Fighting for the Future of BC’s Fisheries

By Roy L Hales

As many as 70 million sockeye salmon  may return to the Fraser this year. These numbers have not been seen for decades and are quite a stark contrast to 1.6 million catch that sparked the Cohen commission a few years ago. That was when Dr Kristi Miller, head of Molecular Genetics at the Department of Fisheries and Ocean’s (DFO) Pacific Biological Station, testified that a  ‘viral signature’ of a disease  was contributing to as high as 90% pre-spawn mortality in returning Fraser sockeye. One of the reasons there is so much hope for this year, is the returning 2010 run were not infected. But, according to biologist Alexandra Morton, the real key to fighting for the future of BC’s fisheries is Dr Kristi Miller’s lab in Nanaimo.

Dr Kristi Miller

“She has such an inquiring mind and the genomic profiling technique she has developed gives such a detailed look into what is happening,” Morton said. “Right now we are guessing what is happening to the fish, if Miller was unleashed to use her lab to understand what is happening to the Fraser sockeye, the fish’s own immune system could tell and what is affecting them. British Columbia would benefit enormously.”

Morton says that the fisheries problem is largely political. The DFO does not want controversy. If they were to admit there is a viral problem coming from the salmon farms, they would have to shut the down the province’s salmon farming industry.

Dr Miller  has not been allowed to talk to the press since she published a paper called “Genomic Signatures Predict Migration and Spawning Failure in Wild Canadian Salmon” in the journal Science during 2011.

Miller was one of the four scientists who testified, at the Cohen Commission in 2012, that they detected ISA virus (the most lethal known salmon disease) in salmon taken from the Rivers Inlet and the Fraser River.

Even the DFO lab in New Brunswick, testified that their results on the Rivers Inlet salmon were actually a “weak positive” – but from such “degraded samples” that they regarded them as “inconclusive.”

Along The Migration Route

Though the Cohen Commission concluded that Climate Change was stressing the fish, it added that “salmon farms along the sockeye migration route have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and to exacerbate endemic diseases that could have a negative impact on Fraser River sockeye.” It called for salmon farming to cease to operate in the Discovery Islands, which straddle the migration route, if the impacts are not addressed by 2020.

Now Marine Harvest, one of three Norwegian firms that together own 98% of BC’s 100 + fish farms, has applied to open two new farms in Goletas  Channel (northwest of Port Hardy).

“Sitting fish farms in Goletas contradicts the Cohen Commission recommendation,” Morton said.

“We are sitting on an enormous potential,” she added. “It could be a real win-win situation – our fisheries could prosper, the first nations will benefit – but nothing is going to happen until we show the Norwegians the door.”

Most of their fish farms are sited on wild salmon migration routes, where they appear to be infecting the passing fish with sea lice and viruses like ISA and piscine reovirus (PRV) (For more information go to

Fighting for the Future of BC’s Fisheries

On May 8, 2013, Ecojustice, acting on Morton’s behalf, launched a lawsuit seeking a Federal Court order declaring that the transfer of diseased farmed Atlantic salmon into waters shared with wild fish is unlawful.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is standing by, while private companies put fish carrying disease agents into the ocean,” said Margot Venton, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “We think this is unlawful.  It’s definitely a serious abdication of DFO’s mandate to protect the fish and the marine environment.”

Both sides will present their final arguments will be heard in June.

To Learn More

Follow this link to learn more about the lawsuit

Morton has started an online petition that states, “There are two things you can do to stop this industry from harming the oceans – do not buy it (farm salmon) and make sure the Province of BC does NOT agree to rent the seafloor to each salmon farm.”

100,177 have already left their electric signatures, which will be sent to the Premier

“Most of the people signing are BC residents,” Morton said.

If you want to add your name, go to

In the meantime Morton, who continues to investigate the negative effects fish farms are having on wild salmon, is reduced to flying samples to PEI because the DFO will not allow her to access their lab in Nanaimo.

(Photo at top of page: Alexandra Morton)

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