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Alexandra Morton writes open letter to Strathcona Regional District regarding the future of fish farms

SRD ponders whether DFO is giving full information regarding sea lice and wild juvenile salmon
Juvenile salmon with sea lice (Tavish Campbell photo) Juvenile salmon with sea lice. Noted salmon fish farm activist Alexandra Morton wrote an open letter to Strathcona Region District on Jan. 30, stating the need for an outside study into the DFO’s claims that there is no correlation between salmon farms and sea lice. (Tavish Campbell photo)

Anti-salmon farming activist Alexandra Morton has sent an open letter to the Strathcona Regional District (SRD), in the hopes that the regional council can bring stability to the raging debate over the future of fish farms within the Strathcona region.

Addressed Jan. 30, Morton calls attention to the latest meeting of the SRD on Jan. 25 where a debate regarding open net transition from fish farms cited mixed reactions from members of the SRD board.

READ MORE: Sea lice numbers not necessarily influenced by presence or absence of salmon farms - studies

“A lot of us have differing points of view, because we have different regions,” SRD board of directors member Susan Sinnott said. Sinnott also acknowledged that any reduction of the top three resource industries in Campbell River, aquaculture, forestry and tourism, could prove crippling to the community.

“There are a lot of complex issues that come into play,” said Sinnott.

Morton, known for her work regarding the impact of sea lice on wild salmon in the ocean, cites inconsistencies in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)’s latest report, released Jan. 24, which concluded there was “No statistically relevant association” regarding sea lice and the production of farmed salmon on the wild salmon population.

Morton cites alleged edits made by the DFO in the report, from March of 2022 to May 2022.

In March, the DFO reports in a draft that Cermaq farms in Clayoquot Sound are contributing to sea lice infestation, stating “infection on wild migrating juvenile chum salmon is influenced by sufficiently high copepodid infection pressures derived from farmed Atlantic Salmon.”

However, in May, the previous assertion has been carefully scribbled out, as new text appears, stating “the analysis suggests the occurrence of L. salmonis infection on wild migrating juvenile pink or chum salmon could not be explained by infection pressure of farm source copepodids.”

She also says there are opposite conclusions in the report by the DFO dated March 9 and May 19.

“The data for areas you represent, closely link farm lice infection to lice infestations on wild salmon, which is the opposite of what appears in the Sea Lice Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) you were discussing,” Morton says.

Morton says that members of the scientific community have requested the industry data set which includes the DFO’s alleged contradictory conclusions, and supports the need first cited by the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance (FNWSA) for an external review.

Morton also poses the question “Do you think it might be a good idea to ask the Pacific Salmon Foundation for their scientific evaluation of the conflicting results versus conclusions and perhaps run this by a lawyer in case this issue and your support appear in court again?” toward the end of the letter.

There seems to be some support among SRD members. SRD board member Martin Davis, says that his village of Tahsis has said no to the continuing practice of open net fish farms, first passing a resolution banning it in 2010.

“We’re not opposed to the industry. We’d like to see it go to some sort closed containment,” Davis says. “There are two hatcheries in Tahsis, one federally run and one volunteer run. There is a lot of commercial salmon fishing in our region. The research that i’ve read, seems to indicate that sea lice is having a huge impact on wild salmon.”

SRD board of directors member Julie Colborne said that there needs to be a consensus and accurate source of information to move the DFO’s transition plan into some sort of progression.

“We talk about science based information and having that back. This is a real hard one for me to swallow,” Colborne says. “It would be great to see what the SRD has, what information they have gotten to date. But for every study that says it’s bad for juvenile fish stocks, there are studies that contradict that.”

SRD board of directors member Gerald Whalley, says that this is a mixed bag of facts in the era of misinformation.

“This is like climate change, or COVID vaccination,” Whalley says. “You can go on the Internet and get pro and con, whatever you want that’s what you read. The authority on this is the DFO. I think whatever they come up with, that’s what we should follow.”

An announcement regarding the future of salmon farms on the coast by the DFO is expected sometime this spring.

Edward Hitchins

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