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Sea lions trapped in fish farm pens near Tofino move on

Fish farm industry watchdog Clayoquot Action says the sea lions will likely head to another farm
Jeremy Mathieu of Clayoquot Action captured this photograph of sea lions inside Cermaq Canada’s Rant Point salmon farm. (Jeremy Mathieu photo)

Cermaq Canada’s Rant Point fish farm site in Clayoquot Sound looks a little different this week.

All the fish have been harvested and the sea lions that were trapped in the pens will likely move on, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

“Rant Point is now considered empty of fish. The sea lions may still attempt to access the infrastructure out of habit, however without fish to eat they are unlikely to remain,” said DFO aquaculture media contact Lauren Girdler in an email.

Cermaq Canada also confirmed via email that the last fish was harvested out of their Rant Point Farm on April 12.

Girdler told the Westerly that about 10 to 20 sea lions were observed by DFO biologists in the net pens at Rant Point on March 23. She said while the Cermaq facility includes exclusionary predator netting and electric fencing around the open net pens, the sea lions were able to breach the facility.

DFO was unable to confirm whether or not large numbers of farmed Atlantic salmon escaped the facility due to the sea lion breach.

“Cermaq has been actively working to repair any holes in the nets to prevent fish escape. At this point, DFO has no indication that large numbers of Atlantic salmon have escaped from the facility,” wrote Girdler.

Cermaq is now removing some of the predatory nets, but the fish and growout nets have all been removed, according to DFO.

Clayoquot Action, a Tofino-based fish farm industry watchdog, says the sea lions will probably just move to another fish farm site and that Atlantic salmon likely escaped into the Pacific Ocean.

“Given the amount of time that the sea lions were in the pens for, it is highly unlikely that they didn’t escape. This is a form of pollution in Clayoquot Sound having the Atlantic salmon competing with wild salmon for food,” said Clayoquot Action’s Bonny Glambeck.

“Sea lions are a very intelligent animal. It’s like a bear adapting to human behaviour. These sea lions have now learned and adapted to getting into these farms. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do the same thing again,” she said.

The federal government made a pledge in Dec. 2019 to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025. Recently, a group of more than 100 First Nations and fishery organizations have come forward urging Canada to follow through on its commitment. Clayoquot Action is hosting a flotilla on May 7 in the Tofino Harbour to encourage the government to follow through with their pledge.

“This has been going on for 30 years. They have not been able to solve this problem. Removing the farms is the foolproof way to solve the problem of marine mammal entanglement and that would also take care of the pesticides, parasites and pathogens,” said Glambeck.

RELATED: VIDEO: Locals alarmed as sea lions feast on B.C. fish farm

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