Irresponsible Conservative Goverment : The alarming situation of BC’s salmon aquaculture environmental impacts

According to the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans, salmon aquaculture is becoming increasingly important for the Canadian economy being valued at about $1 billion and producing about 14 500 jobs1.  The majority of Canadian aquaculture (58%) occurs in British Columbia (BC) with salmon accounting for 68% of the total production ­[1].  This way of producing fish produces beneficial economic output and provides consumers with alternatives to harvested fish.  Some may argue that this could help protect declining wild fish populations, but aquaculture is not without severe environmental consequences [2].

Indeed, salmon farming is one of the most damaging types of aquaculture.  The industry uses open net-cages that are placed directly in waterways to grow their salmon.  Hence, diseases, wastes, chemicals and parasites are directly released in the surrounding environment with dire consequences.  One of the most alarming effects is the release of the sea lice parasite which can cause serious problems to wild sockeye salmon population numbers [3].

Sea lice are small marine parasites that occur naturally in wild salmon populations.  They attach themselves to fish and then feed off on fish mucous or skin.  Fish farms are ideal breeding grounds for such parasites as thousands of fish are confined to a small environment.  The open net cages system for growing fish can thus permit the release of very high numbers of sea lice that are not expected to occur naturally [4].  When juvenile salmon hatch and make their way from the rivers to the oceans, they are exposed to these high lice numbers [5].  Since juvenile salmon are not fully developed, their bodies are not able to cope with the parasite and this may cause mortality.  It is estimated that as few as 1 to 3 lice can kill a juvenile sockeye salmon [6].  In 2007, a study published in the prestigious journal Science demonstrated that this mortality from parasites was causing significant declines in wild salmon populations, potentially leading to extinction [7].

One might expect the Canadian government to take measures to protect natural sockeye salmon populations when faced with this very strong scientific evidence.  However, even after the publication of the Cohen report [8], a commission of inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River, the federal government has not taken any action into protecting wild salmon.  The Cohen report issued several recommendations to protect wild salmon from open net fish farming environmental impacts including applying the precautionary principle and removing farms in vulnerable areas [9].  These recommendations also included a moratorium for the study area of the report.

Despite the recommendations provided in the Cohen report, the federal government has recently lifted a 2011 old moratorium on the issuing of new fish farm licences as it plans to open the door to fish farm expansions in BC [10].  Hence the Harper government shows its carelessness regarding environmental matters, by once again focusing on irresponsible economic growth.  Sadder still, is that some studies indicate that the economic contribution of salmon farming is less than that provided by the wild salmon fishery [11].


However, solutions to the deleterious effects of open net-cages are not impossible.  Indeed, the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CARR) affirms that transitioning from open net-cage technology to closed containment systems would greatly reduce the adverse environmental effects of salmon farming and lead to more sustainable development of this industry [12].  Land farming of salmon is also stated as a possible alternative for sustainable aquaculture.  It is shocking to see no mention of closed containment systems or land farming in the National Aquaculture Strategic Action Plan Initiative [13] and that the government has restarted issuing licences for open net-cages.  All in all, if the Conservative government was even slightly responsible, it would maintain the moratorium on open net-cages farms and only issue licences to the least harmful farming techniques, thus applying the precautionary principle mentioned in the Cohen report.


Fig 4. Protesters against salmon farming. Source :



    1.  DFO. (2012). A Report on Aquaculture Sustainability. Retrieved 01 20, 2014, from Departement of Fisheries and Oceans : Aquaculture:
    2. CAAR. (n.d.). Environmental Impacts. Retrieved 01 19, 2013, from Farmed and Dangerous:
    3.  CARR. (n.d.). Sea Lice. Retrieved 01 19, 2014, from Farmed and Dangerous:
    4. Krkošek, M., Bateman, A., Proboszcz, S., & Orr, C. (2010). Dynamics of outbreak and control of salmon lice on two salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago, British Columbia. Aquaculture Environment Interactions1, 137-146.
    5. Price, M. H., Proboszcz, S. L., Routledge, R. D., Gottesfeld, A. S., Orr, C., & Reynolds, J. D. (2011). Sea louse infection of juvenile sockeye salmon in relation to marine salmon farms on Canada’s west coast. PloS one6(2), e16851.
    6. Morton, A. and R. D. Routledge (2005). Mortality rates for Juvenile Pink Oncorhynchus gorbushca and Chum O. keta salmon infested with Sea Lice Lepeophtheirus salmonis in the Broughton ArchipelagoThe Alaska Fisheries Research Bulletin. 11(2): 146-152
    7. Krkošek, M., Ford, J. S., Morton, A., Lele, S., Myers, R. A. and Lewis, M. A. (2007). Declining wild salmon populations in relation to parasites from farm salmon. Science 318: 1772-1775.
    8. Cohen, B. (2012, 10). Uncertain Future of Fraser River Sockeye. Retrieved 01 20, 2014, from Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in Fraser River.
    9. Gillis, D. (2012, 10 31). Cohen Commission gets tough on Fish Farms. Retrieved 01 19, 2014, from TheCommonSenseCanadian:
    10. O’Neil, P. (2014, 01 16). Ottawa opens door to fish farm expansion, and applications flood in. Retrieved 01 19, 2014, from Vancouver Sun:
    11.  CARR. (n.d.). Economic Impacts. Retrieved 01 19, 2014, from Farmed and Dangerous:
    12. CARR. (n.d.). Solutions. Retrieved 01 19, 2014, from Farmed and Dangerous:
    13. DFO. (2010). National Aquaculture Strategic Action Plan Initiative. Retrieved 01 20, 2014, from Department of Fisheries and Oceans : Aquaculture:

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