Environmentalist Shepherds Salmon Past the Danger of Salmon Concentration Camps

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
On Board the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin

Dr. Alexandra Morton is probably the most imaginative, dedicated and resourceful salmon defender in the world.

Her meticulous research into the impact of sea lice from domestic salmon farms on wild young salmon exposed the great danger that these farms present to the survival of wild salmon populations.

In the face of government inaction to protect the salmon fry, Dr. Morton has come up with a unique solution - she and a group of ecotourism businesses, First Nation organizations and environmentalists have decided to "medevac" the young salmon through a corridor of death to return them to the sea.

According to the Globe and Mail article titled "Environmentalists hatch plan to ferry wild salmon past fish farms" from February 21, 2008:

They are proposing to round up hundreds of thousands of young salmon that emerge from their spawning river this spring. They will then load them into boats and shepherd them past fish farms that threaten wild species with sea lice infestations...

Alexandra Morton said the plan is workable...

"We'll beach seine them, just like we do in our research gathering," she told Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail. "You can round up hundreds of thousands in a day that way."

In beach seining, a boat runs a net out from the shore, then circles back, closing the loop and trapping the fish alive inside.

"Once we have them in the beach seine we'll dip them into buckets, put them in a tank in a herring boat, and then, very slowly, we'll move them down the middle of the strait past the fish farms," Ms. Morton said.

After a taxi ride of about 60 kilometres, the fish would be released in the ocean, far from the nearest farm.

The plan was announced by Alexandra Morton, Chief Bob Chamberlin of the Kwicksutaineuk ah-kwa-mish band, Chris Bennett of Blackfish Lodge, and Bill and Donna Mackay of Mackay Whale Watching.

Ms. Morton said the group hopes to catch salmon fry first at the mouth of the Ahta River, and move on to other rivers if the approach is successful and there is adequate funding.

The group has applied to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for a permit to capture and transport juvenile salmon, but hasn't yet had a reply...

Ms. Morton said there is some risk of damage to wild fish, but argued it is riskier to allow the young salmon to migrate past five fish farms on the route.

Ms. Morton and Martin Krkosek of the University of Alberta recently co-wrote a science paper that concluded sea lice were leading to the extinction of wild pink salmon in the Broughton Archipelago, where most of B.C.'s 100 salmon farms are located.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is very supportive of Ms. Morton's work and believes that this approach could protect wild salmon until the Province of British Columbia decides to outlaw the salmon farms.

"Concentrating large populations of Atlantic salmon, an exotic species that does not belong in these waters is a recipe for pollution and disease," said Captain Paul Watson. "The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has long viewed salmon farming as an industry that presents a real threat to natural eco-systems and native species."