Salmon Farming Moratorium (September 2002)

John van Dongen
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Victoria, B.C.

Dear Mr. van Dongen:

I am writing to you now to express, on behalf of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), our dismay at the recent decision by the B.C. government to lift a moratorium on open-cage fish farming in Pacific coastal waters.

Open net-cage salmon farming presents many health and environmental problems that are not addressed by current government regulations and permits.

Fish feces and uneaten food pellets collect below the farms and profoundly affect marine life on the ocean floor. Diseases and parasites proliferate rapidly in net cages due to crowded conditions, resulting in excessive treatment with parasiticides and antibiotics; residues from these chemicals are released into the ocean and affect the resistance profile of natural pathogens.

Thousands of farmed salmon escape annually into the wild because of human error or torn nets. Most BC fish farms grow Atlantic salmon, thus introducing diseases towards which native salmon have no natural immunity. In addition, more aggressive Atlantic salmon can dominate river habitat relative to Pacific species. In the last decade, an estimated one million Atlantic salmon have escaped in BC and have been found in approximately 80 river systems.

Pacific salmon, such as Chinook and Coho, also escape from salmon farms. Unlike Atlantic salmon, they can interbreed freely with their wild cousins. But farmed Pacific salmon are less genetically diverse than wild fish and could thus threaten the long-term survival of wild stocks.

The federal government permits fish farmers to shoot seals and sea lions that threaten fish stocks. In 2001, BC fish farmers reported killing about 400 seals and sea lions; however, according to eyewitness accounts, many additional shootings go unreported.

The most tragic aspect of fish farming is the net loss of fish stocks built into farming operations. Mackerel, anchovies and other small fish from South America are used to produce feed for BC’s farmed salmon. It takes between three to four kilograms of wild fish to produce one kilogram of farmed salmon. This contributes to the depletion of fish stocks and is a poor use of fish protein.

I urge the BC government to eliminate open net-cage salmon farming and require the industry to:

  • develop fish feed that doesn’t deplete global fish stocks
  • ensure that wildlife is not harmed as a result of fish farming
  • prohibit the use of genetically modified fish
  • eliminate the routine use of antibiotics in fish farming
  • ensure contaminants in marketed farmed fish do not exceed safe levels

I thank you for your consideration of these matters. I look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.


Warren Bell BA MDCM CCFP
Salmon Arm, B.C.

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment



Follow CAPE on: