Sea lice infecting juvenile wild salmon in Okisollo Channel declines by 95%

Great News! The number of sea lice infecting juvenile wild salmon in Okisollo Channel has declined by 95% between 2020 and 2021. Researchers are excited to learn that most of the young salmon look pristine, with iridescent scales untouched by sea lice!

For the last 17 years scientists have been monitoring sea lice levels on out-migrating juvenile wild salmon in Okisollo Channel in the Discovery Islands. Following Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan’s December 17, 2020 decision to prohibit restocking of 19 fish farms in the Discovery Islands, this spring’s juvenile salmon are the first to swim through a fish farm-free Okisollo Channel in over 25 years, with extraordinary results.

Removing Fish Farms works!

Most fish farms raise Atlantic salmon, a species not found in the wild in British Columbia. Along with fears that mass escapes of farmed salmon would put Atlantic salmon in competition with local wild salmon, overcrowded farms endanger the health of migrating salmon.  

On their way out to the ocean, young salmon smolts from the Fraser River must pass through the narrow channels around the Discovery Islands where they run the gauntlet of 19 fish farms. There they are exposed to sea lice and viruses that thrive in the crowded conditions within the farms. In 2020, 99% of the juvenile sockeye sampled in the Discovery Islands were infected with sea lice. One of the viruses, piscine orthoreovirus (PRV), is highly contagious and can cause a heart disease in wild fish. This is a major contributor to sockeye returns to the Fraser River being at an historic low.

“Our water and lands are precious. Our foods, medicines and all that we needed came from the land and waters of our territory. This is why Tla’amin members continue to be good stewards. It is each member’s responsibility to care for our lands and waters.”  – Hegus (Chief) John Hackett, Tla’amin Nation.

To ensure the last fish farms are forever banned, Homalco and Tla’amin Nations aim to go to court to bring forward abundant evidence of the harms presented to wild salmon, to their communities, and to ecosystems.

Backed by RAVEN supporters, who donated $45k and counting to their legal costs, Nations were in the federal court on Tuesday, April 20 to secure the removal of salmon farms from their territories, after companies obtained an injunction allowing them to restock. First Nations are up against  four salmon farm companies, with a goal to intervene in a Judicial Review of Canada’s decision to ban fish farms. 

If successful, Homalco and Tla’amin will bring important evidence of the damages fish farming does to their livelihoods, culture, and ecosystems. Indigenous Nations are uniquely positioned to present this evidence as, on its own, Canada may be unwilling to present evidence that could be used in future court challenges to fish farms in other jurisdictions, such as Clayoquot Sound.

Soon, we will know whether Indigneous Nations  have won this important first step, allowing them to participate fully in the upcoming Judicial Review. Meanwhile, take the pledge or donate to support!

We are extremely excited by this good news and thank all Indigenous leaders for taking care of the salmon and waters, and scientists for their tireless efforts to bring forth this evidence.

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