The Halifax Examiner attended all three of Cermaq’s “open houses” on the South Shore, recorded nearly five hours of Q&A, and reports here on one of the recurring concerns raised at the meetings: How dangerous is the spread of piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) from farmed to wild fish? This is the second part of a two-part series. See Part 1 here.
By the time piscine reovirus (PRV) was finally identified in 2010, the salmon in Norway’s fish farms had been dying from a strange syndrome for decades, one that was making them weak and stunted and their hearts unable to properly pump blood.
In 1999, the disease was named heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), and a decade later, when PRV was finally discovered, so too was the syndrome’s probable cause.
The newly discovered virus was found in the tissues of the fish that were afflicted with HSMI making PRV the causative agent. At the time, the scientists who discovered the pathogen warned that “measures must be taken to control PRV not only because it threatens domestic salmon production but also due to the potential for transmission to wild salmon populations.”
But control of the virus has nowhere been achieved. The disease spread rapidly through Norway as the industry’s development intensified and according to the Norwegian Veterinary Institute is “one of the most common infections in Norwegian farmed salmon.”
While the illness has undoubtedly resulted in production losses at Norwegian fish farms — an amount that for all disease was estimated in 2016 to be 20%— the mortality attributed to HSMI alone is extremely difficult to quantify. 1
The virus has also been detected in a number of other countries, including on Canada’s Pacific coast, and is implicated in the catastrophic 2009 collapse of the Fraser River sockeye salmon, when only one million salmon returned to the river to spawn when more than 10 million were expected. Critics of open-net pen farms blamed the collapse on disease and sea lice they argued spread to the wild salmon stocks, a result of the heavy concentration of salmon farms situated along the sockeye’s narrow migration route on the east coast of Vancouver Island. As I previously reported, it’s a connection that has since been largely verified, though questions about other possible contributing factors remain. 2
Unlike in Norway, where the virus is resulting in substantial fish farm losses, the virus doesn’t yet seem to be affecting the industry’s bottom line here in Canada. That’s because in BC, the PRV-infected farm fish don’t always develop HSMI. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t having an effect on wild fish.
Concerns about disease spread were among those raised recently at a series of open houses held by Cermaq Canada on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. These meetings were reported on in Part 1 of this series.
The provincial government granted the global-aquaculture giant — a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation with operations in Norway, Chile, and on Canada’s west coast — Options to Lease in Mahone Bay and St. Margaret’s Bay, as well in the Chedabucto Bay region near Guysborough and St. Mary’s Bay near Digby Neck.
Cermaq is proposing a $500 million expansion to develop between 15 and 20 open-pen Atlantic salmon farm sites, two hatcheries and a processing plant. To justify a Nova Scotia operation, it says it needs a minimum annual production of 20,000 metric tonnes of fish — an amount that’s roughly equivalent to what the company currently produces in British Columbia. According to provincial and federal data, this expansion would increase the number of salmon farms in this province from eight to 28 and would more than double the current levels of production.
As part of the “scoping phase,” outlined in the province’s new regulatory process for aquaculture development, Cermaq was required to hold at least one public meeting near potential site locations, so it chose the small seaside towns of Chester, Blandford, and Hubbards, which is where I happen to live.
About 10 minutes into the first “open house” session held in Chester, one resident brought up the issue of viruses: “Ninety percent of Cermaq locations are PRV-1 infested and that’s the reason you are being stopped [in BC],” he said, referring to the federal government’s election promise to develop a plan to phase out open-net-pen aquaculture on Canada’s west coast, just as an expansion of the industry is being proposed here.
Cermaq Canada’s managing director, David Kiemele, replied:
PRV-1 is a BC strain of a virus that is found in the pacific northwest. There are different strains found in other countries around the world. So, it is in the ocean. Our fish go to sea, PRV-free, they enter the ocean environment, and they do contract [the virus]. That is out there in the literature, in the research, I wouldn’t sit here and tell you anything otherwise. The PRV comes onto the farm and it stays there for the period of time the fish are in the ocean and then the fish are removed. It has no ill-effects on our production. [the audience jeers and boos] We see and we support research that’s being done by third parties, that’s being done by DFO, we understand fully that we cause no minimal risk to wild salmon.
The potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye salmon from salmon farms is serious and irreversible. Disease transfer occurs between wild and farmed fish, and I am satisfied that salmon farms along the sockeye migration route have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and exacerbate endemic diseases that could have a negative impact on Fraser River sockeye. 3
It’s a view that’s also held by the courts. Last year a federal court decision quashed a DFO policy that allowed fish farms to transfer salmon to the ocean pens without testing for the virus. In her decision, Justice Cecily Strickland gave the feds four months to examine its PRV testing policy, which she said was not upholding the Fisheries Act or the precautionary principle. In other words, it’s against the law to put fish with a harmful disease or a disease agent into the ocean.
In June of last year, four months after the federal ruling, the DFO announced interim measures to safeguard wild fish by screening farmed salmon for two strains of PRV before transfer to ocean-based pens. It was seen as a victory by many, but the success was short lived. The government sought public feedback over a 60-day period before making a final decision.
According to DFO spokesperson Barre Campbell, following the review period, the DFO decided instead that “testing for the BC strain of PRV-1 was not required” before fish are transferred into the ocean environment.
For critics, the government’s about-face was a jarring blow: The new policy meant they would not test farm salmon hatcheries for PRV, and even if they knew there were positives (via testing being done by the Broughton Archipelago First Nations, for instance), DFO would still grant a transfer permit.
Barre says, “as part of a suite of measures to strengthen aquaculture in B.C., it was announced that DFO would undertake a two-year survey of freshwater hatcheries to determine if non-endemic strains of PRV (the non-native Icelandic and Norwegian strains) are present or not.”
Barre also noted that “some of the current research includes the full genome sequencing of PRV and, based on this work, we can distinguish among PRV-1 strains, including the B.C. strain and non-native strains of the virus.”
During the Chester “open house” the audience also heard from Lance Stewardson. He was there as part of the Cermaq team, co-founder of the BC consulting firm Mainstream Biological Consulting. He does work in benthic monitoring for aquaculture companies and is also involved in wild juvenile salmon–sea lice interaction studies in BC.
While Stewardson did concede that PRV was not his area of expertise, he did make an attempt to address whether it was a threat to wild fish. Stewardson pointed to a study he says “everybody quotes,” the  Di Cicco study, a longitudinal study of the health of fish at one chinook salmon farm in BC, which found that fish with heart damage characteristic of HSMI were also infected with PRV.
Here’s what Stewardson had to say about Di Cicco’s 2017 study:
[The researchers] were actually asked by Creative Salmon to come and look at their fish to help them understand what was going on with them…they did a correlation study where they take chunks of DNA, cut it all up and see what it matches to, and they correlated chinook jaundice with PRV and a number of other things… Things are correlated — my grey hair and me dying, probably means I’m going to die because I have a bunch of grey hair, [but] does it? Or does it correlate? That’s what a correlation study is. It’s not the cause, you need to then find the cause. It may turn out that PRV is causing jaundice in chinook, [but] it hasn’t been done yet. The second  Di Cicco study did look at Atlantic salmon and they correlated heart lesions and HSMI-type symptoms with our BC PRV, and nobody has yet been able to reproduce that.
It should be noted that the 2018 Di Cicco study was co-authored by 10 scientists, including Kristi Miller, a DFO molecular geneticist stationed in Nanaimo. Miller, along with 14 other scientists, also authored a 2011 study, not long after the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye salmon, that suggested a viral infection might have been a major factor in the high-levels of mortality among the wild fish.
The issue of disease spread to wild salmon is also of concern here where Atlantic salmon are already at serious risk, teetering on the brink of extinction. In 2010 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the Nova Scotia Southern Upland population as endangered, though the species has yet to be legally listed.
To help me wade through the murky waters surrounding the dangers posed by fish farm viruses to wild fish I contacted Alexandra Morton. She’s an independent marine biologist and outspoken critic of fish farms and also the person behind a number of successful lawsuits against the federal government, including the one referenced above regarding PRV.
While it might be hard to believe, Morton was initially a supporter of the fish farms when they first moved into the area near her rural float house community in the Broughton Archipelago.
“I thought they were great. I heard they were going to keep our school open. But they lied to us and they just kept lying.”
