Clayoquot Action co-founder Dan Lewis hopes a sea lion cull conducted at a local salmon farm has opened the West Coast’s eyes to the havoc he believes the salmon farm industry is wreaking on the region.
“I think the writing’s on the wall for this industry,” Lewis said.
“I’ve seen it happen before with logging. There is a shift that comes at some point where people realize this really is a problem, and it’s not going to go away unless we make it go away, and I think fish farming is right at the cusp of that right now.”
In December, Cermaq employees shot and killed 15 sea lions at the company’s Binns Island salmon farm near Tofino.
“There is a significant amount of outrage over this,” Lewis said of the cull. “People are really choked.”
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has confirmed Cermaq went through the proper processes when conducting the cull but Lewis said these processes should be nixed.
“They should have taken a very strong stance and the only reason they didn’t is because the company did do it by the book and that tells me the book is wrong,” he said. “It should not be legal to kill wildlife in order to operate salmon farms.”
He suggested DFO missed an opportunity to send a message to the industry by not condemning the cull.
“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is supposed to be looking after our fisheries and oceans, [Cermaq] is shooting wildlife,” Lewis said.
“These sea lions are providing an important food source for transient orcas in the area. There’s biological value there and there’s an economic value to having orcas coming to the area. At what point is DFO going to defend the orcas that need the sea lions, let alone the sea lions themselves?”
He cited an April 23 Westerly News story where Cermaq spokesperson Grant Warkentin told the Westerly that the company does its best to avoid negative wildlife interactions.
“He himself said ‘one death is unacceptable,’” Lewis said of Warkentin. “The fact is, if we get to a point where we say there’s no way to prevent these sea lion deaths, then the only ethical thing to do is to get these farms out of the water.”
He noted Clayoquot Sounds sits within a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and suggested salmon farms are a poor fit for the region’s wildlife and social values.
“I am quite confident that salmon farms cannot coexist with wild salmon so that’s the root problem here,” he said. “This whole tragedy with the sea lions is just a whole other reason why these farms have to get out of the water.”
Cermaq operates 17 salmon farms in the region but Lewis does not believe the industry will survive and hopes its employees can transition to other opportunities.
“You can’t protect buggy whip manufacturers in the 21ist century,” he said. “Industries change all the time and, I think, the big thing is that the workers are not the ones to pay the penalty for changes in societal values.”
He said the West Coast has a proven ability to survive changes in industry.
“There will always be other jobs and other things to do; that’s not easy when you’re the one who’s losing the job and I totally appreciate that,” he said. “You can provide training opportunities and transition packages so that people don’t just get left out in the cold when an industry changes.”