With all the hazards in the ocean today, why add more with fish farms that are often at the mouth of rivers so they can cause sea lice to fester in wild fish? They hurt local wild salmon, which are free from nature.

Sea-lice levels bring hope to fish farms (external - login to view)
Sea-lice levels bring hope to fish farms

Figures for wild salmon reveal drop in blight from previous years

By Stuart Hunter, The Province July 23, 2009

A new sea-lice monitoring program in the waters off the north of Vancouver Island has offered a "glimmer of hope" to the salmon fish-farming industry.
Early results from the program, which monitors juvenile pink and chum salmon migrating through the Broughton Archipelago, showed lower sea-lice levels than in previous years.

"It is a glimmer of hope this seems to be the first year with a bit of breakthrough," Dr. Craig Orr, of Watershed Watch, said Wednesday.
"The results are very preliminary and most scientists will tell you the data needs to be [further] analyzed yet. But lice loads on wild fish are substantially reduced." Beginning three years ago, the landmark study is conducted jointly by Marine Harvest Canada the largest Atlantic salmon farm company in B.C. and the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, which seeks to ensure fish-farming standards are maintained.

The research collects sea-lice data from wild salmon and active farms in the Lower Knight and Tribune-Fife corridors.

According to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, levels of sea lice on wild fish in March and April were relatively similar to 2008 and much lower than levels recorded from 2003 to 2007.

"These are very preliminary results but we are very pleased to see this," said Jennifer Lash, executive director of the Living Oceans Society, one of five member groups comprising CAAR. "This will take some of the pressure off the wild fish." Clare Backman, MHC's director of environmental relations, lauded the collaborative nature of the study in an industry rife with animosity in the past.

"These are good results you see lice levels on wild fish are low," said Backman. "It's good news on every side. We are hoping to continue [lice levels remaining low] in the next few years." Salmon farming has long been a subject of concern due to fears over transferring lice and diseases to wild stocks, escape of non-native Atlantic salmon, pollution and possible human contamination.

There are about 130 fish-farm tenures in B.C., with about 80 currently in operation and producing nearly 73,000 tonnes last year.
Canada is the third-largest fish farming country in the world, behind Norway and Scotland.

Officials from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Lands didn't return calls from The Province.
Meanwhile, a new University of B.C. study indicates a reduction of as little as five per cent in fisheries' catches could result in up to 30 per cent of B.C.'s coastal ecosystems being protected from overfishing.

The study, called Project Seahorse, proposes modest reductions in critical areas, resulting in large unfished zones.

shunter@theprovince.com (external - login to view)

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