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Expired · 18th November 2009
Ray Grigg
Anyone who cares about wild salmon and tries to reconcile the tolerant attitude of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to the environmentally damaging practices of salmon farming must confront a bewildering question. If DFO is responsible for the well-being of Canada's wild salmon stocks, why does it endorse salmon farming in principle and allow open net-pens in practice when such an industrial practice is a clear risk to wild stocks and causes demonstrable harm to the very species and habitat that DFO is legally mandated to protect?

This question seems unanswerable given the salmon farming industry litany of environmental transgressions – either by intent, negligence or implication. The list of these transgressions is long. And DFO's tolerance of them is mystifying considering the damning evidence accumulating in BC and recorded in other places where salmon farming has a longer history.

The justification for this tolerance, however, may reside in a sobering logic that does make sense if we think large enough.

Globally, the industrial catch of wild fish from the oceans has peaked, despite more effort, more boats, more sophisticated fishing technology and the rising need of protein for a burgeoning human population. Marine biologists warn that current harvest rates are unsustainable and, unless reductions in catch occur, the world's oceans will be empty of fish by 2050. Meanwhile, the production of farmed fish – of which salmon is a small percentage – now exceeds the wild catch for the first time ever. Farmed fish are replacing our depleted supply of wild fish.

Concurrently, the emission of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is acidifying the world's oceans. About a third of the CO2 we emit from industrial activity is added to the atmosphere to cause global warming, a third is absorbed by plants and a third is dissolved into oceans. When carbon dioxide mixes with salt water, it forms carbonic acid, and this process is lowering the ocean's pH – making it more acidic.

How serious is this acidification process? Studies at the Svalbard Archipelago in the Arctic Ocean have found that north pole seawater will likely reach "corrosive" levels of acidity within 10 years. Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso, of France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, told an international oceanographic conference, "We knew that the seas were getting more acidic and this would disrupt the ability of shellfish – like mussels – to grow their shells. But now we realize the situation is much worse. The water will become so acidic it will actually dissolve the shells of living shellfish" (Globe & Mail, Oct. 7/09). The other oceans of the world are also becoming more acidic, and they will follow the fate of the Arctic Ocean. When this happens, the foundation of the marine food chain will collapse and sea life as we know it, including wild salmon, will cease to exist.

As well as acidifying, oceans are also warming – indeed, oceans are the principal heat sink that has been absorbing most of the planet's warming. Warmer water contains less dissolved oxygen. Salmon, like other fish, breathe this vital gas. The research of Gary Shaffer at the University of Denmark calculates that in a worst case-scenario, the 400-plus "dead zones" in the world's oceans could increase 20-fold if we don't control greenhouse gas emissions (New Scientist, Jan. 31/09). Less oxygen means less vital salmon and lower survival rates at sea.

Warming oceans also mean changing marine ecologies, shifting currents, altered salinity and adverse feeding conditions for sea-faring salmon. Traditional food supplies are disrupted as the usual micro-organisms of the food chain either disappear or move out of synchronization with the salmon's feeding requirements. Unknown numbers of salmon are also being lost to tropical predators that are moving northward to warmer waters.

One of the most crucial conditions for wild salmon survival is water temperature in their nascent rivers and streams. Evidence is mounting that global warming may be heating these critically important ecologies beyond tolerable limits. Thus the failed return of nearly 10 million Fraser River sockeye in 2009 becomes both a local and an international story. Britain's Guardian Weekly (Sept. 11/09) reports that "the Fraser River canyon reached a record 21°C on 4 August, 2.5°C higher than normal. The sockeye swims more slowly when water temperature exceeds 18°C, shows signs of physiological stress and has migratory difficulties above 19°C, with the first signs of sickness and death setting in at 20°C."

Additional to all this adversity is the gauntlet of lice and disease from open net pen salmon farms that out-migrating smolts must pass on their way to sea.

Taken together, this accumulation of adversity presents an unpromising prognosis for the long-term health of wild salmon populations along BC's coast. But it does suggest an explanation for DFO's official endorsement of salmon farming and for the tolerance it has shown to the industry's damaging environmental presence.

Is it possible that DFO is anticipating the eventual demise of BC's wild salmon – indeed, the entire global fishery – and is attempting to extend our supply of fish by accommodating the transition to a farmed substitute? Opportunity is presented by the eager presence of the salmon farming industry. A sobering strategy that may be sound in principle is just a little premature because some runs of wild salmon are still healthy.

The federal government's announcement of a judicial inquiry on the recent salmon crisis will place important witnesses under oath and may answer this and other crucial questions.
Save Wild Salmon
Comment by reddfish on 22nd December 2009
Dirty Oil sands and dirtier CLEAN coal will lead to empty WARM oceans and BC logging of WATERsheds and CAL. putting $'s and agriculture before fish is par for the course eh, I've read that a bullionaire has a few Politicians in his pocket who are trying to get HIS water back for his crops after a fish kill from lack of water. Canada and Norway signed a Memorandum Of Understanding in March 10,2009, they plan to work on AQUACULTURE AND OFF SHORE GAS AND OIL EXPLORATION, so we know where your government is going. Norway is finding out that sealice are becoming immune to SLICE the poison used to control them,bigger stronger poisons are required, their wild stocks are dying but there is money to be made.