Save Wild Salmon, Move the Farms - Editorial by Georg Fredrik Rieber-Mohn

Former Leader of the Great Wild Salmon Commission of Norway
February 16, 2010

I fear Canada will teach Norway a lesson today (16th February) on the Olympic ice rink but I hope Canada can learn the lessons of Norway with respect to wild salmon and open net cage salmon farms. As a Norwegian judge – the former Attorney General of Norway – I was appointed some fifteen years ago to devise a plan to protect wild Atlantic salmon.

In 1999, I was proud to present the so-called “wild salmon plan” which proposed national protection for the 50 best salmon rivers and the 9 most important fjord-systems across Norway – the national laksfjords – where salmon farms would be prohibited. However, intense lobbying from the salmon farming industry watered down the proposals so that by the time they passed the parliament in 2007 the protected fjords had become smaller and gave less protection against the salmon farming industry

The result has been a heavy defeat for wild salmon and a huge win for sea lice. Scientific research published by the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research indicates that the areas protected from open net cage salmon farms are simply too small to offer adequate protection from sea lice.

Scientists in Norway detail growing sea lice resistance to the chemicals designed to kill them. The Norwegian Food and Safety Authority recently reported nearly 100 cases of chemical treatment failures as sea lice are now immune. So serious is the situation that the Directorate of Nature Management – the Norwegian Government’s conservation adviser – has called for drastic reductions in farmed salmon production and slaughter of farm stock to reduce the sea lice burden.

Put simply, we had an open goal to save wild salmon but we missed the target. Now we are dealing with the consequences of poor defending. Atlantic salmon in the wild in Norway are now threatened with extinction in many rivers in Norway. There are many causes to this decline, but in vast areas the farming of salmon is the main factor. Escaped farmed salmon is a huge problem added to the problem of uncontrolled growth of sea lice. Scientists foresee remarkable damaging effects in new areas in the future.

In Norway we are underdogs to save wild Atlantic salmon – like in today’s hockey game – but nature is resilient and wild salmon can make a comeback if given a fair chance. The lessons to be learned from Norway are painfully clear but the solution is an easy one.

If you want to protect wild salmon then you have to move salmon farms away from migration routes. Juvenile wild salmon have to run the gauntlet past salmon farms on their way out to sea and scientific reports show that they are decimated by sea lice – with reports of up to 90% mortality in some regions.

Even the owner of Marine Harvest – the world’s largest salmon farming company and #1 in both Norway and in British Columbia – agrees that we must move the farms. When he was fishing on the River Alta – one of Norway’s most majestic wild salmon rivers – in 2007 John Fredriksen made a plea as a passionate angler to relocate open net cages to save wild salmon.

Last year, I was honoured to meet with sea lice scientist Alexandra Morton in Oslo. I listened with a sense of déjà vu as she outlined how Norwegian companies - who control over 90% of BC’s salmon farms - are spreading sea lice to wild salmon. I watched Canadian filmmaker Damien Gillis’s film “Dear Norway – Help Us Save Wild Salmon” and I was struck by a strong sense of solidarity and eerie familiarity. Yet there is still hope for wild salmon in both Norway and Canada. With the world watching there is a growing sense of public awareness globally and a passion to save wild salmon.

In today’s hockey game, Canada and Norway may be on opposing sides but in the fight to protect wild salmon we are all on the same team. We must forget our differences and pull together to save wild salmon stocks around the world. Die hard hockey fans may disagree but the fight to save wild salmon means much more than the outcome of today’s game. If we don’t seize the opportunity now to move salmon farms out of the way of wild salmon we will all be losers.

*Georg Fredrik Rieber-Mohn is the former leader of the great wild salmon commission of Norway. This commission had one task: to outline the many threats to wild salmon in Norway and propose adequate measures to save, protect and strengthen our salmon stocks. This was the first and so far only holistic approach to solve the problems of the wild salmon in Norway.

UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.