I provided Morton with the statements made by Kiemel and Stewardson regarding PRV at the Chester meeting, and this is what she had to say.
(The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity)
I started off the conversation asking Morton what she thought of Kiemel’s claim that PRV-1 is a “BC strain of a virus that is found in the Pacific northwest.”
ALEXANDRA MORTON (AM): Cermaq, Mowi, and the DFO keep repeating that PRV-1 is a BC strain of virus, but they have not produced the genetic sequence of this alleged BC strain. So to say that there’s a BC strain, there would have to be a genetic sequence that was consistent throughout samples in British Columbia. There could be other strains as well, but there has to be a whole bunch of tests to get the same strain and nobody has done that… There is genetic sequence for PRV-1. It is in my 2013 paper, it is found all over the world.
I have pursued this question with a number of government researchers and said, “What is your evidence?” And they will say to me, “Oh, it’s coming.” They keep saying it as if it’s a fact, but there is no published strain. The second point is the rest of us are finding a Norwegian, or at the very, very broadest, an Atlantic strain, and so even if there is a BC strain, which, as I said, there’s no evidence of, there are still Atlantic strains in British Columbia waters.
Furthermore, I sent a sample of BC farm salmon to the University of Bergen, Norway, to a scientist, Dr. Are Nylund, who is studying this virus and other farmed salmon viruses and he was very clear: this virus is from Norway.
LINDA PANNOZZO (LP): OK, and what about the other claim Kiemel made, that the virus is naturally present in BC and was there prior to fish farms?
AM: Well, I drilled down on that because I’ve been in court twice on this virus and the sample that they’re using is a 1977 sample that was taken from a steelhead trout that died in 1977 and was put into a freezer at DFO. And so as part of my lawsuit I got a piece of that fish and I sent it to a second lab in Washington State and they could not find the virus. I’m not saying the first guy didn’t find it. I’m just saying, that is an unconfirmed result and he did not get any genetic sequence from it.
LP: So they’re basing the statement, that it was already in the ocean, on that 1977 fish?
AM: Yes, a 1977 fish, one fish, which really is ridiculous because there are other fish in the freezer and I’m sure they looked at them. But furthermore, the earliest published genetic sequence of PRV in British Columbia is from 2011. So it’s shocking to me that they can keep repeating these things even though there is no evidence.
LP: What do you think about the causation versus correlation issue, raised by Stewardson?
AM: HSMI is severe heart disease. Wild salmon are constantly being pursued by predators. They have to swim fast to catch their fish, their food, and so looking for HSMI in wild fish would be like looking for heart disease at the end of a marathon. You’re not going to find heart disease at the end of the Boston Marathon and you’re not going to find HSMI in wild fish that are still swimming around in the ocean.
This is the problem with studying disease in the ocean because predators get [sick fish] long before the fish actually dies of the disease. They get them when they just start to slow down or swim near the end of the school…But what Di Cicco did was so powerful, and that industry refuses to acknowledge, he not only found the virus in the fish, and he not only found the lesions that are known to be caused by this virus… he also found that the highest levels of the virus in the fish were in those places where the tissue damage was occurring. It’s so hard to actually “prove” things in the biological world because the word “proof” is just an extraordinarily high bar.
But when you find the fish not only has PRV, but it also has the classic lesions associated with the [HSMI] disease, and you find that the virus is concentrated in those places where that damage has taken place, well, if your concern is wild fish, you’re going to say, “OK, it looks to me like that fish got killed by PRV.” If you’re a fish farmer, you’re going to say, “Oh, you’ve got to go further to prove it.”
And so this is the whole problem: Lance is looking at inside the fish farm and the rest of us are looking at fish outside the fish farm, which are two completely different worlds. And so there’s a lot of things we just can’t do outside the fish farm. We can’t find fish that are in the later stages of disease because they are removed by predators, whereas in the farm, the fish slowly die, and that is a big problem because once they become diseased, they’re shedding even more of the virus than in the early stages. In fact, that’s what disease is; disease is when there’s so much virus in the organism that it has now made the organism sick, but it’s also leaking out all over the place.
LP: So, David Kiemele said that it didn’t affect their production. How is that possible?
