Sockeye salmon nearing their spawning grounds in the Adams River.

Sockeye probe reports split on aquaculture risk

Disease, not sea lice, main threat from salmon farms: inquiry researcher

Two researchers hired by the Cohen Inquiry have come to differing conclusions on the likelihood commercial salmon farms are seriously harming the Fraser River sockeye run.

SFU biologist Larry Dill concluded the evidence suggests the growth in fish farm production and the decline in sockeye stocks are linked, likely in concert with other marine factors.

He found the spread of disease is the most likely factor – not sea lice infestations, escaping farmed salmon or waste discharged from the farms, such as uneaten food or chemicals.

The potential damage to juvenile sockeye from the large numbers of penned Atlantic salmon they pass in the Broughton Archipelago might seem like common sense, Dill testified Monday before the commission into the decline of sockeye stocks, but stressed his findings are far from conclusive.

“The evidence for that is there, but it’s fairly weak and uncertain,” he said. “Common sense is not always a good guide to science.”

Dill said the aquaculture industry adds new risks for migrating wild stocks.

The farms make it much easier for different incoming or outgoing generations of sockeye to pass pathogens back and forth, he said.

Dill also said the huge number of fish being farmed leads to bio-magnification, where large numbers of parasites can build up, and more virulent strains of pathogens can evolve.

Don Noakes, a Thomson Rivers University professor, penned a second paper commissioned by the inquiry, and concluded none of the risk factors associated with fish farms is likely to have damaged sockeye runs and found no link between them.

He said he has concerns about the interpretation of data from studies examining the possible link between sea lice and salmon in the Discovery Islands, which he called unlikely.

“There is no evidence that any exotic pathogens or diseases have been introduced by the salmon farming industry,” Noakes report states.

In cross-examination before the commission Monday, Noakes was pressed to admit his findings were “speculative” and water them down.

“It’s my assessment,” he maintained. “I haven’t heard anything to convince me otherwise.”

The inquiry heard that three million Atlantic salmon die each year in the floating net pens between northern Vancouver Island and the mainland, and that up to 600,000 perish from disease.

Previously, the inquiry heard geneticist Kristi Miller argue a newly detected virus could be a major factor behind the sockeye die-off, but she also conceded the evidence so far does not suggest aquaculture is directly responsible.

Dill, Noakes and two other researchers testifying Monday agreed that wild sockeye and the aquaculture industry should be able to safely co-exist, if the farms are managed properly and steps are taken to reduce any harmful interactions between them.

Lawyers for the provincial government agreed Monday to release provincial audits of salmon farms, including data on dead and diseased fish.

That was a reversal from last week, when the provincial representative at the inquiry argued the release would not be in the public interest and could have a chilling effect on voluntary disclosure of disease outbreaks – on livestock farms as well as fish farms.

“I don’t think anybody bought that,” said Watershed Watch Salmon Society executive director Craig Orr, who said the provincial concession was a relief to many inquiry participants.

“It’s really important to have the audited data to examine to see whether there are problems in the data submitted by the farmers.”

Aquaculture remains the focus of the sockeye commission hearings until at least Sept. 8, before turning to issues such as water temperatures, cumulative impacts and the priorities of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The judicial inquiry led by retired Judge Bruce Cohen was called by the federal government after less than 1.5 million sockeye returned in 2009, far fewer than the more than 10 million expected.

Just Posted

Nail-biter win caps successful tournament for senior Mustangs

‘They were making junior mistakes — but that’s okay,’ says coach

Film club holds birthday bash for 75-year-old Hope Cinema

Hollywood starlet Judy Garland will grace the big screen in Hope on Dec. 19

Waterworks plan in final steps, says Hope District

Council approves borrowing of $1.8 million, upping water bills almost $50 a year

Petition for free menstrual products turned over to UFV president

Almost 1,300 signatures collected calling for all campus bathrooms to be stocked

New hiking trail to be built overlooking Hope

Waterfalls, rocky outcrops featured in new trail near Silver Creek

VIDEO: Success of wildlife corridors in Banff National Park has advocates wanting more

Demand for more highway protection escalated after seven elk were killed by a semi-trailer near Canmore

Fans sing Canadian anthem after sound system breaks at BMW IBSF World Cup

The Canadians in attendance made sure their team and flag were honoured on the podium

VIDEO: Fire destroys Big White Ski Resort chalet

Social media eulogies peg the property, nicknamed “The Pharamacy,” as both loved and hated

Prince George RCMP use bait packages to catch porch pirates over the holidays

First-in-Canada program with Amazon looks to combat parcel theft

Surrey councillor wants the policing transition process to ‘immediately stop’

Brenda Locke to make motion at Dec. 16 meeting to reconsider current plan

UPDATE: Highway 1 reopens after vehicle incident near Boston Bar

Initial reports of a jack-knifed semi truck had closed both directions of the highway

Man pleads guilty to second-degree murder in 2017 Stanley Park stabbing

Lubomir Kunik was found by a man out walking his dog on the beach late on Feb. 1, 2017

Vancouver homeless camp brings community, safety, home, says resident

Encampment in the city’s Downtown Eastside is one of many that have sprung up in B.C.

Nanaimo mechanical engineer creates thief tracking program

Nanaimo Thief Tracking lets users plot and share information about thefts online

Most Read