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reLAKSation no 1130

Disappearing: Seafood News report that the people on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers in Alaska are expecting another dismal year for salmon harvesting this year. It is now a disaster that is repeating annually and is felt acutely in the region and now accepted as elsewhere as the new bad normal. For the past three years, there haven’t been even enough Chinook salmon to meet spawning requirements, however the problems go much further back with numbers below subsistence harvest since at least 2008. Chum salmon are also at historic lows.

Whilst the rivers used to support commercial fisheries, now even subsistence fisheries are severely restricted. Seafood News says that multiple factors are at play. These include:

Warming ocean temperatures

Reduced prey size in the Bering Sea

Warming river temperatures

Bycatch by the Bering Sea pollock fleet

Interception of fish in the Alaska Peninsula fishery

A parasite that plagues Yukon Chinook salmon. (This is a protozoan parasite Ichthyophonus which was first identified in these fish in 1988. The parasite has a commercial impact with up to 20% of fish being discarded because of muscle damage. Of course, that depends on there being sufficient fish to catch.)

According to Seafood News, the last two are hot political controversies as the Bering Sea commercial fishery has caught 13,000 chinook this year which has infuriated the Yukon and Kuskokwim subsistence fishermen. However, the pollock fishermen say that the data would indicate that very few of these fish would have returned to Western Alaska rivers.

What is interesting about the list of possible causes for the increasing disappearance of salmon from these Alaskan rivers is that salmon farming is not included. This Is not of any surprise given that salmon farming is not allowed in the State of Alaska.

Salmon farming is blamed for the decline of salmon stocks in the Fraser River, but could it be that whatever is causing the declines in rivers further north has caused the decline in the Fraser River? Unfortunately, those who accuse salmon farming of being the cause of wild salmon’s problem simply refuse to consider that other factors might be to blame. Yet, if salmon farming is the main cause of wild fish declines, then why are stocks in decline elsewhere?  The fundamental problem now is that having blamed salmon farming for so long, it is very difficult to admit that they may be wrong so rather than consider the possibility, the critics dig their heals in even further making all sorts of outrageous claims about the impacts of salmon farming.

Surely, if they really cared about wild salmon, they would be actively engaged in all aspects of how improvements can be made, rather than stick to the same old mantra that removal of salmon farm will bring immediate improvement. Interestingly, salmon farms have been removed from the Broughton’s, but I have not heard of any claims of recovery.


Science: Canada’s number one salmon farming critic, Alexandra Morton has remained strangely quiet during the recent debate over the salmon farm transition plan. She spent much of her early career spreading nonsense about salmon farming to the First Nations persuading them that salmon farming was the reason why their traditional salmon harvest was no longer what it used to be. I wonder how she will explain the failure of salmon stocks to recover when her plan to remove salmon farms is completed by the Canadian Government.

Ms Morton has been prompted to make a comment on Twitter after being accused of meddling in politics. Her latest narrative is that salmon are of a huge benefit to reducing climate change as they feed the trees that draw down carbon. It seems it is no longer about feeding the people, but the trees instead.

She also refers to the science saying that if you listen to the science offered by industry you will never know the scope of harm to wild salmon.

The problem is that much of the science that Ms Morton and her scientific colleagues put forward is based on modelling and predictions of mortality, not actual data from the rivers around salmon farming areas. However, Ms Morton and her Salmon Coast Field Station have collected data which they claim supports their narrative but failed to undertake any major analysis of this data.

The data, which is available to download from the Salmon Coast Field Station website, is of wild salmon collected from a number of sites around the salmon farming area. Analysis of this data over twenty years clearly shows that the majority of fish sampled are lice free and thus are not at risk of mortality from lice.

Interestingly, the distribution of sea lice on fish from the Broughton Archipelago is the same as that of sea lice collected from both Scottish and Norwegian waters. Most host fish are free of lice whilst a very few host fish carry heavy infestation of the parasite. This is how all parasites are distributed amongst hosts and despite all claims otherwise, is not unusual.

Ms Morton can criticise the industry science to her heart’s content, but it doesn’t alter the truth which is that the evidence – her evidence – tells a very different story to the one she is happy to tell.


Transition: Sea West News reports that a $100,000 project which has been detailed in a BC Ministry of Agriculture Request for Proposal is set to evaluate whether British Columbia is ready to transition salmon farming from net pens to land-based farming. However, Dr Myron Roth from the Ministry has already concluded that moving to land based farming by 2025 is never going to happen. Obstacles in the way are the lack of sites, the lack of power and uncertainty of whether land-based farming can actually be viable.

Dr Roth highlights that there are no current examples of a successful large scale salmon farm on which to base over 90,000 tonnes of BC salmon production. Recently, the Real Fishy Stories blog discussed the Kuterra salmon farm, which despite injections of government and philanthropic funding of over $13 million, failed to achieve its aims of economically producing land-based salmon and was eventually closed down. The author of the blog Robert Milne quotes an anonymous source that “when activism walks in the door then innovation jumps out of the window”.

As I have pointed out in the past, the move to land-based production has been motivated by critics of the salmon farming industry, mainly from the wild fish sector, and not because there is any commercial rationale for doing so. This is especially so in British Columbia. More importantly, there is not a shred of evidence that removing salmon farms from the marine environment will do anything to safeguard wild salmon and help stocks recover. Anyone who thinks salmon stocks will recover if salmon farms are removed is living far from reality.

Surely, before any more salmon farms are closed, the impacts of the past closures should be fully assessed. Certainly, I have not seen anything from Alexandra Morton to say that the earlier closures have had any impact at all. In fact, she has been remarkedly quiet.

Finally, those who advocate closed containment are well advised to look at the share price of the poster boy of closed containment – Atlantic Sapphire. This graph should tell anyone interested in closed containment salmon farming everything they need to know as to the future of this method of producing salmon.