The federal government urgently needs to more directly research whether sea lice-infested fish farms are killing wild salmon in Northern B.C.’s Broughton Archipelago. That is the view of Simon Fraser University statistics professor Rick Routledge, a researcher studying the issue and a participant in a recent workshop about it in Alert Bay. "The evidence implicating the fish farms remains circumstantial and incomplete," says Routledge, "but it is very compelling."
Routledge and other workshop participants are dismayed that a 2004 federal study of the Broughton Archipelago’s salmon fishery will not begin until the end of March. Pink salmon smolts will have started migrating out of the archipelago’s inlets, past fish farms, and into the ocean by then.
SFU’s centre for coastal studies (CCS) organized the Alert Bay workshop to get stakeholders discussing new research about rising sea lice populations in fish farms and declining wild salmon runs in the Broughton Archipelago. Studies done by Routledge, a CCS member, Alexander Morton, an independent biologist, and other researchers over the last few years have shown that sea lice levels on wild salmon near active fish farms are much higher than elsewhere.
Routledge stresses that scientists must nail down the lethal sea lice load for juvenile pink salmon because European evidence suggests that one louse can kill a juvenile pink. His most recent work with Morton’s team shows that when some Broughton Archipelago farms were emptied of fish in 2003, the lice loads on wild salmon caught in the vicinity declined substantially.
Routledge and other scientists are frustrated because the provincial government is not further researching or enforcing the emptying of fish farms in 2004. A recent major study by the federal department of fisheries neglected to examine the connection between sea lice, pink salmon and fish farms.
The Speaking For the Salmon report: www.sfu.ca/coastalstudies/linking/pdf/SeaLice_proceedings.pdf
Rick Routledge: www.stat.sfu.ca/~routledg/
Centre for coastal studies: www.sfu.ca/coastalstudies/