“Imagine blood-sucking chickens hanging off you.” Juvenile salmon with sea lice (Tavish Campbell photo)

“Imagine blood-sucking chickens hanging off you.” Juvenile salmon with sea lice (Tavish Campbell photo)

Sea lice outbreak in juvenile salmon prompts First Nations leaders to call for fish farm closures

Wild salmon have higher rates of the parasites when ocean fish farms are near, research shows

The results of a new wild salmon study are skin crawling: 94 per cent of wild salmon fry in the Discovery Islands — to the east of Campbell River — had sea lice attached. The infected fry hosted an average of seven of the parasitic lice.

Sea lice on juvenile salmon can drastically reduce chances of survival, whose small bodies can not handle the damage caused by lice. By rubbing off fish scales and eating the mucus membrane underneath, the lice expose fish to water-born pathogens.

Further north in the Broughton Archipelago where five fish farms were recently closed, numbers are lower: 34 per cent of wild juveniles had an average of 1.3 lice. Nootka and Clayoquot Sounds on the west coast showed 87 and 94 per cent infection rates respectively.

The report was released Thursday, June 25 by B.C.’s First Nations Leadership Council, along with scientist Alexandra Morton who led the study.

The leadership council, made up of political leaders from three main First Nations associations in B.C., officially called for an end to ocean-based fish farms in B.C.

RELATED: After the election: The future of fish farms in the North Island

RELATED: B.C. to move salmon farms out of coastal migration route

‘Namgis First Nation elected chief and hereditary chief Don Svanvik is glad to see other First Nations join the fight. His Nation lives on Cormorant Island in the Broughton Archipelago, and has fought against ocean fish farming for years.

The high numbers of sea lice this spring is a direct result of fish farms dotted along wild salmon migration routes, maintains the report. Adult salmon often swim home to spawn with lice attached, but when they die after laying eggs, the lice would also perish.

“Normally, when the little babies go out, they wouldn’t be swimming through all this lice,” Svanvik said.

However, fish farms provide a docile, year-round host for sea lice. The parasitic lice multiplies in farms, “and shed billions of larvae into the marine currents,” Morton wrote in the report.

“Imagine blood-sucking chickens hanging off you,” Svanvik said.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has established guidelines for acceptable levels of sea lice in fish farms, but self-reported data shows that 35 per cent of B.C. farms exceeded these levels.

Dropping salmon stocks is a serious issue in B.C., with impacts on commercial and recreational fishing, First Nations rights and damages to the ecosystem salmon are a part of.

Sea lice are just one aspect of the drop, which is also attributed to “over-fishing, climate change, sediment from industrial forestry, natural disasters such as the 2019 Big Bar slide, and the introduction of pathogens including Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), and Piscine Orthoreovirus (PRV),” according to the leadership council.

“Never mind how delicious they taste, they’re a keystone species. How much are salmon worth to us if they go extinct? They have huge impacts in the ecosystem. Not just in the water as part of the food chain, but on land too,” Svanvik said.

Norwegian-based fish farm owner Mowi which runs several net farms in B.C. directed the Gazette to speak with the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association for comment, who said in an emailed statement that they would reach out to the Indigenous leaders to “engage them in a dialogue.” They went on to say that “the management of sea lice is an ongoing concern. As an industry we are committed to adopting the newest technologies and processes to be better stewards of the environment.”

The Gazette has also reached out to Fisheries and Oceans’ lead fish veterinarian for comment.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email:
zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

First NationsFish Farmsfishing

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Patricia Taylor and Debra Strut at the Salvation Army on Friday, Nov. 27, handing out winter boots and gift bags to those in need. Taylor says they'll be back until all her supplies are gone.(Mandy Moraes photo)
Parksville residents distribute gifts and winter boots in Salvation Army parking lot

‘I’m hoping to open the eyes of the community to realize that everybody has value’

Qualicum Beach resident Harold MacDougall won $75,000 off a Casino Royale II Scratch & Win ticket, purchased the ticket at Qualicum Foods on Memorial Avenue. (BCLC photo)
Qualicum Beach man $75K richer thanks to scratch-and-win ticket windfall

MacDougall plans on trips to Cape Breton and Scotland

Regional District of Nanaimo will be receiving $1.17 million from the B.C. government in COVID-19 safe restart grant money. (News Bulletin file)
Regional District of Nanaimo directors getting started on budgeting decisions

Proposed tax requisitions for 2021 range from 7.3-per cent increase to 2.2-per cent decrease

David Darmadi, owner of Kalvas - The Log House restaurant, is offering a sweet initiative for SOS. Guests can bring in a new, unwrapped gift or financial donation for SOS, and receive a free dessert. (Lissa Alexander photo)
Sweet initiative to support Parksville Qualicum Beach residents

‘A lot of our guests are very generous and they want to help out’

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement forecasting windy weather Sunday and Monday. (News Bulletin file photo)
More windy weather on the way for Vancouver Island

Environment Canada issues special weather statement for Victoria, east coast of Island, north Island

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

A small crash in the water south of Courtenay Saturday afternoon. Two men had to be rescued, but reports indicate there were no serious injuries. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Small plane crash in Comox Valley waters Saturday afternoon

Two rescued from plane that had flipped in water; no serious injuries reported

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

Most Read