Die-offs and exploding parasite levels at Nootka area fish farms

June 11, 2024

By: Stan Proboszcz

On June 1st, B.C. Wild Salmon Day, I witnessed an old fishing vessel discharge unknown fluids and white solids into Muchalat Inlet, 18 kilometres east of the Gold River boat launch. A few moments earlier, the vessel was parked at an Atlantic salmon farm. After the discharge, the boat went back to the farm and had a large hose to one of the 14 pens, each capable of holding tens of thousands of farm fish.

We received a tip that there was a farm fish die-off somewhere in the region. My ingenious colleague, Alexandra Morton, used a ship traffic website to figure out which fish farm was receiving a lot of boat traffic.

Dead farm fish need to be transported to land quickly. Farm fish frequently die due to disease outbreaks. Numerous studies show open net fish farms amplify parasites, viruses and bacteria and spread them to wild fish. Muchalat North, a factory fish farm owned by Norwegian-based Grieg Seafood was receiving a lot of boat traffic.

A layer of discharge is visible on the ocean surface around a fishing vessel parked at an Atlantic salmon farm that experienced a high level of fish mortality.

A layer of discharge is visible on the ocean surface around a fishing vessel parked at an Atlantic salmon farm that experienced a high level of fish mortality.

It proved difficult to arrange a motor boat there, so I decided to sea kayak. I had to get out there because we are at a critical time when our federal government is deciding on whether or not to follow through with its commitment to get marine factory fish farms out of B.C. by 2025. I know the area and kayaked by the farm last summer on another trip.

The open net fish farm Muchalat North lost 23 per cent of their fish in a recent die-off event.

The open net fish farm Muchalat North lost 23 per cent of their fish in a recent die-off event.

I’ve seen many salmon farms before, but never one with loads of white stuff floating on the surface of the pens. Was it caused by fat and flesh from a die-off? Because farmed salmon are unnaturally held in net pens, they’re not nearly as active as wild salmon have to be to survive in the wild. Farm salmon flesh is much fattier. White fat bands are apparent in the flesh. A large plume, perhaps of fish oil, came from the farm. Was this from dead fish? I couldn’t help but ask myself, “How can we let this industry treat our coastal waters like a sewer?”

As I kayaked back, I saw a school of juvenile wild salmon jumping at the water’s surface. For 18 years I’ve studied the interactions between wild salmon and the factory fish farm industry.

How healthy is it for wild juvenile salmon to swim through plumes of God-knows-what, emanating from these farms?

When I returned home, I contacted a director of Aquaculture Management at DFO who confirmed there were elevated levels of farm salmon mortality in the region. She confirmed that 23 per cent of the Muchalat North farm salmon died! This farm is licenced for 4100 tonnes! The Williamson and Gore farm sites just around the corner lost 9.5 per cent and 3.8 per cent of their fish, respectively.

Several fish farms in the area are also experiencing high levels of parasitic sea lice infection. The Grieg Seafood website also reports high levels of sea lice on several farm sites in Nootka Sound. Concepcion farm, which is just around the corner from Muchalat North, had over 10 times the allowable limit of sea lice. The allowable limit is an average of three motile lice per farm fish, but it had an average of 34!

Watershed Watch's Stan Proboszcz witnessed the fallout of a recent fish kill at a factory fish farm near Gold River.

Watershed Watch’s Stan Proboszcz witnessed the fallout of a recent fish kill at a factory fish farm near Gold River.

What impacts are all these fish farm deaths and high levels of lice having on juvenile wild salmon migrating through the area? Are harmful bacteria and viruses also spewing out of these farms loaded with sick and dying fish?

All B.C. salmon farm licences expire at the end of June, and no doubt the federal government’s plan to remove salmon farms from B.C. will include details on whether these licences will be renewed. The time has come to clear wild salmon migration routes of parasite, virus and bacteria-spreading factory fish farms. I look to the federal cabinet to bring swift resolution to a decades-long problem. Get open net salmon farms from B.C. by 2025, as you promised.

There’s still time to urge the federal government to do the right thing and fulfill their promise to get factory farms out of B.C.’s coastal waters. Can you take a second to phone the Prime Minister? You can also write the feds and remind them to keep their word.

