TRANSCRIPT - Jennifer Lash
Lash is the Executive Director of the Living Oceans Society
in Sointula, British Columbia.
Why is this one of your campaigns?
Society is based in Sointula on the central coast of B.C., right
near the Broughton Archipelago, which has one of the highest concentrations
of farms on the coast. When we first started the organization, we
were really focused on marine protection areas, which we still are,
but you can't work in this area without being involved in the debate
around fish farms. It has polarized our communities, caused so much
havoc to the environment that there was no way that a conservation
organization could exist here without getting into it. So as a result
we decided that if you're going to go in, you go in all the way
and it's now one of our major campaigns.
What are the issues involved?
that salmon farming can do two things. It can be very dangerous
for the ocean and it can be very dangerous for human health. We
know for a fact that it's very dangerous for the ocean. There's
the issue of disease transfer to the wild fish, there's the pollution,
the waste that goes into the ocean that contains antibiotics and
pesticides. This entire toxic cocktail is going into our ocean.
There's the escape of the Atlantic salmon that are now spawning
in our rivers. So we know for a fact that salmon farming is a threat
to our ocean.
Now there are
issues around human health that we're also concerned about. It's
not quite as definitive at this point in time, but there are real
indications that there are problems. They use a chemical additive
to color the fish. We don't know the consequences of that yet. The
fish are fed antibiotics; we don't know what that means in terms
of antibiotic resistance developing in humans that consume the food.
There are issues around the omega-3 fatty acids, whether it really
is as healthy as everybody thinks it is. So we're concerned both
in terms of the health of the ocean and the health of humans.
What are some of the problems?
Within a two-year
period they had a new farm put up right next to a seal cove, which
means they're going to start shooting the seals. We've had escapes;
we've had disease outbreaks. In June of 2001 we had an outbreak
of sea lice infestation on our pink salmons and these were the juvenile
pink salmon, about a year ago. They were migrating out to sea and
in the Broughton they found these little salmon and they were totally
infested with sea lice. This is not normal. Sea lice do exist in
the wild, they're part of our eco-system, but the state of these
fish, so infested, so heavily with these sea lice was not normal
at all. It was very similar to outbreaks of sea lice that they've
have in Norway, Scotland, and Ireland.
They have proven
to be attributed to the fish farms. So we were just appalled by
this, that our pink salmon would be endangered so much by these
sea lice. Unfortunately the federal government, our Department of
Fisheries and Oceans, told us there was no problem, that the sea
lice were normal, that this was a normal condition, and that the
pink salmon would be fine. We've been waiting since that happened
for these pink salmon to return. This is the fall that the fish
that had survived would have been coming back and they're not coming
back. We've seen up to a 99% collapse of the pink salmon in the
four streams that feed into the Broughton Archipelago. So that's
a classic example of showing how the sea lice have infected the
juvenile salmon, which means that those runs basically have been
pushed to the brink of extinction.
That is probably
the best example of how fish farms are affecting not only our eco-system
in terms of our wild salmon, the bears that live off of them, and
the general health of the ocean, but also how it's affecting our
commercial fishery and our economy up here. There are very rough
estimates that say that those runs, in harvestable years, when it's
healthy, is up to about one million dollar fishery. So we're killing
our ocean and we're also killing our local economy and we can't
do that anymore. We depend too much on a clean ocean for existence.
At Living Oceans Society we work towards maintaining the health
of the ocean and therefore supporting healthy communities that depend
on it and what we're really worried about is that salmon farms are
going to basically turn our healthy oceans into unhealthy oceans.
What about escaped salmon?
What most people
don't realize is that most of the salmon that are farmed on the
coast of British Columbia are Atlantic salmon, which means they're
not indigenous to this area. The salmon farmers assured us that
they couldn't escape and they couldn't survive in the wild but they've
not only escaped, they've survived and spawned in the wild and we
now have Atlantics that have been born on this coast. What we're
really worried is they're going to out-compete our wild salmon and
we're going to end up losing our wild salmon as a result of it.
What do you
say to the fishery people who say that there is little to no risk?
tells me they can predict what a fish can do, I don't think they
really understand the power of the ocean. The one thing that we
know about the ocean is that we don't know very much about it. We
don't understand how our eco-systems work, we don't know the history
of the fish, we don't understand it, and it's very complex. There
is no way that anybody with 100% confidence can say that they understand
what Atlantic salmon are going to do on this coast. We don't know
and we can't afford to risk it. We can't gamble with the eco-system
that we have here, we have to take the steps that are necessary
to look after it, and that means not having fish farms on our coast.
