A rash of farmed salmon deaths at a collection of fish farms on Vancouver Island’s west coast is being blamed on a naturally occuring algae bloom.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) confirmed today four Cermaq Canada salmon farms (Binns Island, Bawden Point, Ross Pass and Millar Channel) north of Tofino in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region are affected.
According to DFO, the farmed fish are non-infectious.
Cermaq first reported these mortalities on Nov. 7, as required by the conditions of licence for marine finfish aquaculture.
“As a condition of licence, farms are required to report fish mortality events when they reach the threshold of two per cent of the farm’s population in 24 hours, or four metric tonnes (about 800 fish of harvestable size). Updates must be provided every 10 days,” reads a statement from DFO.
A media release posted to the Cermaq Canada website on Nov. 15, initially pointed to three fish farms are being impacted – Binns Island, Bawden Point and Ross Pass.
“We are seeing two particular types of algae in these regions – chaetoceros concavicornis and chaetoceros convolutes, which are both native to the Pacific Ocean,” said David Kiemele, Managing Director for Cermaq Canada, in the release.
“These particular algae have rigid “spines” that are harmful to fish when they come in contact with gills. Blooms are often associated with low dissolved oxygen events and warm ocean water temperatures and weather changes – all of which we are, or have been experiencing.”
Cermaq did not disclose the approximate number of dead fish.
“We don’t release mortality numbers for commercial reasons, but we can confirm that we did have mortalities at three sites. No other farms were impacted by the naturally occurring algae bloom,” said Amy Jonsson, Cermaq’s communications and engagement manager, in a Nov. 19, email to the Westerly. The firm has yet to respond to a follow-up inquiry about the Miller Channel site cited by DFO.
DFO said it is satisfied that the facility operators are managing these fish health events appropriately, consistent with their licence and fish health management plan. Departmental staff are scheduled to visit some of the sites during the week of Nov. 25 to 29 as part of its audit and monitoring program.
Cermaq noted that they also provided notice of the recent algae bloom and resulting mortalities to the Ahousaht First Nation, in whose territory these farms are operated.
“The fish are improving and the water conditions are improving,” reads Cermaq’s Nov. 15 media release.
Last week, a Clayoquot Action team found dive crews at work, and bio-waste trailers being loaded with dead fish, at Cermaq’s Binns Island salmon farm near Ahousaht. Similar activity was observed at the adjacent Bawden Bay farm, according to a Nov. 18 press release issued by Clayoquot Action.
“The algae blooms are made worse by the nutrient runoff from the farms. This has been exasperated by the climate crisis. We haven’t had rain. The water is very warm. The additional nutrient loading from the 20 fish farms that we have in Clayoquot Sound are probably causing the situation to be worse,” said Clayoquot Action campaigner Bonny Glambeck.
“If we’re having a mass die-off on the fish farms, one has to wonder what is happening to the wild fish. There are marine creatures that live in the inlet where these farms are located. Young wild salmon that are rearing in the inlet as well as there are rockfish conservancies and there may still be salmon waiting to go up the river to spawn. All of these fish are going to be impacted negatively similarly to what is happening to the fish on the farms. They don’t have the benefit of having oxygen pumped into their environment like the farmed fish do,” said Glambeck.
As part of its 2019 federal election campaign, the Liberal Party pledged to move all aquaculture in B.C. to closed containment by 2025.
“In British Columbia, we will work with the province to develop a responsible plan to transition from open net pen salmon farming in coastal waters to closed containment systems by 2025,”states page 36 of the Liberal Party’s campaign platform.
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns believes the Liberals need to advance that agenda.
“They need to stop putting fish into open net fish farms immediately. Why run another cycle, when you’ve got all these conditions and you haven’t addressed the issue. The concerns related to sea lice, the PRV and now you’ve got an algae bloom. This is clear that they don’t have a solution to remedy these issues,” Johns said.
“The newly appointed minister [Bernadette Jordan] needs to get out to the West Coast immediately. This is an urgent situation. She needs to see it first hand. She doesn’t want to see what happened to the Atlantic cod,” he said. “She needs to see for herself the crisis that our salmon are in.”