I have recently read Alexandra Morton’s book recording her battle against industrial salmon farming in British Columbia.
Her journey begins as an idealistic budding whale biologist who relocated to the Broughton Archipelago on Queen Charlotte Strait on the sheltered side of Vancouver Island in order to study orca in their natural environment.
She soon realized that the clan of orca that she had hoped study had been badly affected due to industrial salmon farms massively polluting wild salmon migration routes with sea lice and introduced salmon viruses.
The wild salmon returns crashed to the point where the local orca could no longer be sustained on the fish which had sustained them before the arrival of the salmon pens.
Once this determined woman realized the scale of the wild salmon losses she devoted the next thirty years of her life learning about sea lice and salmon viruses, clashing with the global salmon farmers and the provincial and federal Canadian government agencies that covered up the disaster that unfolded.
This is an important story as Alexandra Morten ultimately succeeded in getting salmon farms banned from this part of British Columbia with the help of Greenpeace and her community in particular the Native Americans who had retained some control of this region.
The damage that diseased salmon farms has caused along the main wild salmon migration route between the northern Pacific Ocean and the Fraser River, a major tributary on the Canadian side the Columbia River, has impacted on wild life, (starving bears), recreational fisheries, and commercial fisheries, and sustenance fisheries of Native Americans.
I was first alerted to this story after watching Salmon Confidential on U-tube.
Click and watch this link!
Lessons for New Zealand
When I elected to go to Scotland in 1988/89 to study to become a fish vet, little did I realize that I would be confronted with the dark side of industrial fish farming.
Modern fish farming has a very recent history dating only from the 1970s.
Like land based industrial farming such as New Zealand’s dairy industry, there is promise of great profits attracting global capital and Government interest.
Sadly politicians have a short attention span with a desire to be credited with being associated with the next big thing. With little knowledge beyond the headlines, both major political parties in New Zealand see aquaculture as a potential economic saviour of this country.
The history of salmon farming, and other modern aquaculture ventures have left a trail of destruction both in terms of loss of capital and global spread of infectious fish diseases.
A key cause of both is a lack of understanding of the true financial costs involved and limited technical support in terms of the ability to diagnose and/or manage disease.
This is a disaster when promoters oversell the promise of aquaculture to governments seeking simple solutions to society’s complex and costly problems.
New Zealand and Ireland are the last countries that still have to wake up and see modern aquaculture for what it is – factory farming in water with all its attendant consequences.
The New Zealand government has been dishonest in “managing” a salmon disease incursion into New Zealand, the so called NZ Rickettsia like organism (NZ-RLO).
Rather than treat a recently diagnosed disease at New Zealand King Salmon Marlborough Sounds sites as a probable exotic disease incursion, it seems for political and economic reasons MPI chose to assume this disease, (which MPI were unable to identify until NZKS had sent samples to laboratories in Chile), as a disease that was already present in New Zealand.
“Global Warming” is a convenient half truth. Pacific salmon can survive the higher summer water temperatures in the outer Sounds if they are not being challenged by a massive loading of pathogens in their confined cages.
Once pathogens are present in our rivers and oceans, there is no going back.
New Zealand advocates for our recreational fisheries can take heart from Alexandra Morton’s win, but we should also learn from her experience that we are buying into a fight that will take decades in the face of industry spin and government collusion.
It takes a special person to commit against such forces.
Dr Peter Trolove