the farms and attack juvenile pink salmon (and other species) as they move past on their way to the open ocean. The fish, being small and perhaps already stressed by their recent migration from freshwater to saltwater, are especially susceptible to the lice and die as a result of their infection. Thus, adult returns are greatly reduced and local stocks decline. Morton and others have published relevant evidence in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, but it is still a hypothesis”.

Having considered all the evidence, however, the eminent scientists come down firmly in support of Morton’s hypothesis: “The evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that sea lice produced on salmon farms are responsible for the high levels of infection on juveniles and declines of adult returns of wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago.

This is also consistent with well-documented studies in Europe, where the salmon-farming industry has had similar problems with sea lice. There is thus great cause to be concerned for the future of wild salmon populations in the Broughton, and elsewhere on the B.C. coast where salmon farms are being established. There is no hard proof, but much suggestive evidence, certainly enough to apply the precautionary principle with regard to the current industry and its future expansion.

The industry, and provincial and federal regulatory agencies, although they have rejected Morton's scenario, have not presented a coherent alternative. Nor have they published their data in scientific journals. Instead of being lauded for having brought to our attention a huge potential problem for the wild-salmon fisheries of B.C., Morton has been vilified and her scientific credentials have been questioned. It is time to quit the name-calling, implement the precautionary principle, and get down to filling the gaps in the scientific studies that Morton and others have initiated”.

Time to speak up for wild salmon

As for Alexandra Morton she is still campaigning for the Government to sit up and take notice: “Any who want wild salmon on this coast should speak up now. The worst farms are ones nearest the rivers where the wild salmon are smallest. Nature separates adult salmon from juvenile salmon, that is just the way it works.

To place enormous farmed populations in the path of very young wild salmon will not work. The system simply is not designed that way…. Salmon farmers do not need to make sea lice and they do not need to affect wild salmon. A better barrier is all that is required to deal with this issue; we can have both wild and farmed salmon, why would we choose not too?”

Finally, it seems the local press if not the Government and their salmon farming friends are waking up to Alexandra’s concerns. According to The Campbell River Mirror (14th January): “Independent researcher Alexandra Morton was one of the first biologists to recognize the danger of increased levels of sea lice on young salmon in the Broughton Archipelago”.

The paper interviewed Rick Routledge, a fish statistician with Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, who shares Morton’s concerns over sea lice infestation from salmon farms. “I compare it to human refugee camps where you have concentrations of people and infestations of lice. It's a recipe for parasites and disease,” he said. “Alexandra has been sampling (wild fish) for four years running on a voluntary basis. For quite some time she was the only one who was sampling and carefully analyzing the data. Government regulators aren't treating this as seriously as they do in Europe. It doesn't make any sense to ignore the problem”.

“Government and the aquaculture industry cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the sea lice problem, given all the soon-to-be published evidence,” said SFU fish biologist Larry Dill. “It is time to implement the precautionary principle and get down to filling the gaps in scientific knowledge”. Whether it is already too late for the wild salmon of the Broughton Archipelago remains to be seen.