AM: When Atlantic salmon get HSMI [the fish] goes dormant, it just becomes catatonic, it stops feeding. They line up along the edge of the net where the water’s coming in. You know, they face into the current. There’s actually a Chilean paper with a video clip in it, that shows the fish behaving like that. But they eventually heal up and then they begin to feed again. But the other interesting thing is farmed salmon are getting smaller, meaning that they’re harvesting them earlier or they’re not growing as fast. And so you’ve got to wonder why that is.
So this could be completely true, it may not have affected their production, but that does not tell us what it’s doing to the world’s fish because life in a farm is completely different than life in the wild. You know that the food’s dropping from the sky. There’s no predators. Everything’s easy. And you don’t have to make it to spawn. You’re not going to make it to spawn, you’re going to be killed before that. So and that’s the whole problem. If the farmers were losing enough money due to this virus, then they would do something about it. But they’re not, they’re able to live with it. But that does not say that the wild fish are living with it and the evidence is that they’re not.
So I published a paper in 2017 that found that salmon exposed to the farms are much more infected [with PRV] than the wild salmon that are way up in the northern parts of British Columbia. So up in the north, 5% had this Norwegian virus, but down in the middle of the southern part of the province, near the farms, up to 45% of the fish were infected with the virus. Then, Dr. Kristi Miller in DFO is finding that this virus is causing damage in migrating wild [chinook] salmon.
And here’s one of the big problems. DFO has two scientific teams that are saying completely opposite things. How can we as the public trust or understand how it is one lab is saying this is a foreign virus that is causing disease and is a threat to wild salmon, and the other group are saying it’s an endemic virus and is not a risk to wild salmon.
LP: So you think the BC virus is the same virus that exists in Norway’s fish farms?
AM: Yes. So we published the first paper on the virus in British Columbia in 2013 and our virus matched a farm salmon in Lofoten, Norway. There’s this database that all animal virologists use and everybody just loads their genetic sequences in there. So when you get a genetic sequence, you just plug it in. It’s like a fingerprint database. So the database goes [drumroll sound] Bing! This British Columbia fish matches an Atlantic salmon dying of HSMI in Lofoten, Norway. And so, you know, it’s not a subjective conclusion.
LP: In Norway, did that virus exist naturally at first?
AM: Yes. Almost certainly all these viruses are natural. But the trouble is, nobody knew about it, and nobody knew that PRV existed before 2010. But going back to 1989 [in Norway], fish started dying of HSMI and Norway didn’t know what it was, and this thing swept through Norway for 10 years before they figured out, “Oh, it’s a virus.” And they named it piscine reovirus and now it’s called piscine orthoreovirus, but during that time period when the fish in the farms in Norway started to die and when they discovered they were dying of a virus, 30 million Atlantic salmon eggs came into British Columbia. They tell us that none of them came directly from Norway, but, the dominant genetic lineage of Atlantic salmon that we have is the Mowi strain, so we know they came from Norway originally, we know the virus is in Iceland now. So it doesn’t matter that they didn’t come directly from Norway. They are Norwegian fish.
So you’ve got a virus sweeping through the industry, nobody knows it’s a virus, they ship 30 million eggs to British Columbia. It’s not a huge stretch to understand how we got a Norwegian virus.
LP: How does the virus get into the eggs?
AM: Nobody knows. We don’t have access to Atlantic salmon eggs and interestingly, nobody has done that research.
Let me just say that everybody who is studying the impact of farmed salmon disease on wild fish: myself, Miller, Di Cicco, Nylund, many others, we have all suffered enormous consequences. So industry and government do not make it easy for us and if they wanted to know if this was travelling in the eggs, it would not be hard to find out. But nobody has done that work.
LP: So you’re saying that PRV has been found in wild salmon in British Columbia, but not HSMI and that’s because HSMI is like severe heart disease and it would be hard to detect in wild fish because predators would get them first?
AM: Yes, however, there is a Masters student who wrote her thesis and they are in the process of publishing this result now. Dr. Kristi Miller has this extraordinary science that reads the immune system of fish, so rather than looking at the lesions, it just looks at what genes have been turned on and off in the immune system. They are finding PRV in juvenile chinook salmon that are passing farms with an indicator that the virus is harming them. So that’s on the cutting edge. So there is research coming that suggests the PRV is harming wild Pacific salmon.
