Not Complicated- The Problem with Salmon Farms

industrial salmon farms can hold up to 1 million salmon

The whole problem with the salmon farming industry in BC boils down to this simple fact:

The fish farms hold up to a million large carnivorous salmon in small crowded net pens in the narrow channels & inlets of the BC coast.  There is only a mesh net which separates the farmed fish from the wild fish so the water flows right through. The wild fish get exposed to whatever is coming out of that farm- whether it’s chemicals, lice, bacteria or viruses.

pathogen plume around farm

In the crowded farm conditions hundreds of thousands of farmed fish can quickly become infected by a pathogen and when a fish is sick, it emits the viruses, bacteria, or lice into the water around it. At the Cohen Commission one of DFO’s own scientists, Kyle Garver, testified that a single farm can emit 650 billion viral particles per hour during a disease outbreak. The viruses, bacteria and parasites from these sick fish can quickly fill a channel. The inlets where these farms are placed are often around 1 km wide and 300 feet deep.  650 billion viral particles released per hour can quickly disperse through this small area.  Now when the wild salmon swim through these channels and inlets they are exposed to the plume of bacteria, viruses and/or lice- or whatever kind of outbreak the farms happen to be experiencing. The farms have become the gatekeepers to the wild salmon. Sometimes the wild fish are lucky enough to pass when there is no outbreak on the farm, but in many cases they are exposed to some kind of pathogen (lice, bacteria, viruses). 

The same dynamics apply with the amplification of sea lice, bacteria and any disease- whether natural or exotic.

130 fish farm licenses on BC coast

The other problem is the farms create unnatural breeding grounds for diseases.  Imagine a room full of sick animals or people being allowed to live together in crowed conditions?  With hundreds of thousands of crowded hosts the viruses & pathogens get a chance to mutate and evolve in unprecedented ways.  So once a virus like  gets into farms, it can quickly become something far more amplified and virulent. The wild salmon that now have to swim through that narrow channel don’t stand a chance. And there can be dozens of farms on a single salmon’s migration route, so even if one farms happens to be free of pathogens, chances are some of the farms will have some kind of pathogen.




Industry & government claim sometimes the wild fish give the farms disease?

the dynamic is the same for any pathogen- viruses, disease or parasites

Yes, in many cases wild salmon do pass pathogens to farmed salmon but here is the key point to this whole issue:

In nature, predators like seals quickly pick off sick fish and wild salmon are naturally quite spread out in the open ocean for most of their life, so disease cannot jump as easily form host to host. In the farm however- any pathogen (bacteria, viruses, parasitic sea lice)- whether it is naturally occurring or exotic, becomes amplified, & can mutate, then is passed back to the wild fish who must swim through the narrow channels, which are now full of pathogens (lice, disease) thanks to millions of farmed salmon.  Pathogens, which are relatively benign in a natural ecosystem, can amplify & mutate in a farm, and then spread back to the wild fish.  This is why domestic chicken, pig and cattle are separated from wild herds, whereas in fish farming, large-scale industrial feedlots operate right amongst the wild populations with no barrier whatsoever.  The key is to separate them.

Video - In a Nutshell, the problem with salmon farming

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© Twyla Roscovich