Sea Lice Letter to Campbell, Harper Deserves Honest Answer

Fish farms threaten wild smolts: 18 scientists.

By Rafe Mair 24 Sep 2007 |

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. You can find previous ones here. To register for free to hear Rafe Live, Mair's new webcast, visit

image atom
Harper, Campbell: Please reply.

Eighteen scientists have sent a letter to Prime Minister Harper and Premier Gordon Campbell making it clear that lice from fish farms are slaughtering wild salmon smolts. This ongoing issue has been accompanied by egregious deceit by the Campbell government, permitting the loss of millions of wild pink and chum salmon to fish farm lice in the process.

Before going on, here is what John Fredriksen, owner of Marine Harvest, one of the biggest salmon farming companies, big players in B.C., recently stated publicly: "I am concerned about the future for wild salmon. Fish farming should not be allowed in fjords with salmon rivers" (Norwegian newspaper Altaposten, July 19, 2007).

Mr. Fredriksen indeed should be concerned, as his and other fish farms with hundreds of thousands Atlantic salmon mean a feast of staggering proportions to sea lice. Here's how it happens.

How sea lice kill

Lay your hand on the table with fingers spread. Where the fingers meet is the head of the inlet where these tiny pink and chum smolt enter the ocean. Along your fingers is where the fish farms, laden with sea lice, are situated. These farms create a gauntlet of hungry lice that the tiny wild smolts simply can't get past. Now, as anyone who has fished for salmon knows, these lice are natural to the ocean and attach themselves to mature salmon usually at the anal fin and the tail. The mature salmon, covered as it is by mucous, is unhurt. The relationship between the louse and the mature salmon go back into the mists of time. The tiny migrating smolts, however, have no protective no mucus, no scales, no armour -- and are killed.

The government has, over the past five years, steadfastly maintained, without a shred of evidence to back it, that its policy of permitting fish farms in inlets like the Broughton Archipelago was based on "science." The 18 scientists conclude that sea lice in the Brougton Achipelago are slaughtering migrating salmon smolts, and in the following critical line, clearly puts paid to the nonsense the Campbell government has been peddling, and states the options:

"The science is clear. It is now up to the government and the people of Canada to decide whether the economic benefits of aquaculture, as currently practiced, outweigh the threats to wild salmon and the ecosystems and economies that depend on healthy and abundant salmon populations."

BC Liberals' fish farm push

I have been in politics and the media for a long time. Never have I seen anything remotely like the serial deceit practiced by this arrogant Campbell government. It started in the fall of 2001 when the Liberals ended the moratorium imposed upon fish farms by the NDP in 1997. At that time, the main concern was farmed Atlantics escaping and getting into B.C. waters, thus crowding wild salmon off the spawning beds.

Dr. John Volpe, a B.C. fish biologist (and one of the signatories to this letter), then with the University of Calgary, surveyed several rivers and found hundreds of farmed salmon in or around them. When I put this to then minister of agriculture, food and fisheries John Van Dongen, he denied there was a problem, saying that only three Atlantic salmon had been found in B.C. rivers!

Shortly thereafter, Stan Hagen, then minister of sustainable resource management, said that Van Dongen had erred and that only two escapees had been found! What can you do about ministers like this? One can argue about an opinion, but this is rather like the kid with chocolate all over his face denying he's been into the cookie jar!

Alexandra Morton's findings

But it gets much worse. In 2002, I learned about Alexandra Morton and how the minuscule pink and chum smolts were being slaughtered by lice from Atlantic salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago. I learned that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans wanted to jail her for illegal testing, such was their concern for the truth! I got to know Ms. Morton and how she had come to Canada and Echo Bay to study whales; how she fell in love with and married a Canadian filmmaker doing the same work; and how, in sight of her and their four-year-old son, he drowned as a result of faulty diving equipment.

My wife Wendy and I went to meet Alexandra and see for ourselves what was happening. The mayor of Port McNeil, where there's a processing plant for farmed fish, arranged a picket line at six in the morning to prevent us from visiting the Broughton Archipelago. It was scary as he ranted to this angry crowd, but we shoved our way through.

What I told Premier Campbell

In the spring of 2004, I interviewed Premier Campbell and showed him samples of pink salmon smolts with the lice attached. He was non-committal. I invited him to lunch so I could explain what was really happening. At his request I prepared a scientific summary for him -- it was thorough and presented the scientific evidence. (If any reader would like this presentation of Sept. 19, 2004, or the letter of the 18 scientists, e-mail me at and I would be pleased to send you copies.)

Over the past five years, scientific study after study has made the same point: lice from farmed fish are slaughtering wild salmon smolts. Every time a study came out, the Campbell government stated that all the science was on its side. That was utterly untrue and they knew it.

The plain fact is, there hasn't been a published, peer-reviewed study anywhere that even casts doubt upon, much less contradicts, Ms. Morton's findings.

Ignoring the science, the Campbell government pressed on while fish farmer flacks tried to make every imaginable argument to support their destructive industry. Maybe it was sunspots killing all those pinks and chums; maybe it was mackerel in the ocean; maybe it was El Niño; and finally, if sea lice are killing these wild salmon smolts, how can you be sure that these lice are coming from the fish cages? Well, that idiotic question was answered by a study by Mark Krkosek, M.A. Lewis and J.P. Volpe titled Fish Farms, Sea Lice, and Infestations of Wild Salmonids, which directly traced the lice from the cages to the wild salmon smolts. This study was peer reviewed and published by the prestigious Royal Society of London.

Sea lice threat: 18 experts agree

So now we have 18 independent scientists all supporting what Alexandra Morton has been saying all along. In fact, had the scientists wanted to go outside Canada, they would have found plenty more, including the eminent Irish scientist Dr. Patrick Gargan, senior research officer, Central Fisheries Board for Ireland. In 2003, I interviewed Dr. Gargan, who reviewed and substantiated Alexandra Morton's methodology and findings. The next year, Wendy and I went fishing with Dr. Gargan on Lough Corrib in Ireland and we met his technicians. They were all astonished that B.C., after seeing the evidence from Norway, Scotland and Ireland, would permit fish farms in inlets.

(By way of aside, this letter from the 18 scientists doesn't deal with the filth farmed fish deposit on the ocean bed, which includes colourants used to make the flesh attractive to overseas buyers, highly toxic chemicals to get rid of the lice they don't admit having, and antibiotics; nor does it deal with the unhealthiness of these fish as food.)

Vindication, and action

Do I feel vindicated by this letter? You're damned right I do. I've put up with a lot of crap but the real vindication is Alexandra Morton's. Every imaginable slur and insult was heaped on her and she stood tall and fought. Those who destroy the environment get Orders of Canada – those who, like Alexandra Morton, defend it are vilified.

And you'll not be surprised at the absence of criticism of the fish farms and the Campbell government by the establishment media that dominates this country. Thank God for online newspapers!

The only rational conclusion from this letter is that British Columbians have been deliberately deceived by the premier, ministers and Liberal MLAs for six years.

The question is, are British Columbians going to stand by and watch as this government destroys the very soul of this province, its wonderful wild salmon?

If we do, we will be justly vilified by those who come after us, and whose environment we held in trust.

Related Tyee stories:


Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Get The Tyee in your inbox


The Barometer

Could Canada catch Trumpism?

Take this week's poll