Coalition May Sue Salmon Farmsby Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - September 26, 2002
Pinks' survival is at stake, group says
VANCOUVER, B.C. -- A coalition of environmental groups threatened yesterday to take legal action against the federal and British Columbia governments to halt open-sea fish farms they say are threatening the survival of wild salmon.
The threat followed a report by the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform earlier this week that said virtually entire spawning runs of pink salmon off the northern coast of Vancouver Island were wiped out by an outbreak of sea lice that originated in fish farms in the area.
Biologist Alexandra Morton, a longtime critic of salmon fish farms, said her research indicated more than 3 million pinks failed to return this fall to seven streams to spawn.
More than two dozen open-sea fish farms in the area raise Atlantic salmon.
Morton said the farms are breeding grounds for the lethal lice that have infected the pinks and wiped out their returns.
"We've got 1 percent left," Morton said yesterday, referring to the number of pinks that returned to the streams to spawn in an area known as the Broughton Archipelago on the mainland coast off northern Vancouver Island.
"Pink salmon have been known to commit miracles and come back, but if they have to run the gauntlet through salmon farms again, there's no hope. If they take another 99 percent hit, there's going to be nothing."
Angela McCue, a lawyer with Sierra Legal Defense Fund that often assists environmental groups in legal actions, said taking the federal and provincial. governments to court was being seriously considered.
"A number of the groups have indicated what their demands are to address the situation and if the government does not respond then we may well seek the assistance of the court," McCue said.
She said the defense fund has been advising the federal government since May that it considers the B.C. government's regulation of the aquaculture industry to be unconstitutional.
Regulation of wild salmon comes under the federal Fisheries Act, but the B.C. government issues licenses and regulates the fish-farm industry.
Jennifer Lash, the executive director of the Living Oceans Society and part of the coalition, expressed frustration with the fish farms.
"We've worked through so many governments, processes and regulations . . . and everything the government does is inadequate," she said. "This collapse of pink in Broughton is another reason why we can't have open-net salmon farms on the coast.
"If we don't get those fish farms out of the water soon, we're going to lose our wild salmon."
A spokesman for the federal Fisheries Department said he had serious doubts about the coalition's research.
Don Noakes, head of aquaculture at the department's Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, said the department became aware of the sea lice allegation last year and sent out a research vessel to do its own study.
The Fisheries Department vessel, he said, took samples from deeper in the ocean than did Morton.
"When we did our sample . . . the salmon we found have fairly low loads of sea lice," he said.
"Our assessment is . . . that levels (of sea lice) were fairly low and that the salmon we did observe in our catch did seem to be healthy."
Nokes said the coalition's research only sampled near the surface "so they're not getting a representative sample . . . so you're catching fish that are infected and getting a biased view."
Barb Wright, a spokeswoman for the provincial Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Ministry, said the federal Fisheries Department is still compiling data on the pink returns, which she said may only be late in returning to spawn in the archipelago.
She also said that the B.C. government, along with Fisheries, has never found a correlation between fish farms and sea lice.
Odd Grydeland, president of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, echoed Noakes in saying he had doubts about Morton's research.
He said that last year Broughton Archipelago rivers had large spawning runs and that wild salmon have been thriving in the area for the 17 years that fish farms have been in the area.
BC Fish Farm Moratorium Lifted, Capital Press - September 20, 2002
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