Where should the farms be then?
If in fact we
have to have fish farms it has to be done in a way where it's not
threatening both the ocean and human health. So they have to use
technology that eliminates any risk of escapes and any risk of disease
transfer. You cannot have any waste being dumped into the ocean.
You have to look at issues like where is the food coming from that's
being fed to these fish. Right now the food that they're feeding
fish is actually made of other fish, from other fisheries in other
parts of the world. So in order to feed the salmon that are being
farmed here, we're depleting the anchovies and herring and mackerel
in other parts of the world. We can't do that. We have to look at
our oceans, all of our oceans as connected, and we can't destroy
one to try and feed fish in another place. What we have to be doing
is, in terms of food, looking at a new food source and if we can't
find it we just can't farm them.
The farmers say wild fisheries are in decline.
It's an interesting
discussion when people say our fisheries are in decline. They're
not as strong as they used to be and there are definitely steps
that we need to take to improve our fisheries. That's a very important
issue for Living Oceans Society, but we also know that they can
be managed sustainably. There are runs like the halibut fishery-very
sustainable. The crab fishery is doing well. If we keep monitoring
them and working on them we can have healthy wild fisheries. Right
now there's over 16,000 people employed in the fishing industry
on this coast. So if we have salmon farms, which are going to start
to destroy wild stocks and hurt marine eco-systems, we could by
that fact be displacing employment. We could be causing economic
havoc on this coast, as opposed to being this panacea for the situation
we're in right now. We really need to look at it. Is this a job
vs. environment argument or is this also a job vs. job argument?
They say they're providing jobs.
The jobs provided
through the salmon farming industry are particularly in the processing.
But we could also be processing wild fish. Why aren't we looking
at the value being done in the coastal communities? Why aren't we
looking at taking the halibut, the shrimp, and other things that
are being caught right now and trying to do value-added work, so
that we're increasing the employment in these coastal communities,
and still looking after our ocean? So yes, there are jobs but they're
not the right jobs.
We're not seeing a lot of people out there tending the farms.
No. When they
first started the farms up they would have people living at the
farms but like with every other industry as soon as you start to
bring in mechanization and ways of minimizing labor costs, which
is what every company always wants to do, there's less and less
people actually working at the farms. The jobs that we see up here
are in the processing facilities. That's why I say if we're processing
farmed fish we could be processing wild fish too. We can look at
doing more with the wild fish and getting more money for what we're
catching from the ocean. If we manage our wild fisheries properly
we're going to have a healthy ocean.
Some say that farmed salmon has glutted the market and prices are
down for all salmon.
is cheaper than wild salmon, but it's cheap for a reason. The consumer
pays less but we pay more. Right now up here our community, our
ocean, is paying the cost so that the consumer has cheaper salmon,
and we can't carry that burden anymore. We should not have to carry
that burden. If people want salmon you have to pay the price for
it-you can't make us carry that cost any longer.
We're in a situation
right now where the salmon that is available is farmed and it's
dangerous. We have tried endlessly to get the government and decision
makers to take some responsibility in taking that danger away from
the ocean and it has failed. For 15 years there's been activists
working on this coast, in commercial fleet, the First Nation and
conservationists trying to work through processes constructively
with the government and we've failed miserably. Despite the claims
of our government that they've got this great management system,
we've still seen the collapse of our pink salmon in our backyard.
So it's not working. Ninety percent of the salmon that's exported
from British Columbia is consumed in the United States. Most of
that is consumed in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
If those people
stopped eating farmed salmon it would make a huge difference to
us up here. So there's a real responsibility of the consumer to
think about what they're doing when they're buying farmed salmon.
A lot of people I imagine would think, "well why do they have
to think about our situation up here when they're buying a product?"
Consumers also have to think about themselves, what are they putting
into their own bodies, and what are they doing in terms of their
own future. We'd just like people to think twice when they're at
the supermarket. When you're eating this product you're eating chemical
additives, there's the potential of antibiotics in there, it's been
through pesticides, and that is scary. We're really encouraging
people to think twice before they buy it, because it could be a
product they don't want.
The dollar price is not reflecting the true cost?
A lot of research
has shown that people eat farmed salmon because they believe that
it's better for the environment. So we know consumers are trying
to make a decision in the best interest of wild salmon and the ocean.
Unfortunately those people don't have all the information they need
to make an informed decision. Some of the work that we're doing
is to get the information to consumers, so that they are able to
make an informed decision. This is information about things such
as chemical additives, pesticides, disease transfers, and antibiotics.