Let me tell you, that research is getting a rough ride. Obviously, industry doesn’t want it, and the lawsuit that I have been fighting is because the law in Canada says you cannot put a fish infected with a “disease agent” into our ocean. So if PRV can be seen as low risk and benign, it’s not a “disease agent” and it’s not captured by the law. But if it is causing disease in wild salmon, then it is a “disease agent.”
When I went to court, Mowi told the court in signed documents that the industry would be severely impacted if they were not allowed to farm the PRV-infected fish because so many of their fish were infected.
And Cooke Aquaculture, who I’m sure your familiar with, they are farming in Washington State, and Washington State decided in 2018, “No more PRV-infected fish.” Here we have two different countries, the same virus, with opposite conclusions. Washington State said, “Too dangerous.” Canada’s turning a blind eye. So Washington State told Cooke Aquaculture, “You cannot put infected fish into our waters anymore.” And Cooke Aquaculture basically said, “Okay, fine, we’ll go get some non-diseased ones, some uninfected ones.” But they were unable to do it, and so they have not been able to restock those pens. The pens are being phased out by 2023, but in the interim they have not been able to restock any farms because they can’t find PRV-free fish, and they had to destroy 1.8 million smolts because they ended up testing positive for PRV.
LP: So are they testing positive for PRV or PRV-1?
LP: What’s the difference?
AM: PRV is like saying “the flu” and then you’ve got your H1N1, and it’s just different strains of the same family of viruses. PRV-1 has been found everywhere they’re farming Atlantic salmon and now it’s mutating and a few countries have mutations. As far as I know, we don’t have any mutations. We just have PRV-1.
We have lots of genetic sequence for PRV-1 in British Columbia, but none of them is distinct. They’re all related to Iceland and Norway. They do these genetic trees and they can see how everybody’s related and everybody’s related to everybody else. If you have a strain from British Columbia, it should form a whole independent branch of that tree and it should be reliably distinct, but they have not found that. And even if they did, we still have all the Norwegian and Icelandic strains.
But [on the east coast] you have a different situation because PRV is from the Atlantic.
LP: So, that’s what I was going to ask you about. We’ve got wild Atlantic salmon here, and wild Atlantic salmon in Nova Scotia are endangered, though they are not yet listed under SARA so they don’t have any legal protection. How could something like PRV-infected farmed Atlantic salmon affect them?
AM: Well, the trouble with all feedlots is that they amplify pathogens in unnatural ways and this causes a whole bunch of things. But back when we had the avian flu scare, it became law in Canada that wild birds were not allowed to get near a huge chicken farm or turkey farm. So they did not want to have transmission of the disease in the feedlot out into the wild. So when viruses get into feedlots like this and there are no predators—the predators are amazing because as soon as something gets slow or starts to wobble, boom, it’s gone! The virus doesn’t get a chance to mutate and spread. But in the farms, there are no predators so they do spread and they mutate.
What has happened with a number of pathogens in salmon farms, but also other feedlots, is they become more virulent, and the reason is everybody’s going to die in 18 months anyway, so there’s now no reason for the virus to live lightly on the host and there’s a lot of competing pathogens in there. So if you’re going to take over, you need to be more virulent and what virulent means is you just reproduce faster.
So, there’s a virus in Norway called the ISA [infectious salmon anemia] virus, which you guys [in Atlantic Canada] are also struggling with, and the original strain was benign. It just causes a little bit of mucus on the gills and then it’s gone. But then it got into aquaculture and it dropped a little bit of its genetic sequence and bang, it became lethal. It became the most lethal virus known to salmon. It does not exist in the wild because it can’t survive: it kills its host and it’s over. There’s other pathogens that have shown this characteristic as well.
So there’s two problems for your fish. One, and I don’t know how many fish are in your farms, but [in BC] it’s like 600,000 to a million fish per farm. They’re all shedding the virus. That is way more virus than a wild salmon is ever going to experience in the natural world… when a large infected school is stationary the virus output is amplified both by the fact that the healthy and the sick are mingling, increasing transmission, and there are unnaturally high numbers of fish in one place and so the sheer output is beyond anything that could be considered natural…But number two, the viruses are mutating in these facilities and the predators will kill the wild fish and try to clean up the virus outside the pen, but they can’t get into the pens to deal with the problem. So it’s like an oil spill, it just keeps coming.
