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More Wild Salmon Wiped Out

How long can officials ignore sea lice connection?

Rafe Mair 2 Oct

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There is another wipeout of pink salmon runs in the Broughton Archipelago as predicted by Alexandra Morton, the biologist who lives in the area, and who has studied the problem up close. The cause of the wipeout? The Atlantic salmon fish cages whose occupants provide hosts for hundreds of thousands of sea lice which in turn attach themselves to and kill tiny migrating salmon smolts (the little babies going out to sea). This is scarcely a new story - the same phenomenon had similar horrendous impacts of salmon and sea trout (sea run brown trout) in Norway, Scotland and Ireland.

So how have fish farmers, often the same multi national companies that savaged fish farms in Europe, got away with it? This is a very hard question to answer because the evidence is overwhelming.

Would you believe sun spots?

One answer is that fish farmers have been able to cast doubt on the cause of lost smolts. They have been able to say that unless you can trace the precise lice on the smolt to the fish farm, the lice may be wild ones. This argument has been devastated by scientists like Dr. Patrick Gargan form Ireland and British Columbians like Dr. John Volpe and Dr. Neil Frazer whose findings have been backed by no less a personage than Dr. Dan Pawly of the University of British Columbia, declared by Time magazine to be one of the top 50 scientists in the world.

Friends, watching and listening to the fish farmers and their government pals is like being witness to the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland. Let me give you but one of many examples. The fish farmers and their PR people say that Dick Beamish, not a fish biologist, provides evidence that sea lice from fish farms don't bother wild salmon and has so reported. They clearly hope no one reads what Mr. Beamish has, in fact, written because his subject had zilch to do with the impact of lice from fish cages on pink salmon smolts but the effect of lice from fish farms on adult wild salmon out in the wild ocean itself!

Like a lawyer defending a client who is guilty as hell, fish farmers say "in the alternative" it might be mackerel consuming the wild salmon at sea … it might be warmer water … or perhaps sun spots. Any imaginable and some unimaginable alternatives are raised. But, forgive my lapse into scientific jargon, that's all bullshit. Every single independent scientist who has studied the subject has made the irrefutable connection between failed salmon runs and the fish cages which form the gauntlet they must run when going to sea as smolts.

The expert consensus

The work Alexandra Morton has done has been peer reviewed and published in scientific journals. The recent study by Martin Krkosek, assisted by Dr John Volpe and colleagues has been peer reviewed and published in 2005 by The Royal Society, one of the most prestigious journals in the world of science. The issue is beyond all doubt.

Yet, through all this, the fish farmers continue and are expecting a pliant government to give them more licenses to bugger things up on the North Coast.

But why is the government not doing its duty?

One reason is, of course, that the fish farmers dump money into the Campbell government's election coffers. Another is that aquaculture sounds so modern and "with it" that only a troglodyte would fight it. The answer to that, of course, is that carefully monitored aquaculture is a great thing but fish farms are unregulated and when they break the law, the Campbell government gives them the fines back.

Over the course of the last five years I have interviewed or spoken to every person involved, whether scientist or environmentalist. None of them oppose salmon farming. What they protest is governments permitting farmers to ply their trade where that exposes wild salmon to mortal danger. Is that so unreasonable?

The issue is coming to a head and the reaction of the government will depend upon the voices of the public being heard over the self-serving crap dished out by the offshore corporations who want to operate in our environment without having to concern themselves with petty little annoyances like laws protecting wild salmon.

Rafe Mair's column for The Tyee runs every Monday and he can be heard every weekday morning from 8:30-10:30 on 600AM. His website is  [Tyee]

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