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Die-offs and exploding parasite levels at Nootka area fish farms

June 11, 2024

By: Stan Proboszcz

On June 1st, B.C. Wild Salmon Day, I witnessed an old fishing vessel discharge unknown fluids and white solids into Muchalat Inlet, 18 kilometres east of the Gold River boat launch. A few moments earlier, the vessel was parked at an Atlantic salmon farm. After the discharge, the boat went back to the farm and had a large hose to one of the 14 pens, each capable of holding tens of thousands of farm fish.

We received a tip that there was a farm fish die-off somewhere in the region. My ingenious colleague, Alexandra Morton, used a ship traffic website to figure out which fish farm was receiving a lot of boat traffic.

Dead farm fish need to be transported to land quickly. Farm fish frequently die due to disease outbreaks. Numerous studies show open net fish farms amplify parasites, viruses and bacteria and spread them to wild fish. Muchalat North, a factory fish farm owned by Norwegian-based Grieg Seafood was receiving a lot of boat traffic.

A layer of discharge is visible on the ocean surface around a fishing vessel parked at an Atlantic salmon farm that experienced a high level of fish mortality.

A layer of discharge is visible on the ocean surface around a fishing vessel parked at an Atlantic salmon farm that experienced a high level of fish mortality.

It proved difficult to arrange a motor boat there, so I decided to sea kayak. I had to get out there because we are at a critical time when our federal government is deciding on whether or not to follow through with its commitment to get marine factory fish farms out of B.C. by 2025. I know the area and kayaked by the farm last summer on another trip.

The open net fish farm Muchalat North lost 23 per cent of their fish in a recent die-off event.

The open net fish farm Muchalat North lost 23 per cent of their fish in a recent die-off event.

I’ve seen many salmon farms before, but never one with loads of white stuff floating on the surface of the pens. Was it caused by fat and flesh from a die-off? Because farmed salmon are unnaturally held in net pens, they’re not nearly as active as wild salmon have to be to survive in the wild. Farm salmon flesh is much fattier. White fat bands are apparent in the flesh. A large plume, perhaps of fish oil, came from the farm. Was this from dead fish? I couldn’t help but ask myself, “How can we let this industry treat our coastal waters like a sewer?”

As I kayaked back, I saw a school of juvenile wild salmon jumping at the water’s surface. For 18 years I’ve studied the interactions between wild salmon and the factory fish farm industry.

How healthy is it for wild juvenile salmon to swim through plumes of God-knows-what, emanating from these farms?

When I returned home, I contacted a director of Aquaculture Management at DFO who confirmed there were elevated levels of farm salmon mortality in the region. She confirmed that 23 per cent of the Muchalat North farm salmon died! This farm is licenced for 4100 tonnes! The Williamson and Gore farm sites just around the corner lost 9.5 per cent and 3.8 per cent of their fish, respectively.

Several fish farms in the area are also experiencing high levels of parasitic sea lice infection. The Grieg Seafood website also reports high levels of sea lice on several farm sites in Nootka Sound. Concepcion farm, which is just around the corner from Muchalat North, had over 10 times the allowable limit of sea lice. The allowable limit is an average of three motile lice per farm fish, but it had an average of 34!

Watershed Watch's Stan Proboszcz witnessed the fallout of a recent fish kill at a factory fish farm near Gold River.

Watershed Watch’s Stan Proboszcz witnessed the fallout of a recent fish kill at a factory fish farm near Gold River.

What impacts are all these fish farm deaths and high levels of lice having on juvenile wild salmon migrating through the area? Are harmful bacteria and viruses also spewing out of these farms loaded with sick and dying fish?

All B.C. salmon farm licences expire at the end of June, and no doubt the federal government’s plan to remove salmon farms from B.C. will include details on whether these licences will be renewed. The time has come to clear wild salmon migration routes of parasite, virus and bacteria-spreading factory fish farms. I look to the federal cabinet to bring swift resolution to a decades-long problem. Get open net salmon farms from B.C. by 2025, as you promised.

There’s still time to urge the federal government to do the right thing and fulfill their promise to get factory farms out of B.C.’s coastal waters. Can you take a second to phone the Prime Minister? You can also write the feds and remind them to keep their word.

Share This Story!

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