Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Fisheries Ministers past and present:
August 14, 2023
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau, Joyce Murray, Bernadette Jordan and Minister of Fisheries Diane Lebouthillier,
I am writing to thank you for your roles in what is rapidly becoming one of the most remarkable environmental successes we have seen in this country. The pink salmon returning to southern BC are not only making a comeback, they are making history. In the last few days, the Pacific Salmon Commission has reported the largest number of pink salmon ever caught in DFO test sets along northeastern Vancouver Island. The increase over the last three generations is jaw-dropping!
This is not entirely a mystery. This generation of pink salmon was protected from exposure to salmon farms by the Prime Minister’s mandate to remove salmon farms from the BC coast, and by then Minister Bernadette Jordan’s 2020 prohibition on restocking farms in the Discovery Islands. When Joyce Murray took over the portfolio, she maintained the prohibition. And so these pink salmon that are returning in historic numbers went to sea as juveniles in 2022 when all the salmon farms in the Discovery Islands had been closed by the federal Liberal government.
In my recent paper with Dr. Rick Routledge, Effect of government removal of salmon farms on sea lice infestation of juvenile wild salmon in the Discovery Islands (in press), I examined this generation of pink salmon as they swam through the region. They looked healthier than they have since I began studying them in 2005. Sea lice infestation on this generation was 96% lower than in 2020 when eight salmon farms were operating in the Discovery Islands.
This astonishing pink salmon rebound after salmon farm removal is not a one-off event.
In 2003, following a profound pink salmon crash, the Province of BC enacted the Broughton Archipelago Action Plan wherein adult farm salmon were prohibited on the Broughton pink salmon migration route for one year. That generation of pink salmon survival surged to 34%! Typical pink salmon survival is 2-5%.
In 2022, the pink salmon returning to the Ahta River increased 10-fold in a single generation after the salmon farms near that river had been removed by the Broughton Archipelago Transition Initiative.
Also of note, the 2023 Fraser River sockeye test fishery is showing a remarkable increase in over the previous 3 generations. These sockeye passed through the Discovery Islands as juveniles in 2021, when all the salmon farms in along the narrow channels had been removed. DFO has increased their preseason estimate of the Early Stuart sockeye return by 50%! This population had to navigate the devastating Big Bar slide and yet their offspring are showing an uptick in survival!
I understand there will be claims all of this is a coincidence, unrelated to your efforts to remove salmon farms. However, it would be wrong to ignore the repeated strength of the growing evidence that removing salmon farms increases wild salmon—first by the Province of BC, then the Broughton First Nations, and now your government which removed salmon farms from the Fraser River salmon migration route. It will be important for you to review returns for Quatsino, Gold River, the Central Coast, Port Hardy and Clayoquot Sound to determine if those heavily-farmed regions have enjoyed the same remarkable rebound.
Thank you to each of you for your role in allowing this generous fish to reach the open ocean—the fish who feed the trees that are drawing the dangerous levels of carbon out of the atmosphere. This is shaping up to become the greatest environmental success of any Canadian government.