And the way fish breathe, of course, is that they keep water in their mouths and then the water passes over their gills and in the gills, the bloodstream is right there to pick up the oxygen. But instead, it’s getting exposed directly to the virus and what PRV does is it wants the red blood cells, and there they are in the gills. So every time the fish breathes as it goes by the farm the virus is settling on the gills, it’s infecting the red blood cells and then it uses those red blood cells to make more of itself. This means that the red blood cells get full of the virus and they are no longer able to take up a good load of oxygen because they’re already full. So it’s just a deadly scenario.
LP: So, there’s been a decline in wild Pacific salmon, probably for a number of reasons, but certainly the fish farms have played a big role, which was highlighted in the Cohen Commission when he said there was a need to remove fish farms from these migratory routes.
AM: Yeah, you just have to remove them, that’s right.
LP: So, here in Nova Scotia we have endangered fish as a result of the groundfish collapse. It’s not just about the salmon. I mean, we’ve pretty much [overfished] everything out here, and all we have left is the lobster. And along comes Cermaq, talking about putting 15 to 20 farms in four of the province’s bays, where each farm is 10 pens with 90,000 fish each, so that’s close to a million fish in one farm. They want to put maybe four or five farms in each bay. So that’s potentially five million fish, though they are also saying that a couple farms in each bay might be fallow. So let’s say there were 3.5 to five million fish in one of these bays near rivers with endangered wild Atlantic salmon. What chances do they have?
AM: Zero. Absolute zero. So there was a study done in 2008, one of the authors was Ransom Myers from Dalhousie University, and they went and looked all around the world at wild salmon stocks and everywhere there are salmon farms, the fish are in collapse, and where there’s no salmon farms, the fish are going great. So that’s Russia and Alaska. Those are the last two places.
It’s very important though, people always say to me, “Oh, Alex, salmon farms aren’t the only problem,” and I agree. But it is a fixable problem. We can move those things. Unfortunately, we can’t turn climate change around on a dime or regrow our old growth forests, and many other things. But you remove this pathogen load and you’re going to see a big change.
And so here in British Columbia, First Nations have really stepped up and one-third of the industry is out. The Nations and those territories have just taken over, and that’s it. They’re going to get out. That was a very hard fight. I was part of it. We had to occupy the farms for 280 days. So for the first time ever, we’re going to see here what happens when you take the industry out of an area.
Sadly, our fish stocks are down to one-tenth of one percent — that’s what we have left, and there’s no commercial fishing, there is no sport fishing, there’s virgin unlogged watersheds and logged watersheds. It’s all the same in the [Broughton] Archipelago: the fish are gone.
You also have the sea lice problem. I know, because I found a whole bunch on farmed salmon when I was there at Sobeys.
The bottom line with sea lice is they have not figured it out. They’re still having a problem in Norway, in Scotland, in Ireland.
LP: Would that just be another thing that would threaten the wild fish, particularly the juveniles?
AM: It is more of a danger for the juveniles, but the problem with sea lice is they’re also disease vectors and nobody’s really studying that. A louse goes scratching around on one fish to scratching around on another fish and it’s just like you’re inoculating it.
LP: Can sea lice infect other types of fish besides salmon?
AM: They can, but the salmon louse is salmon-specific. I don’t know what’s in your farms but in all the farms here, there are also hundreds of thousands of herring. And so the herring are now breeding another species of lice which can go on all species, it’s a generalist and the only reason we know this is because during the occupation, First Nations stuck underwater cameras in every single farm and we suddenly realized that the salmon farming industry is the biggest herring fishery on this coast.
