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October 11, 2005
There is public and media interest about possible links between sea lice, salmon farms and wild salmon stocks in British Columbia. This has resulted from suggestions that sea lice from salmon farms are harming wild Pink salmon populations in the Broughton Archipelago, a group of islands north of Johnstone Strait off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.
DFO has a federal responsibility to ensure that the aquaculture industry develops in a responsible and sustainable manner within a regulatory framework that safeguards wild stocks and ensures the wise use of aquatic resources for the benefit of all Canadians.
Many factors influence the survival of wild Pacific salmon including annual climate variation, predator and prey abundance, fishing pressure, and the impacts of naturally-occurring disease and parasites. Wild Pink salmon populations fluctuate the most of all wild Pacific salmon species.
Sea lice are naturally-occurring parasites found in every ocean and on many species of fish around the world. They are very common on all Pacific salmon adults during their return migration in coastal waters of BC. Wild salmon can transfer sea lice to salmon farms and, if left untreated, farmed salmon can transfer sea lice back to the marine environment. With proper fish health management practices, regulated by the Province of BC, sea lice levels can be carefully controlled on fish farms.
The concentration of sea lice in specific areas is a complex marine ecosystem puzzle that involves a range of possibilities. This emphasizes the need for additional information on sea lice biology and abundance. Sea lice and wild salmon have been an issue in many countries where aquaculture is in practice, but no direct cause and effect has been determined in these areas. Our research is not showing evidence that sea lice levels on juvenile pink and chum salmon are affecting adult salmon population levels in the Broughton Archipelago. In 2004 and 2005, the numbers of returning pink salmon have improved compared to the poor returns in 2002 and 2003.
The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that the aquaculture sector develops in an environmentally responsible manner. All aquaculture operations are subject to rigorous environmental review under a number of federal and provincial acts and regulations to ensure that they meet high standards of environmental sustainability. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is working to manage salmon farms in an environmentally sound manner, allowing aquaculture to co-exist with wild stocks and wild commercial fisheries. The two industries exist side-by-side, and they produce nutritious, healthy salmon. Both industries provide important sources of income and spin-off economic benefits to their local communities.