Bruce Burroughs is a retired fisherman in Sointula, British Columbia. He fished for over 20 years, and now works for Living Oceans Society.


Why are you a retired fisherman?

Five or six years ago the federal government had to deal with a problem with the Coho stocks. In our view, they dealt with it in an unnecessary manner. They basically cut the fishing fleet in half, and forced a lot of us out of the business. That's why I was forcibly retired.

What are your concerns about the salmon aquaculture business?

Our concern always has been for the health of the wild fish. When salmon aquaculture started moving into this area about 15 years ago, the fishermen's union actually went to Norway to look at the fish farming industry. What they found out was that there had been disease spread from fish farms to the wild stocks. They had to poison, literally poison, 18 or 20 rivers and kill everything in those rivers to get rid of this particular virus. That raised the alarm flags for us. We started taking a hard look at what some of the potential dangers were of aquaculture in BC.

The more we looked into it, we could see real problems arising. We asked government to sort of proceed slowly, in a sort of a precautionary manner. They failed to do that. We spent years sitting at various government processes trying to advise them on a safe way, if there is a safe way, to proceed with aquaculture, salmon aquaculture. All our recommendations were ignored, and we are now starting to see some of the damage to wild fish, shellfish, and just the environment in general, that is caused by salmon farming.

Could you tell us about your prediction for the Pinks?

Some people in Echo Bay, Alex Morten and others, noticed that the Pink salmon smolts, last summer, had a lot of sea lice on them. No one had ever seen that before. But it's also something we had been alerted to the possibility of, from following the fish farming experience in Europe. Alex immediately became concerned, and we called on DFO to come in and do some some monitoring. They showed up eventually, did their testing in all the wrong areas, and eventually published a report that was a complete whitewash and said that there was no problem.

Alex caught well over 800 smolts, they were all heavily infected, and we predicted at that time that the run would be seriously affected. We thought conservatively that the run would be cut down between 1/3 to ½. What we're seeing this year is that the run was devastated. The run went from about 4 million fish down to about 30,000. This is the first smoking gun that we've seen. This is the first real hard evidence of serious damage to wild fish from fish farms.

How does it feel to you as a fisherman to have the DFO be so unresponsive?

The anger level is rising. It's people are getting more and more upset all the time. We expect industry to be irresponsible, because their bottom line is profit, and that's all they really care about. We expect government to act in responsible manner. We expect government to do the job that they're getting paid to do. Which is to monitor and insure the health of the marine environment, and they're not doing that. It's completely irresponsible and it's very unsettling.

Could you speak about salmon as a renewable resource?

Sointula is a fishing town, there's communities like this up and down the coast of BC. We depend on the fish. This one little Pink salmon run that I referred to that had the sea lice problem, just in economic terms, that run would produce about a million catchable fish every 2 years, because Pink salmon is on a 2 year cycle. So, every year we could expect to catch about a million of those fish, and the economic value of that would be at least a million dollars. Every 2 years, in perpetuity. That is now gone. Hopefully that run rebuilds, but it might be even below that point, so we'll just have to wait and see.

What are some other problems of farmed salmon?

Disease transfer has always been one of our primary concerns. Whether it's ISA, salmon necrosis, or IHN, there's 6 different viruses and bacterial agents from which these farm fish suffer. When the wild fish are swimming by, either as adults or as juveniles, they're susceptible to catch those diseases. No one is monitoring that. No one has any idea how many wild fish are dying as a result of contact with these farms.

To what degree have you seen fish with lice?

Pink salmon carry more lice than any of the other 5 species of salmon. Typically if you caught an adult Pink salmon, it might have 4 to 6 lice on it. But we never saw lice on the juvenile salmon. There's a reason for that because the lice can't survive in fresh water, so when the young salmon come out of the fresh water, they're completely clean of lice. They have to pick up that lice from somewhere.
When those juvenile salmon come out of the waters in the Broughton Archipelago, there was no wild salmon around to transfer lice to them. The only possible source of that lice was the millions and millions and millions of farmed fish in that area. We know for a fact that a lot of those farms had lice problems. They were treated for lice, so we're convinced that's where the epidemic originated.

What other impacts are the fishing communities noticing?

The very first thing that we noticed 15 years ago was that some of the prawn fishermen were actually displaced from their favorite spots. Because a farm would move in and put their anchors down where those guys used to fish. The same thing happened with crab fishermen. But, that's a very small fishery. There are not very many prawn guys or crab guys around; they don't have any political clout. So, their complaints were ignored in the face of this multi-million dollar international industry.

What we've been seeing a lot of lately is an increase in fecal coliforms in the shrimp fishery. We're convinced again that that relates to the fish farm industry. It's such a problem that we're designing a study to try and take a look at it. We're going to try and do it with our limited resources. It's something that government should be doing but they're not doing. So, that's a project that we're going to undertake in the next 2 or 3 months.

Is there a solution?

They have to get the farmed fish out of the ocean, put them in tanks, on land, and completely isolate them so that there's no chance of disease transfer into the marine environment. That would solve the problem. Do you know what one of the major issues is in fish farming? Aside from the environmental thing, is that they kept saying for years and years, as part of their propaganda, that they produce food, that they are feeding the world, that sort of thing. But the fact of the matter is that they are decreasing the world's protein supply. That's a really important issue that doesn't get addressed very often.

What do you say to the consumer?

One of the things that shocked me is that if a salmon farm has an outbreak of IHN, which is a virus, they're allowed to take those sick fish, slaughter them, and sell them to the consumer. Consumers, at any time, could be eating farmed salmon infected with IHN. To me, that's shocking. I certainly would never eat it. Just in terms of quality, I wouldn't feed farmed salmon to my dog.

What do you think about the power of the consumer?

I've always looked at consumer campaigns as a really important tool to improve fisheries in general. Not just the salmon farming problem, but just the to bring more responsible environmental practices into the whole fishery, the worldwide fishery. So, I've always looked on consumer campaigns as a very positive tool. It's something that'll be good for fishermen, and it'll be good for the environment.