Last week, B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s government gave the green light to allow yet another salmon farm in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. If you’ve read anything about the state of the salmon farming industry as of late, this will likely sound counterintuitive to you. Until yesterday, Greenpeace and other groups maybe held a bit of hope that the Feds, who had yet to give their final stamp, would for once take a precautionary approach and hold off on any new site approvals in the area. Unfortunately, as usual, the Feds chose the salmon farming industry over the health of our ailing marine ecosystems and wild salmon stocks.

Despite the weak state of local wild salmon stocks, various disease outbreaks in existing farms in the area, the pending verdict of the Cohen Commission Inquiry into the Decline of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon, and the clear opposition to this new site by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and seven well-known environmental organizations including Friends of Clayoquot Sound, Living Oceans Society, David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Wilderness Committee, T. Buck Suzuki Foundation, and Greenpeace, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans decided yesterday that the 21st farm addition to the area was worth the potential risk. 

Let it be well known that no wild salmon population anywhere in the world has thrived in close proximity to salmon farms. Some researchers have argued that the proof is in the pudding on our east coast where farms are plentiful and wild Atlantic salmon are listed as an endangered species. With this harsh reality flashing like a red light, yesterday the concerned groups above sent a letter to Premier Clark for the second time since Mainstream Canada proposed the 55-hectare salmon farm at Meares Island, near Plover Point. The letter denounced the approval and requested an explanation for a clearly misguided decision. Among the noted reasons for our opposition to this site approval is the continued refusal of the government to address the mounting concerns that the pathogens being found on B.C. salmon farms are not only impacting farmed salmon but that they threaten the future of our wild stocks.

Clayoquot Sound salmon runs, particularly Chinook salmon, are in dramatic decline, with some runs now being counted in the tens, rather than in the tens of thousands. Meanwhile, disease outbreaks have been reported at Clayoquot farms this year, not a new phenomenon. Highly contagious pathogens including Infectious Haematopoietic Necrosis virus (IHN), Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISAv) and infectious pancreatic necrosis (IPN) have been reported, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has started a two-year, coast-wide pathogen surveillance program to get a more complete picture of the situation in British Columbia’s wild salmon.

The picture in the Canadian retail market is clearer. Canada’s supermarket chains are beginning to realize that selling highly controversial and unsustainable seafood products like open net-pen farmed salmon doesn’t fit with their sustainable sourcing policies and one, Overwaitea Food Group, took a bold step and stopped selling this product in its stores. Innovative companies are finding new, smarter ways to raise fish and customers are realizing the value in keeping it wild in our oceans.

It’s a shame that the government of our west coast and the Federal governmental departments responsible for ensuring the health of our marine life continue to have their head stuck in the net-pen.