On July 14, 2010, two Stantec Consulting employees in diving gear dipped into the shallow water of a Fraser River branch in North Vancouver. They were examining wild juvenile sockeye and steelhead salmons on their migration path to the ocean after being born upstream.
In the last few years, there has been a developing drama concerning these tiny young salmons that play such a large role in the economy of British Columbia. Salmons are an important food chain for eagles, orcas and bears in the province. At stake here are the tens of thousands of jobs that Wilderness Tourism depends on. Wildlife viewing, coastal nature based tourism, sport and recreation fishing etc. contribute about $1.5Billion to the BC Tourism each year. A healthy and sustainable wild salmon population is absolute key to this tourism sector. Threatening the survival of the wild salmons are the fish farms which operate on open ocean waters. Many of the 120 or so fish farms in BC are located right along the Fraser sockeye salmon migration path. Thus, fish farm practices can severely affect wild salmon stocks. For example, an outbreak of sea lice as has happened before can alter the habitat or even the existence of wild salmons in the Fraser River. There is just no way to protect wild salmons against open sea fish farming practices.
One of the most ardent activists in support of the survival of wild salmons is Dr. Alexandra Morton. In her Get Out Migration campaigns, Morton walked from Sointula, BC at the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Victoria to urge the government to keep fish farms on land and not help these farm operators conceal sea lice disease information. On her last day of the journey early this year, some 5,000 people gathered in front of the legislature Building in Victoria calling for action. Morton urged the government to give priority to wild salmons and keep salmon farms on land so disease can be easily monitored and contained. Also, there are already more Atlantic salmons than local BC stocks because of the importation of Norwegian Atlantic salmon eggs into British Columbia. Salmon RNA (ribonucleic acid) found in the cell nucleus transmits genetic or DNA information from one specie to another. Any disease carried in the eggs is passed over to the wild salmon stock as well.
In late 2009, Simon Fraser University (SFU) released a statement that warned about the decreasing survival rate of the sockeye salmon which were very close to commercially extinct. SFU pointed out that the total return of Fraser River sockeye in 2009 was the lowest in over 50 years. While SFU’s approach was not as radical as others, it did call for not only more systematic gathering, compiling and analysis of historic data but also hinted that the decline may be related to farm fish sea lice infection and climate change.
Wild juvenile salmon are under serious threat. Studies have shown that salmon fish farms breed sea lice which can be fatal to the wild juvenile salmons. The mortality rate can be as high as 95% if infected which is a serious problem that can be prevented by simply removed the fish farm off the Northern Georgia Strait and other areas where fish farms operate on open ocean waters, argued Morton and her Salmon Are Sacred supporters. The Fraser salmon sockeye decline happened in 1992 when a deadly IHN virus was detected at the Okisollo Channel, one of the narrowest migration passages used by Fraser sockeyes in BC. Coincidental or not, the Fraser River wild sockeye salmon stocks has been disappearing since that day.
On June 16, 2010, Morton received an honorary doctorate from SFU which recognized her work in the farm fish sea lice research and her relentless drive to urge the government to move fish farms off open ocean to inland areas. Canadian actor William Shatner also signed on to support Bill C-518 which would relocate all salmon aquaculture to closed containment within five years. In a video message released on June 30, 2010, Shatner pleaded with the public to join him “in saving the salmon by signing the ‘Save the Salmon’ postcards and send(ing) it to your representative.”
Fraser River, Harbourview Park, North Vancouver
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