To understand just how important wild salmon are to the people of BC, consider this: a 2011 public opinion poll showed wild salmon are as culturally important to British Columbians as the French language is to Quebeckers.
It is no overstatement. Wild salmon underpin the west coast ecosystem, contribute billions to the economy through fisheries and wildlife tourism, and are central to First Nations culture.
This year's collapse of the mighty Fraser sockeye -- once the world's largest sockeye run -- is an ominous sign that our wild salmon stand on the brink. So it is out of desperation that we appeal to our fellow Canadians: Please, help us convince our federal government to end its war on wild salmon.
The war on wild salmon escalated during the Harper years as wild salmon were viewed as mere complications to environmental assessments of resource development projects. A year into the Trudeau Liberal government, it appears little has changed.
Just look no further than the broken promise bonanza that is the approval of the Pacific Northwest LNG mega-project. It backtracks on Liberal climate target promises and offends First Nations who were expecting more after grandiose talk of reconciliation.
Scientists also warn that it will likely result in the destruction of BC's second largest sockeye run.
The latter seems of little concern to the government department traditionally responsible for protecting our fish stocks. In fact, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' (DFO) mission statement no longer includes the protection of Canada's fish, instead, aiming to support the expansion of aquaculture. A big part of this is salmon farming, controlled by three Norwegian-run corporate giants.
The salmon farming industry has a long history of 'disappearing' wild salmon wherever it operates. The industry vehemently denies all responsibility, but even insiders say it is no coincidence: the largest shareholder of Norway's Marine Harvest (the largest feedlot operator in BC), broke the industry's code of silence in 2007, stating his concern that salmon farms help kill off wild salmon populations.
Our own government has shown much less concern, despite a stockpile of scientific evidence. The rise of salmon farming in BC coincides precisely with the Fraser sockeye's decline. Only those parts of the run that avoid salmon farms on their path out to sea have increased (below).
In reality, salmon farms are industrial feedlots with similar problems to land-based factory farms - waste and disease. But while land-based feedlots are isolated from the surrounding environment, open-pen salmon farms purposely use our coastal waters as dumping grounds, using the current to carry away the tonnes of raw sewage each one creates daily.
Tidal currents also spread fish parasites and disease that thrive in the unnaturally cramped conditions of salmon farms.
Sea lice, a parasite amplified by salmon farms, have been implicated in the decline of wild salmon and sea trout around the world. It is a problem the industry can't seem to control - this year, young salmon near salmon farms had the highest levels of sea lice in over a decade. Even a single louse attached to a young salmon can be deadly.
The real ticking time bomb, however, are exotic salmon viruses, imported into BC waters, for which our wild salmon have little to no immunity. Only a few months ago, the DFO confirmed the presence of a devastating disease linked to one such virus in BC farmed salmon - piscine reovirus.
Non-governmental scientists raised the alarm in 2013, after finding evidence of a Norwegian strain of the virus in most farmed salmon in BC. It was also found in our wild salmon.
Piscine reovirus can weaken wild salmon, making them unable to complete the long, difficult upstream journey to their spawning grounds.
But here's the really diabolical part: salmon farmers have been knowingly putting virus-infected smolts into BC waters for years, while our government turned a blind eye. Incredibly, the Harper government even appealed a court ruling to continue to allow salmon farmers to do so. The Trudeau Liberals appear equally determined.
The practice is almost certainly illegal. Section 56 of the Fisheries Act states that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans must ensure that farmed fish are free of disease before allowing their transfer into our ocean. It will likely take a new lawsuit filed against the Minister by Ecojustice and biologist Alexandra Morton to force the government to follow their own laws and test farmed salmon smolts for piscine reovirus.
Clearly the evidence-based policy the Trudeau government promised us has not yet reached the DFO. Responding to the collapse of the Fraser sockeye, the Minister's 'renewed commitment' to our wild salmon didn't stop him from maintaining their commitment to expand salmon farming.
Fortunately, not everyone in Ottawa is turning a blind eye to science. This fall, parliament will vote on Port Moody-Coquitlam MP Finn Donnelly's private members Bill C-228.
The bill would force all salmon farms to move to a closed containment model, isolated from our coastal waters, preventing the release of parasites and disease that can harm our wild salmon. Closed containment salmon farming is a sustainable, economically viable alternative to the open-pen farms now used in BC.
The world's largest salmon farming company, Marine Harvest, has begun a shift towards closed containment in Norway. Shouldn't we insist foreign companies show the same respect for our environment as they do in their own countries?
Bill C-228 is a common-sense approach that allows the government to pursue its salmon farming agenda, positioning Canada as a leader in sustainable aquaculture, while protecting our wild salmon for generations to come. It is also, quite simply, our best and possibly last hope to save BC's wild salmon.
To pass, it will need Canadians to make it clear to MPs across Canada that BC's wild salmon are worth saving.
Please, visit http://salmon.advokit.ca to send a letter to your MP asking them to vote 'yes' to Bill C-228.
Our orcas, our bears, our fishermen, our children and the First Nations of BC will thank you.
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