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Morton: Sea lice becoming drug-resistant

Biologist Alexandra Morton has found alarming evidence of drug-resistant sea lice on Nootka Island within sight of a local fish farm. And the young farmed salmon are being shipped across Vancouver Island to be processed on Quadra Island, posing a major threat to the Discovery Islands and the whole Georgia Strait.

In a 12-minute video on her blog, Morton and her assistants are seen collecting samples of sea lice just a few meters from a ship where the salmon are being processed -- and where sea lice are even clinging to the ship's hull.

Morton explains in the video that this fish farm used "Slice" (a drug against sea lice) in October. That should have reduced the population to near zero for several months. Instead, the population has remained high.

Moreover, the fish are then being trucked across Vancouver Island for further processing on Quadra Island. Morton quotes a DFO message stating that a 500-micron filter is keeping waste from the fish plant from contaminating the water. But her assistants dive 30 meters to film an open discharge pipe gushing "blood water."

Sampling the outflow shows live sea lice in the blood water.

"This Quadra Island plant is out of compliance," Morton told The Tyee. She's concerned that sea lice will easily migrate to the fish farms in the rest of the Discovery Islands. Their Slice-resistant descendants will kill the farm fish (as sea lice have done in Norway and Chile). Then they will form a lethal barrier to all the wild salmon runs between the mainland and Vancouver Island.

Morton told The Tyee that people working in the industry are now coming to her, "even though they're risking their jobs," instead of to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"I called DFO and they said, 'No, the province is in the driver's seat.'" But she said the provincial authorities haven't answered her. "The provincial government is covering for Grieg Seafood," she added.

"People have to clamour for DFO to be released to fight this," Morton said. "If we admit sea lice into the Discovery Islands, it will be an expensive lesson."

Morton is scheduled to speak on this issue at the Ladner Community Centre, 4734 51st Street, at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 23.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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