There is no evidence to explain the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon. (Photo: YouTube, CommonSenseCanadian/ FIS)
Risky salmon farms must be shut down: report
Friday, November 02, 2012, 00:20 (GMT + 9)
Because salmon farms are one of many stressors to wild salmon stocks, British Columbia (BC) Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen said that salmon farm development in the Discovery Islands should be frozen and the existing farms should be shut down.
Still, there is no conclusive evidence explaining the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon, he clarified in his report containing 75 recommendations for the federal government, 11 of which tackle the province's salmon farming industry.
The Discovery Islands are located on the migration path for young salmon, and Cohen stressed concerns about the potential for farmed salmon to introduce exotic diseases and pathogens to wild fish.
"Disease can cause significant population declines, and, in some situations — for example, if a disease were to wipe out a vulnerable stock of Fraser River sockeye — such effects could be irreversible," wrote Cohen, Calgary Herald reports.
"I therefore conclude that the potential harm posed by salmon farms to Fraser River sockeye salmon is serious or irreversible," he added.
While more research is still needed, he said that the fisheries minister should ban net pens in the Discovery Islands by September 2020, unless he is sure they represent only minimal risk to Fraser River sockeye, The Victoria Times Colonist reports.
“In the meantime, if there is any sign that there is a more than minimal risk, they should be prohibited immediately,” he said. “I accept the evidence that devastating disease could sweep through the wild populations, killing large numbers of wild fish without scientists being aware of it.”
Cohen called for new criteria for fish farm locations and warned of conflicting interests.
“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) should seek to approve only the best sites to avoid the negative impacts on wild stocks, rather than the best sites to provide farmed salmon,” he said. “When DFO has simultaneous mandates to conserve wild stocks and promote the salmon farming industry, there are circumstances when it finds itself in conflict of interest because of divided loyalties.”
The inquiry commenced after a collapse of the sockeye salmon run in 2009, when only 1.4 million salmon returned to spawn instead of the expected 10 million. In 2010, 35 million fish returned — the biggest run in almost a century — but the general trend over two decades has been a steady drop.
Canada needs changes in salmon management and DFO must conduct more research to make up for insufficient data, the report says, as contaminants, diseases and especially warming water are all stressors that feed off each other.
“The warming water is the elephant in the room that we cannot ignore,” he said.
Cohen disapproved of the federal government’s legislative changes introduced before he issued his report.
“My concern is that the amendments to the Fisheries Act are focused more on fisheries than on habitat,” he said. “You can’t have healthy wild fish if you don’t have healthy habitats.”
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By Natalia Real