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Letter to DFO, why all the lice?

June 12, 2017

Dear Karen Calla, Nathan Taylor and Rebecca Reid - Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

I am writing to inform Fisheries and Oceans Canada that you have a serious sea louse outbreak, for the third year in a row, on the Area 12 Mainland juvenile pink and chum salmon. This is Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw Territory also called the Broughton Archipelago. Furthermore, the abundance of juvenile out-migrating salmon is the lowest observed in the 17 years since I began monitoring this area for sea lice 17 years ago. Over 85% of the juvenile salmon exiting the archipelago are infected with sea lice, many are over the lethal limit established by science published by DFO, myself and others. The nature of the infection pinpoints the farms as the source i.e., high abundance of the most juvenile stage sea lice at the farms.

After enormous effort by First Nations, government and non-government scientists and organizations, we did establish a farm salmon sea louse treatment protocol that reduced lice on farm salmon in the region prior to the juvenile salmon outmigration. This appeared to be highly successful in reducing sea lice on juvenile salmon and boosting wild salmon survival.

However, this trend began reversing direction in 2015. In a paper I co-published on the 2015 sea louse infection, we report 9% - 39% mortality due to sea lice, on top of natural mortality. We propose that the 2015 outbreak was caused by a combination of poorly-timed sea louse treatment of the farm salmon and a warm winter. Our sea louse counts were in agreement with the salmon farming industry’s observations (Mainstream Biological Consulting).

Last winter was exceptionally cold which leaves us with only “poorly timed treatments” of farm salmon as the leading cause of the 2017 outbreak, which is more severe than in 2015.

I offer the suggestion that perhaps the industry is faced with significant loss in production/profits when they treat PRV-infected farm salmon for sea lice as per DFO research reporting that sea louse treatment triggered onset of HSMI in PRV infected fish (DiCicco et al 2017). We know as per Dr. Marty’s statement on the Marine Harvest website that 80% of farm salmon are infected with PRV and that most farm salmon hatcheries are infected with PRV, which DFO permits to be transferred into marine pens.

Therefore the question is: is the industry is faced with causing substantive loss to shareholders if they treat for sea lice to protect wild salmon, i.e. the health of farm salmon does not require treatment, and that this treatment can result in disruption in the weight-gain essential to salmon farming profits. I can see this being a conflict of the corporate mandate.

The other possibility is sea louse drug-resistance, a global issue costing the industry billions of dollars which the industry has failed to resolve.

It is important to note that the sea lice levels we are documenting this year are comparable to levels that triggered the enormous effort in the early 2000’s to control lice on the farms. My intention in writing to you is to formally inform you that the problem of sea lice from salmon farms threatening wild salmon populations has returned and will require the same level of action which DFO deemed necessary the last time this problem arose. This is no small problem as the Norwegian-run salmon farming in BC is well aware of in other parts of the world.

In my view, the loss of so many wild salmon to sea lice from salmon farms in the territory of First Nations who have rejected the industry for the past 30 years, and have served the industry eviction notices, puts the credibility of the Prime Minister’s commitment to First Nations at risk.

As well, if Minister LeBlanc ignores this outbreak, his reputation as a minister whose committed to scientific evidence-based conservation exceeds that of the previous government is also put at risk.

Please let me know how I can assist you. This is a global problem, with no solution in evidence and so will require significant commitment from Canada if wild salmon are going to survive.

Thank you,

Alexandra Morton