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Review by The Fisherman

The record of salmon farming

For those concerned about the mounting threat posed by salmon farming on the BC coast, a new book by six well-known local authors is a must-read.

A Stain Upon the Sea is an indispensable critique of fish farming practices, brought into focus through five well-researched essays from contributors who have been watching this new industry for years.

Historians Betty Keller and Rosella Leslie trace the development of the salmon farming industry in BC from the first struggling farms in the late 1970s, the mushrooming of small family farms on the south coast in the 1980s, and finally to the massive multinational corporate takeover in the 1990s that left the industry in the hands of just a few, mainly foreign-owned conglomerates.

The backdrop is an unending cycle of disasters that followed the salmon farming industry wherever it went on the coast. Algae blooms, pits of festering farmed salmon "morts", storms and disease outbreaks in the 1980s and '90s led to a string of scandals and bankruptcies for the industry.

Stephen Hume, an award-winning columnist for the Vancouver Sun, looks at salmon farming through the eyes of the Nuxalk and Heiltsuk First Nations, as well as Alaskans and sports anglers, while giving a poignant summary of the evidence to date on impacts ranging from sea lice to escaped farmed salmon.

Otto Langer, who worked as federal fish biologist for over 30 years, gives an in-depth account of how DFO failed to protect wild salmon, and instead put the department's energies into promoting salmon farming on the B.C. coast. He shows how DFO largely gave over the business of regulating salmon farming to the provincial government, which in turn had a vested interest in the expansion of this new coastal industry and no mandate to protect ocean resources.

Scientist Don Staniford, well-known for his work exposing the impacts of salmon farming in Scotland, examines the chemical stew that farmed salmon grow in and the health risks that it poses to humans. Staniford has now moved to B.C. and will be active researching the salmon farming issue from his home in Tofino.

Finally, the last word is given to biologist Alexandra Morton, who paints a devastating picture of the demise of wild juvenile pink salmon in the area around where she lives on Gilford Island in the Broughton Archipelago. She documents her own research, showing that sea lice infestations on salmon farms led to major infestations on wild juvenile pink salmon and that the lice levels on wild juvenile pinks went down significantly when about half a dozen farms were taken out of production. She weaves into the story her complete frustration with DFO staff, who despite numerous requests to take action, did everything in their power to look the other way or even put roadblocks in the way of needed research.

A Stain Upon the Sea, yet another excellent addition to the Harbour Publishing collection on West Coast life and issues, is available at bookstores or through the Georgia Strait Alliance website.

Review available at The Fisherman.