A group that looks out for the welfare of Vancouver Island’s famed Clayoquot Sound is voicing concerns over a move by a Norwegian-owned company to install a new fish farm in the area, which was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2000.
Mainstream Canada is applying for a 55-hectare salmon farm in Plover Point on Meares Island, located in the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve.
Transport Canada has already approved the environmental assessment, and Mainstream is currently awaiting license approval from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and from the B.C. government for the seabed lease.
If approved, the number of salmon farm sites in the UNESCO reserve would total 21.
We have some very strong critics who want to remove salmon farming, period.
— Laurie Jensen, Mainstream Canada
Tofino-based Friends of Clayoquot Sound (FOCS) says that with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in the midst of an investigation into Infectious Haematopoietic Necrosis virus (IHN) in wild salmon, this is not the time to be expanding salmon farming.
In May, Mainstream reported an outbreak of IHN on one of their open net-cage salmon farms in Clayoquot Sound. The farm was subsequently culled of diseased fish.
IHN is endemic to wild salmon, and at low concentrations is not deadly to them. However, the high number of salmon in farming pens causes IHN to spread quickly, notes FOCS campaigns director Bonny Glambeck.
“Fish farms are very densely populated and they amplify viruses. The viruses mutate and become more virulent and also the quantity of them is higher, and so this can pose a risk to wild fish.”
Dr. Kristi Miller, head of the Molecular Genetics section at the Pacific Biological Station, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), found Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISAv) on two Clayoquot Sound salmon farms late last year.
Both IHN and ISAv are highly contagious and can cause mortality in wild and farmed salmon. The threat to wild salmon is one of the reasons why expansion of fish farms in the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve is opposed by several groups, including Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations.
Laurie Jensen, Mainstream’s communications and corporate sustainability manager, says salmon infected with IHN were removed from the site and composted, which she notes is the best way to prevent the disease from spreading. The pens were disinfected to kill the virus.
“You have to remember that wild salmon have these natural diseases,” she says.
“It’s not a big scary thing that some people are trying to make it out to be—every time you eat anything wild it’s got diseases and viruses.”
Sockeye Decline Ominous
FOCS, which is opposed to both logging and fish farming in the area, also questions increasing the number of fish farms before the findings of the Cohen Commission are released on Sept. 30.
The commission examined the causes of declining sockeye salmon populations in the Fraser River.
Glambeck says the decline of the sockeye is significant for the industry and the environment.
“What we’re witnessing here is the equivalent of the collapse of the East Coast cod.”
It’s a globally significant wilderness area with many endangered species that all rely on the [wild] salmon.
— Bonny Glambeck, FOCS
A July 2011 internal memo from DFO deputy minister Claire Dansereau called for a halt on the approval of any new fish farms until the Cohen Commission’s findings were released—but recommended an exception for Mainstream’s Plover Point application.
Glambeck calls the decision to allow the application “reckless” given the May IHN outbreak.
“We don’t understand why they won’t make an exception for a UNESCO biosphere reserve. It’s a globally significant wilderness area with many endangered species that all rely on the [wild] salmon.”
Despite the UNESCO biosphere designation, only a portion of Clayoquot Sound is protected from industrial activities.
Jensen says Mainstream is following UNESCO requirements.
“Aquaculture has been an approved activity in the biosphere. There are some areas that are designated as marine parks and pristine areas, and those we don’t farm in.”
She says Mainstream is transparent about its operations, adding that people should educate themselves about fish farming.
“People should not just believe one side of the story. We have some very strong critics who want to remove salmon farming, period. They don’t want it to be more sustainable—they don’t want anything. They just want it removed from their area, and that’s the ‘not in my backyard’ mentality.”
FOCS sent an open letter to Premier Christy Clark Wednesday calling on her to postpone any decision on Mainstream’s Plover Point application. The letter is signed by Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations and seven environmental groups including Greenpeace and the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform.
“It would be irresponsible for DFO to approve this application before the recommendations from Justice Cohen and the CFIA are released,” says Glambeck.
Melissa Shaw is a journalism student living in Toronto.