By Clare Backman
Published: September 29, 2009 5:00 PM
North Island Gazette
Teresa Bird’s story on Sept. 16 (Salmon returns unexpected) is good news for all who value BC’s wild Pacific salmon.
However, it’s also disconcerting to know we lack sufficient information to predict returns of pink salmon and other species.
When it comes to the health of pink salmon in the Broughton Archipelago, much emphasis in recent years has been on the interaction between farmed salmon, wild salmon and sea lice.
The question has been: Do sea lice incubate on farmed salmon and transfer to pink salmon migrating away from Broughton streams and cause significant mortality of juvenile wild fish?
There has been debate around this question and independent research. Results of research now provide a better understanding of this relationship, but neither a clean bill of health nor a smoking gun; what we still have is a level of uncertainty that calls for precautionary measures.
A corporate sustainability report done by Marine Harvest in 2008 shows sea lice is an issue of concern and demonstrates that sea lice management is an important task worldwide.
Marine Harvest Canada has been adapting its practices in the Broughton, taking a more precautionary approach to sea lice at individual farms and throughout the area.
The focus has been on the pink salmon out migration, from when pink fry begin emerging from natal streams in early March until the juvenile fish have entered Queen Charlotte Strait at the end of June.
Working with the provincial government, DFO and environmental groups, we have increased monitoring for sea lice on our farms, implemented targeted and strategic application of the therapeutant SLICE, participated in sea lice surveys on juvenile wild fish conducted by DFO and independent researchers. In 2009, in cooperation with the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform—an independent sea lice monitoring program was initiated and we proposed a coordinated area management plan (CAMP) for our Broughton operations.
If fully implemented, the CAMP proposal will ensure that, during the juvenile pink salmon out migration season that one corridor, either Tribune-Fife or Lower Knight would be free of farm-raised salmon.
The only impediment to fully implementing CAMP, a proposal supported by the Pacific Salmon Forum, has been the approval of farm-level amendments required to enact the program, which were long ago submitted to the provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.
How does this relate to strong pink returns in the Broughton and elsewhere? Have the efforts of Marine Harvest and our partners contributed to the good news? Is it due to the actions of others or something yet to be understood in the ocean?
As your article noted, we don’t know, but we plan to continue to reduce the likelihood that our farms are negatively impacting wild salmon.
To do this we need continued efforts from the environmental community, the governments of Canada and B.C., and coastal stakeholders throughout the region.
The good news story of the pink salmon this year needs to be repeated for years to come.