Sea Shepherd’s Presence

The Sea Shepards are coming to B.C. to protect the West's key stone species: wild salmon, from the threats of salmon farming. Photo by Saberwyn CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Sea Sheperds are coming to B.C. to protect the West’s keystone species: wild salmon. Salmon farming is creating significant threats for the coho, sockeye, and chinook salmon as well as the Western North American ecosystems, both coastal and inland.. Photo by Saberwyn CC BY-SA 3.0.

by Ray Grigg

Sea Shepherd, a world-famous environmental organization, has arrived in BC waters. One of it’s ships, the RV Martin Sheen, left Vancouver on July 19th to sail northward into the plethora of salmon farms that populate the province’s coast, many on the routes of migrating wild salmon. On board is biologist Alexandra Morton who confessed the environmental group’s usual tactics were outside her comfort zone. But, unlike the radical actions used by Sea Shepherd to halt illegal whaling in southern oceans, this is essentially a scientific expedition — “Operation Virus Hunter”.

The founder of Sea Shepherd, Paul Watson, explained its presence here. “It is very satisfying to me to send one of our vessels to my home province of British Columbia, to address one of the most insidious threats to biodiversity on the West Coast — salmon farms. Our mission is to investigate, document and expose an industry that is spreading disease, parasites and destroying the natural habitat of our wild salmon — the coho, the sockeye and the chinook. [Their] exotic Atlantic salmon simply do not belong in these waters.” (Island Tides, July 28/16).

Sea Shepherd’s presence here is highly symbolic, an unmistakable signal that an internationally recognized environmental organization, known for functioning with a passionate dedication to principle, has declared that BC’s salmon farming industry is a major threat to the marine ecology of the region.

The industry, of course, thinks otherwise. But, ecologically, the open net-pens where they rear their fish couldn’t be located in a worse place. The West Coast is a wilderness paradise, teeming with nature’s bounty of animals, fish and forests. Here, wild salmon are a keystone species, the life-blood that pulses through the ocean, rivers and streams to nourish orcas, bears, birds, insects, trees and people. The open net-pens of the salmon farms, distribution centres for feces, parasites and diseases, are in fundamental conflict with the health of this wild ecology.

The history of this conflict began with wildlife such as orcas, seals, sea-lions, otters, eagles, herons, and anything unfenced that liked to eat fish. Then it expanded to wild salmon when sea lice, flourishing in densely packed net-pens of farmed fish, became incubation sites for the parasites to spread, en masse, to maim and kill millions of hapless migrating wild smolts. Viral diseases followed, the latest in a series being the ubiquitous piscine reovirus, the causative infection for the debilitating condition of heart and skeletal muscle inflammation.

The successive and cumulative effects of all these farm-based impacts continue to jeopardize the health of wild salmon and impair their crucial role in supporting the West Coast’s entire marine ecosystem. As in Norway, where the lice are becoming resistant to pesticides and the viruses are also out of control, the longer fish farms remain in BC’s open net-pens, the worse the ecological consequences will be.

This is what has attracted the attention of Sea Shepherd. It volunteers its ships where the environmental threat is immanent and serious. The sheep it is protecting are the wildlife of the world’s oceans, and its message to those who offend the integrity of nature is in the shepherd’s crook and Neptune’s triton crossed beneath a skull. The mission to British Columbia is unambiguous. And it will be profiled around the world.