Just when we thought it was safe for our young wild salmon to enter the ocean, farm salmon sea lice are back! They are eating young wild salmon to death. We were wrong to think this was the one thing the salmon farmers could fix.
After I discovered the sea louse outbreak on wild juvenile salmon near salmon farms in 2001, enormous effort by First Nations, other scientists, environmentalists and the public forced the salmon farmers to delouse the farm salmon 2-3 months before our young wild salmon entered the ocean.
This was expensive for the industry, but we won a 7 - year reprieve for the wild salmon (see graphs below). Then this spring suddenly 94% of young wild salmon leaving the area between Kingcome and Knight Inlet sometimes called the Broughton Archipelago, are badly infected with lethal lice loads.
We don't know if the salmon farmers using the BC coast failed to treat the salmon in their pens soon enough, or if the drug failed due to drug resistance lice. Drug resistant sea lice is a big headache for the salmon farming industry back home in Norway, where expansion of the industry is grinding to a halt because of all their lice.
When I refer to "lethal loads" of sea lice, I am not guessing. Several of us have published research demonstrating that it takes ~ 1 louse per gram of body weight of the fish to kill it. This means adult salmon can survive many sea lice, but when pink and chum salmon pass salmon farms, they weigh less than 1 gram in areas like the Broughton and a single louse can kill them. Download PDF
When the sea lice epidemics began, industry and government made it clear we needed to produce made-in-BC science and the scientific community rose to this need.
We now know that when farmed salmon are removed from the area, sea lice numbers plummet and wild salmon survival rises. We know that reducing sea lice on farmed salmon with drugs reduces sea lice on wild salmon, although this is a threat to shrimp and prawns. We know that places without salmon farms have almost zero lice on young wild salmon and we know that this year Canadians are loosing 100,000s if not millions of wild salmon to sea lice from salmon farms.
Sea lice infection in Broughton 2002 - 2015 started very high, was suppressed by soaking the farmed salmon feed with Slice, a de-lousing agent. Now, however, it is high again with devastating impact on the young wild salmon.
While DFO is quoted recently saying the sea lice on salmon farms this year has stayed at the levels they are supposed to, that is not actually the case. In the graph below, the black horizontal line at 3.0 is the lice limit in BC. While it appears this farm has just 1.5 lice over the line, the blue line should have been added to the red line as all of those are "motiles" and so there were 6.5 lice per farmed salmon, more than 2xs the limit and that translates into million of lice eggs and larvae.
Mitsubishi (run by Cermaq) did treat their fish, according to this graph, but it was much too late for the wild salmon runs that were already migrating past this farm and too late to do anything about the millions of larval lice already adrift.
Below I compared the number of sea lice in Sir Edmund Bay fish farm and the number of lice on the local juvenile wild salmon. You can see that wild salmon lice loads rise and fall in the same pattern as in the farm (farm lice are the black bars, lice on wild salmon are the blue bars). These wild salmon entered the ocean only a few weeks ago with zero sea lice, because sea lice cannot survive in freshwater.
Marine Harvest also has salmon farms in the area of the sea louse outbreak. They used to post their sea lice numbers on all their salmon farms, but they don't anymore. However, a Marine Harvest salmon farm, 28 km west of the Broughton, called Marsh Bay had to post its lice numbers because it had been awarded special certification for high social and environmental standards - link to news story. One of the requirements of this certification is posting their lice numbers.
This farm has an average of 40 sea lice per fish and more than 8x's the limit of motile lice!!! Hard to understand how this certification can mean anything with lice loads like that.
We are asking Marine Harvest and DFO for the lice numbers on the Marine Harvest farms in Broughton, but so far both are refusing to reveal how many lice are on the farms.
To me, the silence speaks volumes as British Columbians lose 100,000s if not million of wild salmon to sea lice. The relationship between salmon farms and government is increasingly disturbing. There is no way that I can say government is protecting wild salmon. They are not. They are protecting the salmon farming industry and doing a poor job of it!
Hundreds of people protested salmon farms a few days ago throughout British Columbia in the Wild Salmon Caravan see here crossing Burrard St in Vancouver.
On the legal front, apparently the Minister of Fisheries is considering whether or not to appeal the decision. We will get to see just how badly the salmon farming industry needs to have the freedom to transfer disease-carrying farmed salmon from their hatcheries into our oceans.
If you have not signed this petition to the Premier of BC - please consider doing so PETITION LINK
Meanwhile I try to find the words to help people understand what we are losing and how that harms our world, our children, our whale neighbours, our future. This is not a dress rehearsal, this is the final days before we destroy everything our species needs to survive. Wild salmon are like the power line that is attached to your house. Our world will dim without the fish that feeds the trees that make the oxygen we breath. The salmon pictured in this blog could have returned to feed someone, a whale, an eagle a tree, but instead they are feeding sea lice from salmon farms. That is simply wrong and stupid. Either we say "enough", or we loose something we have no idea how to recreate.