Sea Lice Now a Legal Matter


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
February 4, 2009

Diseases and pests have long dogged the farmed salmon industry. Recent supplies have suffered and could dip further this year as Chilean producers continue to wrestle with infectious salmon anemia (ISA). But the impact of salmon farms on wild salmon stocks has been a dramatic case study in discord, centering on sea lice, an ocean-going pest that feeds mainly on salmon. It may soon be up to a Canadian court to decide how the wild-versus-farmed dynamic will evolve.

Yesterday the Kwicksutaineuk and Ah-Kwa-Mish First Nations (KAFN) filed a class-action lawsuit in British Columbia Supreme Court against the provincial government, claiming farmed salmon in open-ocean net pens have harmed wild salmon. Their territory, the Broughton Archipelago north of Vancouver Island, has been ground zero for the sea lice debate in recent years. The KAFN argues that the provincial government is responsible by authorizing 29 farms to operate near juvenile salmon runs.

A December 2007 study by Martin Krkosek of the University of Alberta concluded that wild pink salmon north of Vancouver Island had shown harmful effects of sea lice infestation. Krkosek used a computer model to analyze pink salmon runs in 64 rivers without exposure to salmon farms as well as seven rivers in the Broughton Archipelago area where young fish migrate past at least one salmon farm.

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans disputed the findings, saying that a high mortality rate due to one source was “unrealistic” and that the study excluded pertinent data while ignoring other environmental influences.

After being “patient,” KAFN Chief Bob Chamberlain says suing the provincial government was necessary because wild salmon runs throughout their territory “are in a sustained and serious decline; some salmon runs may become extinct and never be replaced. The salmon have existed here as long as we have, and it is essential to the survival of our distinct aboriginal culture that plentiful stocks of wild salmon survive.” KAFN wants the province to admit its wrongdoing in authorizing the farms as well as an injunction on future aquaculture permits.

There isn’t a more divisive issue within the seafood industry than wild versus farmed salmon, but the separate interests must learn to coexist. While the KAFN is right in saying that the survival of wild salmon is paramount, the need for farmed salmon also cannot be questioned. There is no way that global wild stocks can meet the demand for salmon.

The world’s salmon-farming nations are in a quandary. It’s high time to implement disease and pest solutions (such as closed containment systems or strict bay-management regimes as employed in Atlantic Canada) before lawyers and judges make decisions on their behalf.

Thank you,
James Wright
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business

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