Also, if [Cermaq is] going to put five million fish in a bay, they’re not thinking long term. This is not going to work for them either. They’re going to pollute the heck out of this bay. They’re going to share disease and sea lice. They are going to destroy themselves. Now, in Norway, interestingly, they’re not granting licences for net pens. They are trying to move them into tanks, so new licences have to be closed containment and the reason Norway is doing this is they are trying to protect the industry. Norway loves the industry. They call it their IKEA. I think a farmed salmon is worth more than a barrel of oil — it was a little while ago, I don’t know where the price of oil is right now. But they want the industry. They’ve given up on their wild fish. They’ve sacrificed their wild fish.
The companies, Cermaq and Mowi, are all from Norway. I believe that they are funding their research and development there by doing the cheap and dirty here. Why Canada allows this, I’ve never understood that.
But you will lose your fish. There isn’t a chance that your [wild] fish are going to survive.
If there was anywhere in the world where we could look and say, “Oh, hey, look, it worked here.” That would be fabulous. We would go there and figure out what they did and we would copy that. But there’s nowhere, and when I hear that Cermaq is telling you these things, that PRV is from BC, and that there are BC strains, and it’s benign and it predates the industry, these are not true. What they’re telling you is not true, and this is a characteristic of this industry.
I guarantee you the industry is going to kill itself off in this act of greed… Your waters are going to turn red with heterosigma blooms and other algae blooms. Their fish are going to start dying. There’s not enough oxygen in these bays. All of the farms out here in British Columbia are running pumps in every single pen, like four pumps, for air. There’s just not enough oxygen for these guys and they are shitting a ton per day. I was talking to one of your lobster fishermen when I was there and he said, “They’re going to shit themselves an island.”
People want to be reasonable and we certainly did here [in BC]. We wanted to be reasonable.
The whole line of we’ll just keep them off the migration route, well, there is no place off the migration routes. The whole coast is used by wild salmon, and the sad thing is, the farmed fish need the same water conditions as the wild fish.
When I stand back now and look at where they went into the Broughton Archipelago — now that I’ve got 30 years of experience with currents and fish — I’m like, “Oh, my God,” they put them in the places with upwellings and high oxygen and the right amount of current. They put them all in the places that were the most productive for our prawn and our rock cod and our salmon.
Cermaq’s Options in Chedabucto Bay and St. Mary’s Bay expire very soon, on March 28, with no possibility of an extension. The company has until then to complete its feasibility and engagement work and decide about whether it will proceed with an application; the Mahone Bay and St. Margaret’s Bay Options are set to expire on July 9, 2020.
Linda Pannozzo is an award-winning author and freelance journalist based in Nova Scotia.
Cover photo: Atlantic salmon looking out of net pen, Barnes Bay, British Columbia. Photo: Alexandra Morton.
- Norwegian Veterinary Institute. 2017. The Health Situation in Norwegian Aquaculture, 2016. p. 4. The study, which focuses on fish health and welfare and the challenges facing the industry states: “Total losses between sea-transfer and harvest continue to give grounds for concern. Twenty percent of all fish transferred to sea die or disappear before harvest. This is a huge loss considered in terms of fish welfare, economy and sustainability.” ↩
- The 2012 Royal Society of Canada Expert Panel report chaired by Dalhousie University Fisheries biologist Jeff Hutchings looked at the issues facing Canada’s marine biodiversity in light of challenges posed by climate change, fisheries, and aquaculture. Drawing on the BC experience, where the vast majority of farms are located, it concluded: 1) finfish and shellfish aquaculture typically affect marine biodiversity at localized scales (less than tens of kms) although farther-reaching impacts are possible; 2) wild bottom-dwelling organisms, such as lobster, and their habitat can be affected by organic wastes and chemical inputs such as antibiotics, anti-foulants, and pesticides; 3) the spread of disease between farmed and wild fish poses a serious threat to the persistence of wild fish populations; 4) interbreeding between wild fish and escapees of the same species threatens the reproductive capability and recovery potential of wild populations of conservation concern; and 5) open-sea net pens “have far greater potential and realized negative consequences to marine biodiversity than closed-containment facilities.” The report also states that in the Pacific, with the possible exception of pathogens, it is “unlikely that the impacts of salmon net-pen aquaculture on marine biodiversity along BCs coast will be broad-ranging. Effects, however, are likely to be cumulative, particularly in areas of salmon farm concentration.” ↩
- Cohen Commission Final Recommendations, Volume 3, p. 6. ↩