The sea lice parasite problem

Salmon farm pens are tightly packed with hundreds of thousands of adult farm salmon, thus becoming an ideal breeding ground for parasitic sea lice to proliferate. Even if sea lice numbers are reduced by using toxic delousing chemicals, such as Slice, there are still enough sea lice to disperse through the open-net cage openings and attach themselves to the susceptible juvenile wild salmon. Salmon farms are situated in channels, inlets and bays close to shore, where they are near stream mouths or along migration routes. Juvenile wild salmon have to swim by these sea lice producing farms and are infected and killed during their spring migration from their home stream out to sea.

Peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown up to 80% mortality of wild pink salmon populations in the Broughton Archipelago, a group of islands, inlets and channels between northeastern Vancouver Island and the mainland coast with the highest concentration of salmon farms in BC.  If nothing is done, it is predicted that pink salmon populations in the Broughton Archipelago will be extinct within 8 years.  

Preliminary studies have demonstrated sea lice impacts on wild salmon and herring on the Fraser River migration route in northern Georgia Strait, as salmon returns on the Fraser plummeted in 2008.  The Fraser is the largest salmon river in the world.

Global Loss of Protein problem

Salmon are carnivores. It takes 2 to 8kg of wild fish ground into feed (depending on feed type) to produce 1kg of farmed salmon. This results in a net loss of protein worldwide. Wild fish, such as anchovies and sardines, are being over fished, especially off the Pacific coast of South America, to feed salmon farms and less are available to feed local people and penguins. Raising carnivores is simply unsustainable. We don’t raise carnivores, such as tigers, on land for food as it is an inefficient and wasteful use of protein.

Other impacts to the marine environment and human health

There are several other problems with salmon farming that have been well documented. Viral and bacterial disease can spread from farmed to wild salmon. Salmon farms in BC collectively dump the estimated equivalent raw sewage of a city of 500,000 people, which negatively impacts the surrounding sea floor and marine life. Toxic chemicals from salmon farms – like delousing pesticides (such as Slice) and antibiotics routinely fed to farmed salmon, along with anti-fungal agents coating the net pens – spread to the marine ecosystem and also to your dinner plate.

Higher levels of toxins, up to 10 times more, have been found in farmed salmon as compared to wild salmon. Contaminants such as PCBs, dioxins, pesticides, and PBDEs (used as fire retardants) pose a risk to human health and the marine environment.

Most farms raise Atlantic salmon, which frequently escape during accidents, (sometimes in the tens or hundreds of thousands), and compete for food and habitat with wild Pacific salmon. Marine mammals that swim near salmon farms, such as seals and sea lions are often shot to prevent them from getting into the farm net pens.

Inaction from governments threaten wild salmon

Inadequate legislation, regulation and enforcement by both the federal and provincial governments of the salmon farming industry have added to the threats to wild salmon stocks. From the federal auditor general and the federal standing senate committee on fisheries, to the recent BC special legislative committee on aquaculture and BC Pacific salmon forum, as well as other independent and government panels and bodies, comes the same message: stronger enforceable legislation and regulation is needed to protect wild salmon. So far, the only recent action is the 2007 BC provincial government moratorium on salmon farms for the north coast of BC. Otherwise, new salmon farm licences and expansions to existing farms continue to be approved.

In February 2009, a BC Supreme Court decision, spearheaded by Alexandra Morton, Wilderness Tourism Association and various commercial fisher organizations, has designated salmon farming management to solely fall under federal government jurisdiction. This transition will take a year, until February 2010. Thus both federal and provincial governments still share salmon farming management and regulation, neither taking full responsibility, at least until February 2010 when the transfer is concluded.


The provincial and federal governments need to immediately shutdown farms along wild salmon migration routes and then remove open-net cage salmon farms as soon as possible along the entire coast of BC to protect wild salmon, especially from sea lice.  Raising salmon in closed containers, either on land or on sea, could potentially solve some of the problems, such as minimizing marine mammal culling, farmed salmon escapes, as well as sea lice, disease, sewage and toxin transfer between the farm pens and the marine ecosystem. While closed containment would be a good first step, the Wilderness Committee believes that salmon farming is intrinsically unsustainable because of the global loss of protein when raising carnivores, and toxic drugs and chemicals needed to raise salmon end up on people’s dinner plates. Therefore both levels of government also need to commit and implement a 5-year phase out plan of salmon farms, of any type, as they are unsustainable.

Other types of sustainable aquaculture could be explored, such as raising herbivorous/vegetarian fish, such as Tilapia and others, on land in a closed container where the sustainability issues could be addressed.  Aquaculture has been done sustainably in Asia for thousands of years in waste recycling closed loop permaculture systems.

Take action

Wild salmon need strong political leadership. Please write the BC Premier and Prime Minster of Canada and let them know how strongly you feel about government taking action to protect wild Pacific salmon before they go the way of the Atlantic cod.