Salmon Confidential: Effects of Salmon Farming on Wild Pacific Salmon

A recently released documentary highlights the effects of the farming of Atlantic Salmon in the waters of the Canadian Pacific Northwest. The feature length film, which is freely available for viewing online, tracks the findings a number of scientific studies which have found evidence of european salmon diseases -- commonly found in farmed salmon -- in wild pacific salmon. These studies have presented evidence that links the transmission of these diseases, specifically the incredibly lethal disease ISA, from farmed salmon to wild salmon to previously unexplained declines in Canadian sockeye salmon runs.

ISA has long been a problem for salmon farming operations in the waters off Norway, Scotland, eastern Canada and Chile. The virus, by infecting the red blood cells, causes severe anemia in affected fish, often leading to death. Mortality rates in infected farming operations as high as 100% have been observed. Loss rates of 70% are not uncommon. There is no treatment for the disease once a fish is infected and vaccines designed to prevent infection are considered less than effective and difficult to administer.

Pierre Champion is seen here with the wild Atlantic Salmon he caught last week in the Bronx, NY.

There likely isn't an angler east of the Mississippi River that doesn't long for the days when wild Atlantic Salmon teemed in eastern waters ranging as far south as Long Island Sound and northward to Newfoundland and Quebec. Before the dams and pollution of the industrial revolution wiped out these formally abundant stocks of Atlantic Salmon, beginning in rivers such as the Connecticut, Merrimack, and Androscoggin, a tale of an angler in the northeastern US wetting a line and hooking up one of these prized fish wouldn't have been considered noteworthy. These days, however, it is quite the contrary. Given such, you can imagine the surprise of New York City resident Pierre Champion when he did just that just over one week ago.

Champion, a dedicated fly fisherman, paddleboarder and kayaker who religiously plies the urban waters of New York City in search of striped bass and other expected species, was searching some submerged structure off City Island in the Bronx, when he encountered a most unexpected quarry. On Champion's second exploratory cast, he hooked up a fish that he immediately noted did not fight like a striped bass or bluefish, species that he would have expected to encounter this time of year in the western reaches of Long Island Sound. Suspecting a weakfish, Champion reeled the fish in after a relatively short fight to discover a trout like fish that was hooked through the gills and bleeding badly.

A fishing vessel in Bristol Bay Alaska (photo: Nick Hall).

On Friday, the EPA released an updated version of its Bristol Bay watershed assessment and initiated a public comment period extending until May 31, 2013. The purpose of the assessment is to evaluate the potential impacts of hard rock mining, such as that proposed by foreign mining companies Northern Dynasty and Anglo American, to the environment and economy of the Bristol Bay region of Alaska. In order to assure that it is "using the best available science and that [it has] heard and considered all comments", the EPA is giving anyone with an opinion to express an opportunity to make their voice heard.

The EPA's assessment notes that even without any failures in the operational safety measures in place at the proposed mines, the construction of these mines and their related facilities will lead to extensive habitat loss. The prospects of a failure at any of the on or off site facilities that will store and transport mining products or the more than 10 billion pounds of expected toxic mining waste are much more grim. The assessment not only addresses the sensitivity of the aquatic and terrestrial habitat in which the Pebble Mine and other operations are proposed, but notes that opportunities for mitigation and remediation of any spills, leaks or other failures would be virtually non-existent.

We're pleased to formally announce our photo contest for this year. For the most part, the contest will be the same as in years past. That said, we will be doing just a few things differently this year, for a bit of a chance of pace.

This year, once the contest entry period has closed, we'll be opening up the submissions to our readers. We'll ask all of you to vote for your favorites and the judges will make their selections from amongst those that the readers liked the most (along with a few that the judges will select themselves). In addition to giving the readers a say in who wins, we're also running this years contest for most of the season, giving everyone more time to capture that winning photo.

A webcam image of the former Lake Mills on the Elwha River (April 12, 2012),

The difficulty of attempting to undo over a century of human habitat modification is becoming increasingly clear. Complications continue to mount as the dam removal and habitat restoration project, which began last September, attempts to move forward on Washington's Elwha River. According to a report in northwest Washington's Peninsula Daily News, hundreds of dead chinook salmon smolts were found on the river's lower banks after last week's release of almost 200,000 juvenile fish from a hatchery several miles upstream.

According to a biologist that examined many of the dead fish, most of the fish had their gills clogged by sediment from the river, which resulted in the fish suffocating due to an inability to take up oxygen. Staff from the hatchery confirmed that they believed the dead fish were released from the hatchery. Biologists have since called the hatchery release a mistake and stated that they felt the survival rates of the recently released salmon would be "very low". With 900,000 more chinook due to be released by June, hatchery and Fish and Wildlife staff are exploring alternative release methods and sites to avoid a similar result.

The existence and timing of hatchery operations on the Elwha have been a subject of controversy since the inception of the removal project.