Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Since the mid 1970's Alexandra Morton has become famous for her career in whale and dolphin research, pioneering (some will say) the recording of orca vocalizations by utilizing hydrophones to record their calls and actually learning about "dialects" indigenous to pods of killer whales. As the decades passed, however, the whales, once a source of joy, began to decline in population, forcing her to begin focusing her efforts exclusively towards the cause of the decline in the populations. The answer became clear when the focus turned towards fish farms and sea lice. Over the years, Morton and a group of salmon-farming opponents have been striving to increase public (international) awareness about alarming concerns regarding salmon farming, which threatens wild salmon, orcas and other predators.
Today, she hardly uses her hydrophone. "There's no point," she says, "since my subject is so rare now." These days, when Ms. Morton noses her workboat away from her dock here, she is on a crusade, seeking not orcas, but evidence against the salmon farms she believes drove most of the killer whales away, in part by infecting the wild salmon the whales eat with parasites called sea lice. Her work is a challenge to the salmon farm industry and to the Canadian and British Columbia officials who regulate it. And we are talking about a large scale industry ---more than 40 percent of the world's seafood is farm-raised and one of the largest centers for farming salmon is British Columbia, Canada. According to the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, salmon farms produce $450 million worth of Atlantic salmon a year in British Columbia. At any given time, 70 to 80 farm sites operate in provincial waters, perhaps 29 or so in the Broughton, a hardly inhabited area across Queen Charlotte Strait from the north end of Vancouver Island. Typically, each installation has a collection of net pens, usually crossed by metal walkways, floating in a cove or bay. Individual sites typically contain 500,000 to 750,000 penned fish.
As tiny young wild salmon, smolts, pass by these pens on their way to sea, they can pick up so many lice they die, Ms. Morton and other researchers have reported. And the impact is devastating to the pacific Northwest Salmon- click on this link to read more about the impact. You can also read Ms. Morton's book entitled Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming- a must-read for anyone concerned with the quality of the food they eat and the environmental health of the planet. Not surprisingly, Farm operators like Marine Harvest, a Norwegian concern that is a major presence in salmon farming here, concede that penned fish are vulnerable to microbes and parasites but say drugs and pesticides minimize the problem, virtually eliminating the risk to wild fish stocks.
Just last month, the Canadian Federal government was awarded exclusive jurisdiction over the management of salmon farming in a ruling that was hailed as a landmark decision and a victory for the future of wild stocks. The court ruled salmon farms are fisheries, rather than farms, and therefore should be managed by the federal government. The ruling determined that "fish farms are not farms at all. They are fisheries. There is no private right of fishery in the ocean. These [farms] occupy areas that are meant for the rearing of wild salmon -- and that can only be authorized by the federal Parliament."
Sadly, this week British Columbia's biggest producer of farmed salmon, Marine Harvest Canada, (who, on their website boasts to producing one third (45,000 tons) of the world's farmed salmon and trout at facilities in Norway, Chile, Scotland, Canada, Ireland and the Shetland Islands) served a notice of intention to appeal the ruling of Justice Hinkson in BC Supreme Court. The company says it is concerned that Hinkson’s findings did not recognise the private property rights of salmon farmers. The company states that "their salmon" are private property, and are not part of the fishery as a public resource.
So the battles continue to the detriment of the orcas and the salmon alike. While the stalling continues in the courts, please take the time to review Alexandra Morton's petition directed to The Fisheries Minister and the Premier of British Columbia stressing the importance of applying the few means available to mitigate the impact on wild salmon wrought by the farmers. Please take a moment to check it out and sign if you agree that our wild salmon stock is worth saving in the Pacific Northwest.