Algae bloom kills over 200,000 farmed fish near Tofino

Month-long die-off appears to over, DFO and Cermaq confirm

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has confirmed that the harmful algae blooms (HABs) that caused a mass die-off of farmed Atlantic salmon at a collection of Cermaq fish farm sites near Tofino has receded.

Cermaq Canada, a Norway-headquartered salmon farming company with 15 sites in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region, first reported the fish mortalities on Nov. 15.

READ: Algae bloom killing farmed fish on Vancouver Island’s West Coast

During the week of Nov. 25, DFO staff observed fish behaviour and checked records at all four sites—Binns Island, Bawden Point, Ross Pass and Millar Channel—that reported fish mortality events.

“Mortality due to harmful plankton has decreased significantly at all sites and at this point it appears the fish mortality events are over,” said the agency.

A media release from Cermaq confirms.

“The last of the mortalities associated with the harmful algae have been collected and were removed from site on November 22,” reads the Cermaq media release.

Amy Jonsson, Cermaq Canada’s communications and engagement manager, said the fish farming company normally doesn’t release numbers due to “commercial reasons”, but in this instance, she received permission.

“I can confirm that we lost approximately 205,000 fish in total,” said Jonsson via email.

DFO said they are satisfied with how Cermaq’s site operators managed the fish mortalities.

“DFO scientists have been collaborating with Cermaq and other industry partners since June 2019 to identify linkages between marine environmental conditions and the occurrence and impacts of harmful algae, and associated biotoxins, at BC salmon farms through the Aquaculture Collaborative Research and Development Program,” said the agency.

“Their goal is to develop analytical tools that will help industry to better predict when and where harmful blooms are likely to occur, so that appropriate countermeasures can be deployed most effectively,” they said.

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations (TFN) circulated a press release on Nov. 26 regarding the salmon die-off.

While Cermaq operates 15 fish farms in Ahousaht territory, TFN said the aquaculture company has been loading, unloading, and hauling its product through TFN territories without the consent or endorsement of the Nation. TFN Tribal Parks co-ordinator Terry Dorward said it currently has no working relationship with Cermaq, which operates a fish processing plant in Tofino within TFN territory.

“We are trying to rebuild fish stocks in Clayoquot Sound and it is disheartening to hear of this news. We can see that the marine risks of salmon farming are increasing, so the potential for negative impacts upon our own wild fish stocks is significant,” said Dorward.

He said that TFN proposed alternatives to fish farming, like kelp farming at a recent Clayoquot Salmon Roundtable.

“There are no borders when it comes to fish farm disease outbreaks and the pollutants that spread from the fish farm themselves. They spread when the tide comes in and goes out,” said Dorward.

READ: Salmon populations “drastically declining” around Tofino and Ucluelet

On Nov. 28, Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns was appointed critic for fisheries and oceans. He told the Westerly that DFO has lost the confidence of coastal people.

“[DFO] are both the agent, so they are a promoter of the industry, they are also there to compensate the industry when there is die-off, and then they are also there to protect our wild fisheries. No one has trust when you are playing both roles,” said Johns. “There are a lot of good people working at DFO that care deeply about our fish but it taints the whole department when they are trying to play the double role.”

“They just accept [the fish mortalities] as doing business. And it’s something that we shouldn’t simply accept, a die-off of a couple hundred thousand fish. It’s just absolutely immoral to think that this is just okay,” Johns went on to say.

READ: Clear and unequivocal: Thousands of scientists sign letter on climate crisis

In a recent quarterly report to shareholders, Mowi, another Norwegian seafood company with operations on both Canadian coasts, revealed costs had increased by 25 per cent in their Canada East sites “following a prolonged period of challenging environmental conditions.”

In early October 2019, high seawater temperatures caused mortalities of 2.6 million fish at Northern Harvest Sea Farms, a subsidiary of Mowi, located in the Fortune Bay area of Newfoundland’s south coast.

The federal government suspended the licences for all of the affected Northern Harvest sites as a result of the mass fish mortalities.



nora.omalley@westerlynews.ca

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READ MORE: After the election: The future of fish farms in the North Island

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