January 14, 2017
Back only 6 years ago there was little information available to the public due to our government of the time choosing to not allow environmental scientists from being able to do so without time consuming and rare permission. I did hours and hours of research throughout 2010 to ensure the best salmon supply for our company that was sashimi grade fresh and sustainable.
The first thing that I discovered at that time was that the Fraser River was in great distress with vast amount of fish dying before being able to spawn and the environmentalists were blaming the internationally owned farms that the government had granted permissions to expand and had allowed more to be established along our cherished Fraser River.
I also learned that there were two major concerns of diseases from the farms or being blamed on the farms. Sea lice infestations seemed to be more of a pest problem as they did not seem to be deadly to the salmon and trout that hosted them. They also seemed to be easily controlled with mild pesticides and rotating the nets that sit fallow. ISA is the scary one. It kills all salmon in its wake along with most other finfish in the affected areas and originated from Norway. Unfortunately, it was new to Canada and definitely not being reported to the public so I simply avoided BC salmon to avoid all the problems that I could read about at the time.
This week I spent a few more hours looking into salmon diseases and outbreaks in Canada. All I can say now is “wow what a difference a new government makes” and hind sight is definitely 20/20. Here is a summary of the new research available.
WHAT ARE SEA LICE?
Sea lice are small parasitic crustaceans (like crabs and shrimp) that feed on the skin and mucous of fish. Lice normally do not harm adult salmon; however, small numbers may harm or kill juvenile salmon. Although sea lice occur naturally in the Northern Hemisphere, louse infestations have only recently been documented on wild juvenile salmon. Recent research shows wild salmon populations are at risk from sea lice arising from farms. Stocking hundreds of thousands of fish in small pens makes fish farms ideal breeding grounds for parasites such as sea lice, and drastically increases the number of lice in surrounding waters.(1)
** They did not report that this was killing any fish and made light of infestations being reported only in BC sea farms in 2010 so I looked to our Canadian owned east coast farms for a supplier.
This also explained the constant problems that we had with obtaining good sashimi grade fish in late spring to early September when the sea lice are most active.
WHERE ARE SEA LICE LOCATED?
Salmon farms are typically located in sheltered bays and inlets near rivers usually on or near the migratory routes juvenile salmon use to reach the open ocean. Salmon farms create an unnatural reservoir of sea lice that is especially detrimental to juvenile salmon because of their small size.(1)
After studying wild and farmed salmon from 2001 to 2003, the authors concluded that "the survey found no evidence to support the hypothesis that parasites or diseases found in salmon farms or hatcheries were affecting post-smolts leaving the Bay of Fundy” (Lacroix and Knox 2005). (2)
** This was old news in 2010 an no other major outbreak of sea lice had been reported on the east coast but I have found out that it was because sea lice are not reportable to the CFIA. Our Canadian Food Inspection Agency expects the farms to a pest control program and report on demand. As a result, sea lice outbreaks are still not being reported to the public. If I was still in business, I would now have to demand a copy of the farms pest control program yearly.
From what I could find though is good news for our favourite Northern Harvest Farm in the Bay of Fundy, the conditions in the bay of high tides, freshwater and varying temperatures make our salmon happy but not sea lice.
HOW ARE WE DEALING WITH THEM?
Salmon farmers monitor and treat farmed salmon for sea lice with pesticides that lower lice levels; however, these pesticides can kill other crustaceans, not just sea lice. It is unknown what negative effects these pesticides have on other organisms in the surrounding area such as crabs and shrimp. Even if average sea lice levels are kept “low” on a farm, even very low numbers of lice per farmed salmon can adult cannot be inferred from the lack of observations or reports available for the East Coast, that sea d up to billions of sea lice eggs being released into surrounding waters.(2)
The sea lice outbreak from 1994 to 1995 was ultimately controlled with the use of hydrogen peroxide and ivermectin (Hogans 1995; Chang et al. 2011). In 2010, another outbreak of L. salmonis occurred in the same general regions as before (M. Beattie, New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, pers. comm.). High mortality rates were experienced on the newly introduced smolts as the dermal lesions on the smolts (Figure 2) caused an osmoregulatory failure. Interestingly, although L. salmonis was the predominant species during 2010 and 2011, observations suggested that C. elongatus became the dominant sea louse infecting salmon early in 2012, but then L. salmonis became dominant later in the season (M. Beattie, New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, pers. comm.).(2)
WHY ARE THEY A PROBLEM?
It cannot be inferred from the lack of observations or reports available for the East Coast, that sea lice do not have the potential to impact wild stocks in that area, particularly if those populations are very low in number. There are many published reports from Europe that have discussed impacts of sea lice on salmon and sea trout stocks, but even there, there is no consensus on the overall effects (Dawson et al. 1997, 1998; Mackenzie et al. 1998; McKibben and Hay 2004; McVicar 2004; Penston et al. 2004; Pert et al. 2006, 2009 a, b, 2012; Urquhart et al. 2008, 2010).(2)
ISA - Infectious Salmon Anemia - THE REAL THREAT
In 2011 The Cohen Commission issued a long awaited report on the salmon industry. This Commission was created due to the continued three year shut down of the Fraser river fisheries due to high finfish mortality in the river. ISA was a new disease being reported in the Norway region. It causes influenza type symptoms and breaks down the immune system of infected fish, ensuring death in all infected fish either from the flu or from many other diseases it is now exposed to. Anyone who suspects ISA in fish that they own or work with must report by law to the CFIA.
**The problem with reporting any outbreak is it is only recently that the workers in the fish industry are being educated to the signs of infestation.
ISA was the suspected cause of 90% of the finfish dying in the Fraser River but this was never admitted by the Harper government and scientific research on this was banned from public view.
Today, the Commission’s recommendations for standardization for testing ,harvesting, and catch reporting are being implemented by the new and ever growing Provincial Fish Inspection Agency that has been created in each province in Canada.
**The threat has been reduced even further by Farms like Northern Harvest becoming their own hatchery so that infected roe from other countries are not being used in Canada. In 2011, we had to find another source of sashimi salmon as Northern Harvest had an ISA outbreak due to roe imported from Norway. They bleached cleaned the entire farm and shut down for 6 months to clear the area before starting again with Canadian roe only.
Honestly I would probably stay with Northern Harvest and continue to work with them about on-going environmental issues. To me they still seem like the” least of the evils”.
Inland farming still has too many issues to deal with to make the flesh tasty sashimi grade. They must constantly bleach clean the pens and waterways to avoid mold and mildew build up. They must use more hormones and antibiotics due to growing fish in overcrowded bins. In the past the idea of fish eating their own feces was a major concern but I found that they have solved this with greater amount of running water through the pens. These inland farms are also using incredible amounts of fresh water being taken from our pristine waterways and returned not so pristine.
Ok so the next thing I had to do is find a location for our retail and production. Next week I will let you in on that insanity!
Enjoy your fish. Demand fresh. Sashimi Grade can be cooked but ensures the quality we should all be demanding.