Sea Lice Now a Serious Threat

BY WALTER CORDERY, Nanaimo Daily News, February 01, 2010

It looks like Alexandra Morton was right and that sea lice associated with
fish farms are killing wild salmon.

Recent comments by a representative of the Norwegian Food Safety Authority,
reported in the Times Colonist, should make Canadian authorities take note.

Sea lice problems have skyrocketed in the past year to triple their numbers.

They are growing resistant to the chemicals the Norwegian fish farm industry
uses to try to control them. This is disconcerting for British Columbians
because Norwegian companies dominate the industry off the B.C. coast, owning
more than 90% of the fish farms.

"Today, the louse is the main threat to sustainable fish farming in Norway,
both because of its effects on the farmed fish and its impact on wild
salmon," Ole Fjetland of the NFSA said in the Times Colonist.

He said that drug-resistant sea lice threaten the entire Norwegian wild
salmon population and their numbers have dropped 50%.

Things are so bad in Norway that the World Wildlife Fund wants the complete
destruction of the most-infected fish farms to stop the extinction of wild

Morton grew concerned about the impact of fish farms when 99% of the
expected Broughton Archipelago pink salmon run failed to return in 2002.

The government enacted an action plan that temporarily removed farmed salmon
from the Broughton pink salmon migration route and the next generation of
pink salmon returned at the highest survivorship ever recorded for the run.
That management decision was reversed and the stock collapsed again.

This past summer, most of the runs of the Fraser River sockeye collapsed.
The one run that fared well was the Harrison. The rest of the Fraser sockeye
declined by 92%.

The difference between the Harrison run and other Fraser sockeye is that the
Harrison migrate south through the Juan de Fuca Strait and do not go past
fish farms. The other sockeye head north and run the gauntlet of fish farms
near Campbell River, where the concentration of fish farms are prime feeding
grounds for sea lice.

And last summer, Alaska saw huge returns of sockeye salmon and our northern
neighbours do not allow salmon farms along wild salmon migration routes.

I have long thought wild salmon are like the canary in the coal mine. When
they start dying off the impact will be widespread. Wild salmon are the
source of protein for a number of other species of wildlife and a diet
staple of aboriginals.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen, who will preside over the judicial
inquiry, is expected to begin the process following the 2010 Winter

Will Cohen determine if sea lice are the only cause of dwindling salmon
rights? I doubt it. But I suspect he will find lice to be a contributing
factor in the collapse of the salmon.

That the Harper government has called the inquiry is a move in the right
direction. For too long, officials at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans
have been dismissive of Morton's warnings about sea lice.

Last year, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled that Ottawa,
not the province, should license fish farms because the federal government
has the constitutional powers over the ocean.

He also restricted the B.C. government from issuing new fish farm licences.
Both fin-fish licences and shellfish licences.

One of the DFO's mandates is the protection of wild salmon and other species
in Canadian waters. For too long, Ottawa has been shirking its

© The Daily News (Nanaimo) 2010

All Photography © Ian McAllister unless otherwise noted.
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