Data from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and a new sea lice monitoring analysis show anti-salmon farming activists continuing to spread falsehoods about marine aquaculture in British Columbia
By Fabian Dawson
Anti-salmon farming activists on Canada’s west coast have made a name for themselves by propagating myths, falsehoods and outright lies about marine aquaculture in British Columbia.
Their latest missive to malign a world renowned home-grown sustainable industry, which supports over 6,500 livelihoods in BC, claims that sea lice counts have dropped dramatically after the closure of some salmon farms in the contentious Discovery Islands.
That is simply not true, says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and a new independent analysis that compiled five years of sea-lice monitoring in the area with strict protocols.
Farm-raised salmon are free of sea lice when they are entered into the ocean, but during the migration season adult wild salmon may pass sea lice to farm-raised salmon.
Sea lice are naturally occurring parasites found on many species of marine fish, they pose no risk to humans. Studies have shown that, in B.C. regardless of the presence or absence of salmon farms, there is wide variability in sea lice prevalence in coastal locations.
The Cohen commission in 2012 also determined that sea lice was not a concern for out-migrating Fraser River Sockeye salmon, and research published since has shown that juvenile salmon spend very little time migrating past salmon farms.
“Five years of sea lice monitoring has demonstrated that sea lice levels have been low with most out-migrating salmon not infected by sea lice. Additionally, we did not see sea lice levels change after decreased production of salmon farming in the region,” said Brian Kingzett, Science and Policy Director for the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).
The DFO concurred.
A department spokesperson told SeaWestNews that sea lice counts have remained fairly stable over the last 5 years, including since December 2020, when the Trudeau Liberals, bowing to threats and demands from the activists, announced the closure of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands.
In making the decision, the government ignored nine peer-reviewed studies by its own scientists, who found that the farms which have been operating in the Discovery Islands for decades, pose no more than minimal risks to migrating wild stocks.
Another scientific study by DFO – Discovery Islands, 2011-2019/2020 Compliance and Performance Report – showed that the Discovery Islands’ farms have performed better than industry average for sea lice management during the critical outmigration period.
It also stated that sea lice management efforts at the Discovery Islands’ farms have generally resulted in reducing lice loads prior to the juvenile salmon outmigration period.
Despite the peer-reviewed scientific studies, the activists, pursuing an agenda to oust salmon farmers from BC’s oceans while lining their pockets with public donations, insist that their observations trump official data.
One of them was quoted in the media as saying: “On Sunday I talked to a couple of people who monitor, they test the smolts for sea lice every year. They said they’ve seen a 95% reduction in sea lice. So last year each smolt that they caught had an average of 9 sea lice on them. This year, there was a total of 9 sea lice on 50 fish.”
This unverified claim is now making the rounds on a number of social media platforms including in a paid “opinion” professional video.
The activist making this claim has recently taken to a fund-raising platform seeking donations to continue her work, much of which has been discredited by internationally renowned fisheries scientists and government agencies on both sides of US-Canada border.
“These activists continue to tell lies about sea lice and salmon farming because they make money doing it…it’s their job…they don’t care that their lies will put hundreds of people out of work,” said a salmon farmer in BC.
John Paul Fraser, Executive Director of the BCSFA said: “We are an industry that operates using rigorous science to support our practices.”
“Irresponsible claims by activists have led to public confusion and have contributed to decisions which ignore science such as the Discovery Islands decision of 2020,” he said.
Farm-raised salmon is B.C.’s highest valued seafood product, the province’s top agricultural export, and generates over $1.6 billion towards the B.C. economy, resulting in thousands of jobs.
Fraser said that the removal of farms, while not showing a measurable change to sea lice levels in the Discovery Islands region, has seen the elimination of 24 per cent of salmon farming production in BC, and the loss of nearly 1,500 well-paid full-time jobs in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous rural coastal communities.
“As salmon farmers, we call on DFO and our political leaders to look deeper and focus efforts on climate action and habitat restoration rather than use salmon farming as a scapegoat for political goodwill, which science has demonstrated will not provide tangible benefits for wild salmon populations,” he said.
“The solution is complex, and like we saw at the recent COP26 climate change conference, will require the cooperation of many industries, including salmon farmers – to support the solution,” added Fraser.
BC salmon farmers have also invested millions of dollars in robust, innovative technology to mitigate and manage sea lice and the DFO said that in the 2021 out-migration window there has been no violation of the Conditions of Licence granted to the industry in the Discovery Islands.
Here are some of the key rebuttals to the activists’ claims in the BCSFA data-driven report, released today;
What you might be hearing:
Salmon farms do not manage sea lice as required.
Sea lice are managed on salmon farms and 90% of monthly averages are below the trigger threshold.
What you might be hearing:
Sea Lice monitoring in the Discovery Islands region shows that removing salmon resulted in 95% decreases in infection on out migrating juvenile salmon.
Sea Lice levels on juvenile salmon in the Discovery Islands are low and did not change after decreased production in the area.
What you might be hearing:
Even low numbers of sea lice are lethal to juvenile salmon.
Photos of salmon with large sea lice crawling over their bodies is very dramatic but this is rare and not necessarily fatal to the juveniles.
What you might have seen:
Photos implying that mature (motile) lice on out-migrating juvenile salmon were acquired from exposure to farms.
That cannot be the case for mature (motile) lice and the occurrences of lice with multiple motile in this region is extremely rare.
(Image courtesy of Mowi shows salmon farm employees monitoring the health of their fish using underwater cameras)