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Norwegian reports 'huge victory for sea lice'

On her blog today, Alexandra Morton published a letter from a former Norwegian attorney-general, warning that Norway is losing the fight against sea lice and B.C. is likely to lose too -- unless fish farms are moved away from wild-salmon migration routes.

In his letter, Georg Fredrik Rieber-Mohn wrote:

I fear Canada will teach Norway a lesson today (16th February) on the Olympic ice rink but I hope Canada can learn the lessons of Norway with respect to wild salmon and open net cage salmon farms. As a Norwegian judge – the former Attorney General of Norway – I was appointed some fifteen years ago to devise a plan to protect wild Atlantic salmon.

In 1999, I was proud to present the so-called “wild salmon plan” which proposed national protection for the 50 best salmon rivers and the 9 most important fjord-systems across Norway – the national laksfjords – where salmon farms would be prohibited.

However, intense lobbying from the salmon farming industry watered down the proposals so that by the time they passed the parliament in 2007 the protected fjords had become smaller and gave less protection against the salmon farming industry.

The result has been a heavy defeat for wild salmon and a huge win for sea lice. Scientific research published by the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research indicates that the areas protected from open net cage salmon farms are simply too small to offer adequate protection from sea lice.

Scientists in Norway detail growing sea lice resistance to the chemicals designed to kill them. The Norwegian Food and Safety Authority recently reported nearly 100 cases of chemical treatment failures as sea lice are now immune. So serious is the situation that the Directorate of Nature Management – the Norwegian Government’s conservation adviser – has called for drastic reductions in farmed salmon production and slaughter of farm stock to reduce the sea lice burden.

In an email sent out today, Morton wrote:

I am working on a very serious incident in Nootka Sound/Esperanza Inlet where reports keep coming to me that sea lice are out of control on salmon farms. Neither the province nor DFO will act to stop this from spreading to eastern Vancouver Island, so we are doing the investigation for them. This problem is exactly what Rieber-Mohn is talking about.

A group of us went to Nootka Island and found extremely high larval sea lice numbers. These farm salmon are being transported to Quadra Island for processing and a sample taken 90’ down from the plant’s effluent pipe found live lice eggs are pouring into Discovery Passage. Drug resistance in sea lice is causing serious problems in eastern Canada and Norway and means we stand to lose our ability to protect the Fraser sockeye. It is becoming increasingly apparent that wild salmon runs in BC, as in Norway, depend on de-lousing farm salmon that are on the migration routes.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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