Activists boarded a fish farm north of Quadra Island on Saturday as part of a “flotilla” protest against open net-pen fish farms.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which organized the protest, said in a statement that actor, model and activist Pamela Anderson used a GoPro camera at the farm and captured video showing “deformed and sick fish in the pens.”
The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) said those claims were inaccurate and that “it is irresponsible to put out such misinformation.”
Sea Shepherd said that 12 vessels took part in the Saturday protest, while the BCSFA said there were nine. The flotilla was the latest in a polarizing dispute over B.C.’s aquaculture industry.
The protest was originally slated for Cermaq’s Venture Point farm in the Okisollo Channel, but Sea Shepherd said they sailed past it and protested at the Barnes Bay site operated by Grieg Seafood. The company didn’t respond to email queries about the protests by deadline on Monday.
On Saturday morning, Laichwiltach hereditary chief George Quocksister Jr. said farms in the western part of the Okisollo Channel are within unceded Laichwiltach territories and that companies were trespassing in those waters.
|Barnes Bay is located north of Quadra Island. Image from Google Maps
Shawn Hall, a spokesperson for the BCSFA, said that salmon farming companies have agreements with many First Nations and that roughly 20 per cent of people working in salmon farming in B.C. are of First Nations heritage. Hall said he couldn’t immediately comment on territorial issues in the Okisollo Channel.
“Relationships with First Nations are important in B.C. salmon farming,” Hall said, adding that more than three-quarters of salmon harvested in B.C. is done in collaboration with First Nations.
He said that boarding fish farms without permission from companies isn’t necessary, and he described the companies as transparent, saying they offer public tours year-round and post data online about their operations, including sea lice levels.
|Actor, model and activist Pamela Anderson is shown on Grieg Seafood's Barnes Bay fish farm north of Quadra Island on July 27, 2019. Photo by Sea Shepherd
Sea Shepherd said that Anderson used a GoPro camera attached to a pole to record “diseased-looking fish” underwater at the Barnes Bay fish farm operated by Grieg Seafood. She boarded the site with Quocksister, his family and other First Nations people, according to Sea Shepherd.
The group provided video they said shows “deformed fish, fish with large pieces missing from their bodies, as well as fish swimming sluggishly” at the Barnes Bay site.
They said sluggish behaviour is “one of the most common symptoms associated to heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), a disease caused by a Norwegian virus called piscine reovirus” or PRV.
Hall said claims about diseased fish at the Barnes Bay site were unfounded, and that “you can’t diagnose a virus with a GoPro camera.” He said the fish were stocked at the farm two weeks ago from a land-based hatchery.
“We don’t put sick fish in the ocean,” he said, adding that the salmon at Barnes Bay were tested for PRV and sea lice before being moved to ocean pens and “they had neither.”
He added that “PRV is naturally occurring in our ocean and our fish pick it up in the water, as do wild salmon.”
Asked about the video clip, he said that some fish appeared to have scale damage, although it’s unclear how many distinct fish there are.
“Minor scale loss can occur as a result of handling the fish, but the scales grow back,” he said. “The population of fish in the farm is healthy and growing well.”
Hall also said the “fish were indeed swimming slower, because they had just eaten,” and that “salmon school and swim slower immediately after a meal.”
Pamela Anderson speaks about what she hopes an anti-fish farm protest ‘flotilla’ will achieve, moments before departing from Campbell River Saturday. Anderson, Sea Shepherd’s international chair, later boarded a fish farm site and recorded underwater video. Full story to come. pic.twitter.com/qmzoFi7lK0— David Gordon Koch (@davidgordonkoch) July 30, 2019
Anderson and other campaigners said on Saturday that wild juvenile salmon were becoming trapped in fish farms.
“We need wild salmon to be able to make it past these kind of death traps, so they can get out to the ocean and actually feed the orcas,” said the Ladysmith-born Baywatch star shortly after arriving aboard the RV Martin Sheen.
Hall countered that “research tells us that salmon farms are not having a negative impact on wild salmon populations.”
Paul Manly, Green Party MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, also took part in Saturday’s protest. He repeated calls from the Green Party for a phasing out of ocean-based open net pen-fish farms and a moratorium on new sites. He said there should be a plan for workers to transition out of the industry and warned about a collapse in wild salmon stocks.
Hall said that farmed salmon represent an important source of food and will take pressure off wild stocks amid growing human populations, citing a study from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
He added that all salmon farmers in B.C. have certification from at least one environmental standards organization.
According to a 2017 study commissioned by the BCSFA, more than 2,900 people were employed directly in salmon farming by 2016 and another 3,600 were employed through industry spinoffs.