Standing with the Dzawada’enuxw

If you had evidence that a flu-like virus, known to kill salmon, was seeping into the ocean, that government was turning a blind-eye and the industry involved had hired the same strategic advisor as Exxon, the tobacco industry, China and the US government, could you quietly accept the denial and just hope everything will turn out OK?

The ISA virus is a salmon flu-type virus with a nasty reputation of spreading everywhere Atlantic salmon are held in net pens. It has been known to simmer quietly for years, barely detected and easily ignored until the feedlot environment gives it enough freedom to mutate into high virulence and kill millions of salmon. This is the first time this scenario is playing out among wild Pacific salmon. While the outcome is uncertain, we all know feedlot, influenza viruses are not a good thing to loose into the wild.

My work with ISA virus started when 100 of us got into canoes in October 2010 and paddled for 8 days down the lower Fraser River to greet the opening of the sockeye inquiry. We did this to let Justice Bruce Cohen of the Cohen Commission known how important it was to us that he release the Provincial farm salmon disease records.

Justice Cohen honoured our request despite opposition from the Province of BC:

Our public interest grounds is that we really want to make sure that this data is confidential so we can facilitate a good environment to keep the farmers reporting every time there’s a problem and this goes to the veterinarians as well. MS Callan, lawyer for Province of BC (Cohen Commission transcript, Aug-26-2011, pg. 12)

Over the following weekend, a flood of emails went to Premier Christy Clark asking that she withdraw this objection.

On the next day of testimony, the lawyer for the Province rose unexpectedly and withdrew the objection:

The province has some happy news for all of the members of the Commission. We have decided to withdraw our objection with respect to the private exhibits and while the province still has concerns relating to the release of releasing confidential information about farm-specific data, it still remains, but the province doesn’t have a problem with providing the form in aggregate. (Cohen Commission transcript, Aug. 29, 2011, pg. 75)

As it turned out, there were prolific notations throughout the provincial farm salmon disease records identifying symptoms of 3 European viruses. These viruses have never been considered by the scientists trying to figure out what is happening to the Fraser sockeye. Here are some of the references to the viruses made by the provincial vet.

ISA virus Salmon Flu

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Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation, Salmon alphavirus

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The above observations were disturbing to read.  It is no small thing for a government vet to report the symptoms of the ISA virus, salmon Alphavirus, or HSMI.  As I see it, he was shooting up flares, warning any who might notice that there might be a situation developing here.  None of these viruses are going to be good for the investors in this industry, and the wild salmon economy certainly doesn’t want European salmon viruses on the loose.

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However, some in DFO knew these statements were not entirely accurate. The paper below, coauthored by DFO reports 100% ISAv positive test results for the Cultus Lake sockeye, the most endangered Fraser sockeye population. Entire fisheries have been shut down and taxpayers money used to protect the Cultus Lake sockeye. DFO never provided a copy of this to the commission. How could they, they were in a deadlock between promoting the industry and significantly threatening the industry’s market with any announcement of this finding.

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My response was to ground-truth the situation, just take a look ourselves.

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To date, I only have a few results back from the labs, but already we have positive test results for all three of the European viruses noted by the provincial vet. He was right.

The Province of British Columbia has chosen this moment to forge ahead with the renewal of sea floor tenures for salmon feedlot industry. By doing so they are deciding where the impact of salmon feedlots takes place and thus which stocks of wild salmon are exposed.

Not waiting for the Cohen Report, the Province of BC gave Mainstream 20 years of access to release all its manure into the waters Clayoquot Sound.

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This seems irresponsible, in light of Cohen Recommendation #14, recommending that net-pen salmon farm licenses not exceed a single year.

Kathy Evans, of the Province of BC signed the above document stating:
no significant impacts on the environment have been identified by the mandated agencies.”

With all due respect Ms. Evans where were you during the Cohen Commission? Here is what Justice Cohen has to say:

“I therefore conclude that the potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye salmon from salmon farms is serious or irreversible. Disease transfer occurs between wild and farmed fish….”

There is no reason to believe wild salmon throughout BC are any less vulnerable than the Fraser sockeye – Cohen’s mandate was simply restricted to the Fraser sockeye.

Recommendation #15 says salmon farm siting has to be revisited to include protection of migration routes and that farms that do not meet new criteria should be removed.

In Recommendation #18, Justice Cohen goes on to say that if salmon farms are found to have greater than minimal impact they should “cease to operate

The viral results I am getting represent strong potential for “greater than minimal impact,” they represent “irreversible” harm. There is no “undo” button here.

Standing with Kingcome

For these reasons, I am standing with my adoptive Dzawada’enuxw family from Kingcome Village as they say “NO” to renewal of 17 Norwegian salmon farm tenures in their territory. The salmon, herring and oolichan cannot enter their territory without swimming through the effluent of several salmon feedlots.

Download Kingcome migraton routes movie

It is my duty as a scientist and as citizen of earth to take a stand where I see irreversible and serious damage to wild salmon. Salmon are the bloodstream to this part of the world. By doing this the Dzawada’enuxw are standing up to protect wild salmon throughout BC, as southern stocks pass through Queen Charlotte Strait and then move north to mingle with northern and Alaskan salmon stocks. Once exposed, they will carry the contamination forward. The salmon feedlots in Dzawada’enuxw territory are in all the migration routes of the Kingcome, Wakeman rivers and other salmon, herring and oolichan stocks.

Kingcome River
This is the “driveway” to Kingcome Village

Over 10,000 people have signed the petition below which supports the Dzawada’enuxw position. And below that is a notice that there will be a gathering at Premier Clark’s office to give her the opportunity to meet with people who do not want the sea floor rented to the salmon feedlot industry.

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Alexandra Morton is a registered professional biologist who was living in a remote archipelago studying whales when the fish farmers came to her town. Read other articles by Alexandra, or visit Alexandra's website.