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The R/V Martin Sheen’s research mission to protect wild salmon is being watched and documented by Norwegian giant Marine Harvest

Chief George Jr inspects the fish pens at depth using a GoPro on a fishing rodNorwegian-based Marine Harvest, which owns numerous salmon farms occupying the coastal Pacific waters in Canada, appears to be sending local employees to tail Sea Shepherd while the non-profit conservation group conducts its wild salmon defense campaign, Operation Virus Hunter II

Sea Shepherd’s vessel, the RVMartin Sheen is currently off the coast of British Columbia with independent biologist Alexandra Morton, stopping at various salmon farms to conduct audits for disease and other factors. Recent discoveries include tens of thousands of wild herring trapped in post-harvest salmon pens belonging to Marine Harvest and Cermaq.

Late last week, after hearing rumors of die offs at nearby salmon farms, Sea Shepherd was keen to investigate. The crew woke up to find a skiff belonging to Marine Harvest waiting in the distance for the RV Martin Sheen to begin sailing.

“They followed us all the way to the farms, and when we got there, they tied their boat back to the farm to observe us, and filmed us collecting water and bottom samples near the farms,” said campaign leader Carolina Castro. “When the day was done, they followed us again to see where we spent the night, so they could warn the nearby farms of our impending visits. This has been the same routine on an almost daily basis.”

 “The fish farms have been keeping a close eye on our movements, getting one of their skiffs to follow us around,” said Captain Marc Archambault, “When we stop, they stop. If we speed up, they also speed up."

Farmed Atlantic salmon with sea lice

Die Offs on Fish Farms

Die offs are common in the salmon industry and can occur when the farmed fish get sick, as the pens are an aquatic version of factory farming that is a breeding ground for disease and parasites. 

With farmed salmon packed so close together, mass contamination in the pens is unavoidable. When large quantities of Atlantic salmon start dying, the workers use divers and pumps to pull the dead fish out of the water. 

The rotting fish are collected in bins and transported in barges to a nearby location.

Sea Shepherd reported that when it witnesses workers pulling the dead Atlantic salmon out of the pens, the employees stop pumping them out and move the bins into the barn sheds and quickly close the door. Other employees hide.

“If there are no disease problems on the farms, why are they hiding this part of their daily operations?” asked Morton.

Morton successfully sued the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Marine Harvest Canada Inc.  after learning that fish later confirmed to be infected with the piscine reovirus (PRV) had been transferred into an open-pen fish farm operated by Marine Harvest in Shelter Bay, BC. 

On May 6, 2015 the Court sided with Morton and struck down aquaculture license conditions that allowed private companies to transfer fish infected with viruses to open-pen farms in the ocean.

However, the DFO has failed to abide by this court ruling and is ignoring the precautionary principle and refuses to test farm salmon for PRV before permitting them to be transferred. 

Therefore, Morton and (Canada’s environmental law charity) Ecojustice are suing him again. Marine Harvest and Cermaq have been added as “defendants” because these two companies state they will be “severely impacted” if they are not allowed to transfer the PRV-infected farm salmon from their fresh water hatcheries into the marine net pen growout facilities.

Farmed Atlantic salmon swims through school of wild Herring in pen

The Price of Death

Selling farmed salmon is only one part of the farmed salmon industry. Dead farmed salmon also bring in plenty of business opportunities.

Often, the diseased dead fish is mixed with tree bark to make “organic” fertilizer that unsuspecting consumers sprinkle in their vegetable gardens. This fertilizer product is advertised as organic and ecological. Reference: seasoil.com

Some farms also receive compensation from the government for every dead fish found on their farm. According to a 2014 newspaper article in Common Sense Canadian, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency paid fish farms nearly $50 million taxpayer dollars for diseased dead fish across the country. Reference: http://commonsensecanadian.ca/salmon-farms-get-tax-dollars-diseased-dead-fish-provide-jobs/

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