We are trying
to get that information out so people can think about not only about
the consequence of eating farmed salmon on the environment but also
the consequence of eating farmed salmon on their bodies. Even if
the farms aren't at your front door step, it doesn't mean they do
not hurt you. We're all connected; we all like to eat seafood. We
all like to reap from the bounty of the ocean, and if we don't keep
the ocean healthy we're not going to be able to have the food on
our plate. There's a responsibility that we all have towards the
health of the ocean. Eating farmed salmon is part of the problem;
it's not helping at all. Research has shown that a lot of consumers
are buying farmed salmon because they think it's taking pressure
off the wild stock. They are trying to make a decision in the best
interest of our wild salmon in our ocean, and that's great.
In actual fact,
what they're doing is putting more pressure on wild salmon and more
pressure on the ocean because fish farms are bad. They are not good
for the ocean and they're not good for us. Eating farmed salmon
is putting more pressure on the ocean and more pressure on our wild
salmon. What we really need to do is start making a decision in
the best interest of the health of the ocean and the health of us
and stay away from farmed salmon. We can eat wild salmon, wild halibut.
Talk to your fishmongers. There are things to do, but please don't
eat farmed salmon.
Would you like to leave any other thoughts viewers?
We all have
to realize that there is no wild Atlantic salmon sold in North America.
If you're in a grocery store and there's fresh Atlantic salmon,
it's farmed. Don't buy Atlantic salmon. There's also some Pacific
species-Coho and Chinook-that are also farmed. What you really need
to do is talk to the person at the fish market or at the grocery
store and ask them where their fish is from. Don't let "fresh"
fool you. If it's from a farm it's farmed, you don't want it.
What else with regard to the campaign?
When we first
started talking about doing some sort of public education, a consumer
education campaign, we started calling people all along the west
coast of North America to see whether there was some interest in
being involved and it's amazing how many people are sympathetic
to this issue. We've had over 100 organizations offer to carry our
information, to share it with their members, through public speaking
and through newsletters. What we're seeing is that there are a lot
of people out there who are really worried about this and want to
get the information out so that we are making informed decisions.
That's really profound.
What kind of organizations are these?
The groups that
are helping us are a wide range. There are individual chefs who
want to take this and speak to it; there are chefs who want to stop
serving the product in their restaurants. There are distributors
who refuse to sell it. There are natural food stores who are refusing
to sell farmed salmon. But there are also organizations that meet
once a month to talk about protecting a local beach that also wants
to carry it. There are large conservation groups, small conservation
groups, and outdoor recreation groups. There is a wide, wide range
of people that are really coming together around this issue and
trying to make a difference.
What haven't we covered?
There are a
lot of campaigns right now around seafood. There are a lot of people
out there saying, "buy this seafood, don't buy that seafood."
It's getting really confusing for the consumers and that's a real
challenge. I think the thing to remember about farmed salmon is
this is something that everybody eats all the time. It's a very
common mainstream food source in our lives which means that absolutely
everybody can play a role in helping change the way we do things
by thinking twice before they do buy that farmed salmon.
The power of the consumer has a large impact on this issue?
We all get disillusioned
all the time with our political systems and voting and everything.
There's one thing that still remains to some degree democratic and
that is we can all vote with our dollar. We're just asking people
to put their dollars in the right place and look after the ocean.
We've been working on this issue for so long and people are always
asking us what can they do. They don't want to write letters, because
they feel that it's really pointless. The most powerful thing they
can do is vote with their dollar and by choosing not to buy farmed
salmon. If instead they can look at wild salmon or wild halibut,
they're putting their vote in the right place.
Do you think marine fisheries are an unstable source of food?
If DFO thinks
that fish farming is more stable than the wild fisheries, then they
are basically admitting their inability to manage our wild fish.
If that's the case then they should get out of the business and
bring people in who can do it. Wild fisheries have been managed
sustainably for hundreds of years. It can be done. The only time
it gets screwed up is when our federal government makes a bad decision.
When the sea lice outbreak happened here in May and June of 2001,
automatically we called the federal government and asked them to
get some scientists up here to research it right away. It took them
over a month to come up here. By then many of the salmon had migrated
They also brought
a huge troll vessel up here and went into an area that's full of
little islands and inlets. It was inappropriate equipment, and so
they ended up not testing where there was an actual infestation.
Unfortunately our government is saying that they've done research,
but they didn't go to the area where there was the infestation of
sea lice. They didn't catch enough samples to do a valid study,
and yet they somehow concluded that there was no outbreak. Meanwhile
a person living in that area caught over 800 samples that were infested
and was able to do a statistical study to show that there was in
fact an infestation.