A male Atlantic salmon, such as those which escaped a Washington State fish farm near Anacortes. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region)

Charlotte Views: Why put wild salmon at risk?

By Tom Kertes

Apparently last week’s solar eclipse brought more than a chance to view the alignment of our sun, moon, and Earth. The New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture blamed the extra gravitational tug from the eclipse for the spill of its farmed Atlantic salmon. Despite contradictory claims around the role of the eclipse and tides, thousands of farmed fish did escape around the time of the solar event. Opponents of sea-based fish farms are concerned the Atlantic salmon may threaten native salmon in waters along the border of Washington state and British Columbia. The Lummi Nation declared a state of emergency, and is encouraging its nation’s fishers to catch as many of the escaped fish as they can in Bellingham Bay and the Nooksack River estuary.

CTV News reports some controversy around the company’s claim that solar eclipse tides caused the leakage. Wild Fish Conservancy, an advocacy organization based in Washington state, cites other problems with Cooke Aquaculture’s fish farming practices and has announced plans to sue the company. But even if the especially high tides in the lead-up to the eclipse caused the nets to break and release fish, the risks from high tides (regardless of cause) were known in advance of the solar event. There’s no excuse for bringing a potentially invasive species into Pacific coastal waters — not without absolute certainty that it won’t cause a collapse of native fish.

While the tides, nets, and practices of Cooke Aquaculture could each have roles in causing this emergency, the ultimate responsibility lands on the governments that allow farming of invasive species in the first place. The risks are known, yet farming is allowed. Why allow any risk to wild salmon, a sacred and life-sustaining source of food that’s also the spiritual and cultural heart of our region? According to the Vancouver Sun, Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation Chief Bob Chamberlin considers protection of wild salmon paramount. He said, “It is salmon that weaves our people together, from the coast to the Interior of the province.”

Last week’s spillage of Atlantic fish into Pacific waters could be another chapter in human folly when it comes to over-exploitation of our natural resources. We should know better. The collapse of the cod fishery in Atlantic Canada is recent history. The culture, economy, and community of the entire Atlantic region changed because of this collapse, a transformation that is still playing out today. Newfoundland lost over 30,000 traditional jobs, shocking fishing villages and forcing an exodus of out migration that still continues. While over-fishing and sea-based fish farming pose different threats to fish, these reflect similar attitudes about how to best manage our natural resources.

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