Is British Columbia’s salmon at risk?

First Nations are concerned about the future of B.C.'s wild salmon 

First Nations in B.C. are concerned about the future of B.C.’s wild salmon since learning that heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI) – which can kill up to 20 per cent of farmed salmon – has been identified at a B.C. farm.

In May 2016, a team of international researchers, led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, diagnosed HSMI in farmed Atlantic salmon samples collected from a B.C. aquaculture facility in 2013/14. This research was published in an online journal in February 2017.

The study also found an association between HSMI lesions and the piscine reovirus (PRV), which is known to occur in a wide variety of salmon species on North America’s pacific coast, a region where HSMI has never been reported.

The First Nations Leadership Council (FNLD), which is comprised of the political executives of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, is concerned about the potential of farmed salmon infecting wild species.

“The continued promotion of the aquaculture industry by the government of Canada and B.C., in light of their failure to recognize and adequately understand the relationship between PRV, HSMI and the potential for farmed fish to infect wild species, continues to place our pristine coastal environment and already critically low wild salmon runs at even greater risk,” said the FNLD in a press release last week.

“The FNLC calls upon the governments of B.C. and Canada to revisit the suite of legislation pertaining to the auditing and monitoring of open net-pen fish farm operations.”

Lake Babine Nation Chief Wilf Adam said he’s also concerned about B.C.’s wild salmon.

“I’m very happy that there are no salmon farms within our river system,” he said. “I just hope no salmon farms get into our areas.”

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association said more investigation into the health of wild and farm-raised salmon is imperative, adding that further research is ongoing to better understand how HSMI develops and its root cause.

Heart and skeletal muscle inflammation was originally reported in Norway in the late 1990s. The federal government says the specific causes of HSMI have not been established.

Emiliano Di Cicco, co-author of the study recently published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, said the results of the study cannot clearly answer whether PRV is the direct cause of HSMI.

“That’s because there is still one per cent possibility that the association is the result of random chance,” he explained. “However, you have to consider that our study is not an isolated case, as this association has been demonstrated also in other studies carried out in Norway and Chile.”

In a statement, the provincial government said the province places the health of all wild fisheries, including salmon, as paramount.

“That’s why the B.C. government works with its federal counterparts and aquaculture operators to monitor for diseases and is prepared to implement a prompt, coordinated and science-based response if required. The federal government carefully considers any potential impacts aquaculture operations could have on wild fisheries, fish health and the ocean floor before making a decision on an application.”