2 men standing by the ocean

Anti-aquaculture activists recycle debunked sea lice data, again

“The same narrative – this time shockingly slipping through the peer-review process – is recycled by anti-salmon farming campaigners annually,” Brian Kingzett.

By Fabian Dawson

For years now, anti-fish farming activists in British Columbia have been cherry picking information gathered without scientific rigour, to claim that open-net aquaculture is responsible for dwindling wild salmon stocks.

However, with every passing year, comprehensive and credible data rises to show the   tales spun by anti-salmon farming campaigners is not rooted in fact.

This year it is no different as the activists have published more dubious findings of sea lice counting done on wild salmon after open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands were removed.

Their latest claim is that sea lice in the Discovery Islands decreased by 96% from 2020 to 2022 and are attributing this decline to the removal of salmon farms in the area.

The numbers and accompanying activist rhetoric do not hold up when compared to data collected by registered biologists and government scientists.

“Professional biologists have consistently measured the abundance of sea lice on wild juvenile salmon at the same locations for the past seven years in the Discovery Islands region,” said Brian Kingzett of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).

“The data shows that the sea lice abundance on juvenile wild salmon in 2022 was about 50% less than in 2020, however, that was the case both before they reached salmon farms and after they passed by salmon farms,” he said.

Furthermore, 2022 sea lice levels were similar to 2017 and 2018 when all farms were active in the Discovery Islands region.

 “Activists have changed sampling locations each year and selected just two data points to try and support their narrative while ignoring long-term trends from data collected all along the coast,” said Kingzett.

“We now have seven years of independent sea lice monitoring demonstrating that sea lice levels have been consistently low with most out-migrating juvenile salmon while salmon farms were operating and after they were removed.”

An updated analysis by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) confirms that sea lice levels on farm-raised salmon in the Discovery Islands were kept well below the strict regulatory thresholds required during juvenile salmon out-migrations.

Additionally, a 2022 sea lice science response by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat concluded that there is “no statistically relevant association” regarding sea lice and the production of farmed salmon.

This wealth of credible science dismantles key claims by anti-fish farming activists’ groups that hazardous levels of naturally occurring parasitic sea lice in B.C. waters should necessitate the shutting down of the salmon farming industry.

Yet, every year, like clockwork, similar allegations resurface, sometimes finding their way into peer-reviewed journals, raising questions about the integrity of the review process.

The same anti-salmon farming activists have also made recent claims attempting to link this year’s high returns of adult pink salmon to the closure of salmon farms, which have been quickly debunked.

All the worldwide data, showing that global ocean conditions now favour pink salmon, has been sidelined by the activists who are attempting to hijack the narrative by falsely claiming that the high returns in British Columbia are due to the closure of some salmon farms.

A recent sweeping American study about open-net aquaculture in the Pacific Northwest has also shown that the claims being made by anti-salmon farm activists in Washington State and neighbouring British Columbia to be false.

The 215-page biological opinion  by the Marine Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) found that marine finfish aquaculture in Puget Sound, has little to no negative impact on native species, such as endangered salmon, Orcas, or their habitats.

The conclusions are similar to a seven-decade aquaculture analysis conducted in Scotland also showed that salmon farms have nothing to do with declining wild stocks.

Courts in Canada and the United States, relying on expert testimony, have also ruled that claims about disease and sea lice impacting wild stocks, falsely and widely propagated by anti-fish farm activists in the Pacific Northwest, to be without merit.

As BC grapples with the challenges of balancing economic growth and food security with environmental stewardship, it’s vital that issues on salmon farming are grounded in verified data rather than misleading claims.

Only then can we hope for progress that benefits our communities, the environment and our planet.

Image shows Brian Kingzett of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) with Dallas Smith, a member of the of the Tlowitsis Nation who speaks for the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship (FNFFS)