OPEN LETTER: BC Fish Farms Threaten Wild Salmon Runs: DFO Confirms Potential HSMI Disease

The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLC) calls on the Government of British Columbia and Canada to recognize the extreme risk to which their promotion of the BC finfish aquaculture industry presents to not only the pristine coastal BC environment but to already critically low wild salmon runs on which many British Columbians rely.

The May 20, 2016 Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) new release, titled “Potential Diagnosis of Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation in Atlantic Salmon at BC Fish Farm”, announced that DFO’s Dr. Kristi Miller has diagnose a potential Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI) in farmed Atlantic salmon samples collected from a BC aquaculture facility in 2013-14.

Critically, the virus known to be associated with this disease, Piscine Reovirus (PRV), is widespread and often devastating to the salmon farming industry, and by proximity presents a significant threat to wild salmon populations. Salmon infected with PRV are physically stunted, with muscles so weakened that they have trouble swimming or even pumping blood. Often fatal, outbreaks of this disease have followed the aquaculture industry around the world and have now been observed in wild fish, suggesting that farmed fish are interacting with wild salmon and are infecting already-dwindling wild stocks. The potential threat of this virus to BC salmon can no longer be ignored.

In the 2015 Alexandra Morton v. Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Marine Harvest Canada INC., 2015, Mr. Justice Rennie concluded that the weight of evidence conducted by international and credible scientific bodies, suggests that PRV is causally linked to HSMI, and that it would be unreasonable to not expect HSMI to appear in PRV infected BC farmed salmon. As a result, infected fish pose a significant risk to both wild and farmed salmon in BC and thus should not be placed in ocean-net pens until we reach clearer scientific understanding of the risks infected farmed salmon pose to wild salmon stocks.

These seemingly glaring warnings have been mirrored by the principles and recommendations of the 2009 Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, one of which concluded that a moratorium be placed on the expansion of aquaculture industry and the limitation of existing licences to a renewal period of one year pending a comprehensive scientific analysis of the impact salmon farms have on wild salmon stocks. Thereafter, if salmon farms are determined to pose more than a minimal risk of serious harm to wild salmon stocks, those farms should cease operations.

The FNLC is extremely disappointed in the previous Conservative government’s decisions; despite numerous attempts to draw government’s attention to the critical nature of these issues, DFO has made little progress in enacting the principles of Cohen, and continue to place our wild salmon stocks at extreme risk by allowing the granting of multi-year salmon farm licences in BC, in direct conflict with the recommendations of Cohen. DFO must work with First Nations in BC to enact the principles of Cohen and to effectively protect our wild salmon.

Wild salmon are integral to many First Nations’ cultures, well-being and livelihood, and the protection of our wild salmon stocks is equally integral to the economic and environmental sustainability of the province and country as a whole.

This year, only an estimated two million sockeye have returned to the Fraser River, far short of the more than six million predicted in preseason forecasts, with an even further dramatic collapse of the pink salmon fishery, with only an estimated five million fish returning when more than 14 million have been forecast.

Immediate action must be taken to safeguard and protect our wild salmon for the benefit of all British Columbians and Canadians. The principles of the Cohen Inquiry must be respected. A moratorium on the expansion of all finfish aquaculture ventures along the BC coast needs to be implemented until further evidence is gathered on the negative impacts these installations have on our wild salmon.

The FNLC supports the work of DFO’s Dr. Kristi Miller and urges the Government of Canada to expand her work coast wide and further encourages the support of programs focused on ecosystem research and habitat restoration such as the Pacific Salmon Foundation’s (PSF) Salish Sea Project.

Critically First Nations need to be a part of the picture, in order to achieve certainty on the impacts salmon farms have on our communities we must develop First Nations capacity to pursue independent interval sampling to be analysed through such genomic tests as Dr. Miller’s.

The well-being of our wild salmon and the sincerity to which DFO pursues a meaningful and significant relationship with First Nations in BC, will be a significant indicator of how well the Liberal Government achieves it’s goals of a strengthened relationships with First Nations in BC.




On behalf of the FIRST NATIONS SUMMIT:

Grand Chief Edward John

Robert Phillips

Cheryl Casimer



Grand Chief Stewart Phillip

Chief Bob Chamberlin

Chief Judy Wilson



Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson

CC: Honourable Christy Clark, Premier of BC
Honourable Norm Letnick, Minister of Agriculture BC

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