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Salmon farming protest goes to the UN

“Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Give him a fish farm and he can destroy the fishery and the ecosystem altogether.”

That isn’t exactly how the old saying goes, but it’s a pretty fair synopsis of an open letter sent to the United Nations on November 3 by a group of scientists, First Nations leaders, environmentalists and fishers.

The blue-ribbon group of experts from Canada, Norway, the US, Chile and the United Kingdom are calling for the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization to take notice of what they call the “ruinous tactics” employed by industrial salmon farming in their countries.

The letter is the end product of a year and a half of international meetings, Alexandra Morton told The Hook in a recent phone interview. The final meeting was held last month near Campbell River.

“The research is showing more and more about the negative impacts of fish farming,” she said.

“Only eight to ten thousand pink salmon returned to the Glendale River this fall, on a river that should see up to 100,000 return. When that run left the river for the open ocean, more than 90 per cent of them were infested with sea lice.”

Critics of industrial fish farming believe that one of its major negative impacts on migrating wild salmon is sea lice infestation. The marine parasites flourish in the crowded pens of fish farms and spread out into the nearby waterways, where migrating salmon are infested.

Signatories to the letter say that industrial fish farming is ecologically devastating and socially destructive, and poses a threat to both local and world food security. They cite the 1995 United Nations Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries: “As a primary goal, aquaculture development should conserve genetic diversity and minimize negative effects of farmed fish on wild fish populations, while increasing supplies of fish for human consumption.” The signatories say today’s salmon farmers violate each of these principles.

The protest letter also highlights negative impacts of fish farming on indigenous people.

“They came into my territory and denied, delayed, distracted us from the truth for 20 years with no regard for their impact on the environment and my people,” said Bob Chamberlin, chief of the Kwicksutaineuk/Ah-kwa-mish First Nation in Broughton Inlet.

“I'm deeply ashamed as a Norwegian,” said Kurt Oddekalv of Green Warriors of Norway, also a signatory to the letter. “After damaging our wild salmon, the industrial salmon farmers are fouling the pristine waters of Canada and Chile. Nobody in Norway knows about this, but I will tell them.”

UPDATE: The New York Times picked up this story, here.

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