This week I learned that the fish farm companies operating along B.C.’s coast want to up production. They’re seeking approval for about double what they are currently licensed to produce. What does this actually mean for the sea critters living in these waters? Trouble.

In Canada, salmon and other saltwater-loving finfish (fish with fins as opposed to fish with shells) are grown in giant net cages suspended from the top of the sea and anchored to the bottom. Millions of fish swim around and around in circles on these farms, brewing up a toxic stew of uneaten feed, fish waste, occasional chemical inputs, and a local favourite- sea lice. Putting aside the fact that a salmon farm with 200,000 fish releases roughly the same amount of fecal matter as the untreated sewage of 65,000 people, and trying to ignore that these fish are fed feed containing wild fish that could be used to nourish coastal people that rely on it for their primary source of protein, we’re still left with perhaps the most devastating consequence of all, the transfer of parasites from these farmed fish to our ailing wild salmon stocks.

Fish farms line critical migration routes for wild salmon in areas such as the northern Georgia Strait and the Broughton Archipelago, which is also a rich salmon nursery. Recent studies have shown that there is an association between salmon farms and sea lice infestations of wild juvenile pink and chum salmon in the Broughton Archipelago and juvenile pink, chum, and sockeye salmon, as well as, larval herring in the Discovery Islands. Juveniles can’t take infestations like adult fish, and only a few lice can lead to death. Because of the high infestation rates, it has been predicted that pink salmon could go extinct in the Broughton Archipelago.

For all of these reasons, in addition to many others, farmed Atlantic salmon found itself a place on Greenpeace Canada’s Redlist. Until current unsustainable practices are rectified by decreasing as opposed to increasing production and a transition is make to closed containment systems that separate farmed fish from our delicate marine ecosystems, buying farmed salmon isn’t a choice any of us should be making.

When we think about wild B.C. salmon many of us think about how tasty it is with a wedge of lemon or a nice buttery white sauce, but we often forget that our famous B.C. orcas, our bears, other fish and our coastal First Nations, rely on our wild salmon stocks as a primary food source.

Perhaps Premier Campbell and his friends at DFO should take a moment to remember why we farm Atlantic salmon in the first place- because they’ve pretty well vanished from the wild in Canada. While salmon farms may not have completely led to their annihilation, they surely aren’t aiding their recovery. If we’re not careful B.C.’s wild salmon such as pinks could join their Atlantic counterparts as one of Canada’s prized, but now commercially extinct, endangered species. Premier Campbell needs to say no to more farmed fish and yes to the protection of wild.