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Walking for wild salmon
Expired · 18th April 2010
Ray Grigg
Exasperation is often the inventor of heroic enterprises. Maybe this is the most succinct explanation for Alexandra Morton's "Get Out Migration", a trek to Victoria that is protesting the environmentally damaging effects of open net-pen salmon farms on BC's West Coast.

The final louse that seems to have inspired her decision to begin this journey was an innocuous article in the industry's magazine, Intrafish. It contended that the significant infection source for the epidemic of sea lice devastating wild salmon smolts wasn't the gauntlet of farms they must pass on their out-migration to the sea but sticklebacks, little bottom fish that have always been part of the sea louse's life cycle. This contention was so transparently vacuous that exasperation seems to have be Morton's only appropriate reaction. Even worse, as she wrote in her e-mail bulletin of March 15th, "our government scientists appeared to agree", even though "the non government scientific community of BC have thoroughly and repeatedly trounced this, and yet here is it again."

The Intrafish claim is symbolic of the growing fiasco surrounding the industrial farming of salmon along BC's coast. Government scientists and agencies seem to be acting in collusion with the industry against overwhelming evidence from independent scientists and actual historical experience in Norway, Scotland, Ireland and Chile. This evidence concludes that diseases, parasites and pollution from industrial salmon farming are ultimately a disaster for wild stocks.

Indeed, the barrage and intensity of recent criticism levelled at the industry has been withering – their dogged denials would be farcical if the ecological implications were not so serious. The loss of nearly 11 million out-migrating Fraser River sockeye was just one of a litany of events implicating open net-pen operations with damage to wild fish. The latest scathing condemnation – not counting the unsolicited warning from Norway's former Attorney General that "if you want to protect wild salmon then you have to move salmon farms away from migration routes"– comes from the prestigious Salmon & Trout Association of the United Kingdom, a 107 year-old organization with 100,000 members (Globe & Mail, Mar. 29/10).

The S&TA's findings are damning. It reports that a careful examination of peer reviewed scientific studies, "reveals a devastating catalogue of malpractice in the way salmon farming is impacting wild salmon, sea trout and the marine environment, and provides incontrovertible proof that it is a sword of Damocles suspended over some of Scotland's most iconic natural resources." It accuses the salmon farming industry "of precipitating an environmental disaster" because of its sea lice, escaped fish and pollution. "The scientific literature unequivocally demonstrates that fish farms, as presently constructed and operated, are having a disastrous impact on native fisheries, the wider environment, and the many public benefits associated with it." The findings emphasize the importance of the Precautionary Principle and insist on "the government's statutory responsibility, and the industry's moral one, to protect... wild salmon and sea trout – before it is too late." The solution it recommends is closed containment, precisely what a BC government panel advised to solve the problem here. Because our biologically rich West Coast is at risk of far greater ecological impact, Morton's desperate concern for the safety of wild salmon is more than justified.

Since government inaction here seems to be some combination of stalling, evasion, ineptitude or collusion, Morton has decided to try something even more dramatic than the numerous legal actions she has initiated over the years. "Therefore," she writes, "I have decided it is time to take the issue of industrial salmon farming to the people in an unprecedented way. I have written letters, done the science, met with
government and industry around the world, engaged in government processes, talked to thousands of people, been the subject of international media and films, and today I stand facing a vertical wall of impenetrable denial. Nothing has brought reason to this situation. We will lose our wild salmon if government continues to carelessly put farm salmon before wild salmon every time."

Her exasperation is evident. "Because there has been no significant progress in spite of this enormous effort and time spent by many, I no longer feel there is hope of reforming this industry. Government is allowing Norwegian salmon farmers to continue denying even the most basic issues, like sea lice and ISA virus introduction to the North Pacific. If we let this play out our wild fish simply will not survive.

"So it is time for the Get Out Migration. I am not talking about all aquaculture. I am referring specifically to the massive scale Norwegian feedlots. There are Canadian fish farmers who know how to use tanks on land who are not impacting our wild salmon and herring. This is about saving wild salmon and all of us who depend on them."

So, she writes of her march, "I will begin deep in the beautiful Ahta River in mid April with the salmon and move by boat through the Broughton Archipelago to Sointula. On Earth Day, April 22, I will simply start walking to Victoria and ask people to join me to stand up for wild salmon so that our politicians will know we exist. We will communicate our progress and connect the countries facing this industry through the website" (See this website for local times and details.)

She and her fellow travellers will reach Heriot Bay on Quadra Island by flotilla and then gather at the Island's Community Centre at 7:30 pm on April 27th. They will arrive in Campbell River at Spirit Square off the 9:00 am ferry on the morning of April 28th and reach Courtenay and Comox on April 29th. Then they trek south to be in Victoria for Mother's Day on May 8th.

Morton's protest is politically risky. But pledged support and participation are burgeoning. Walkers and planned events on Vancouver Island are multiplying. And groups from the Fraser Valley and elsewhere intend to converge in Victoria for the culminating march to the legislature. If enough people join Alexandra, her response to exasperation could become an event powerful enough to bring some sanity to BC's open net-pen salmon farming industry – before it really is too late.