When it comes to connections, the more obvious the elements, the more immediate the impact. That’s why Ana Santos starts her presentation with a comment on eagles and a playful jab at Thor Froslev.
“In order to gauge how low the eagle count was,” she says, “I think we have only to look at Thor’s face. It’s pretty bad, isn’t it?”
The audience assembled at the Brackendale Art Gallery (BAG) ripples with laughter. A finger in the ribs of the owner is, after all, a cause for chuckles. And, anyway, they won’t be doing much more of that as Santos presents her material. Part of January’s Winter Eagle Festival at BAG, she’s giving a presentation on fish farming. Called Salmon Farming: The Bare Bones , it delves deep into the ecological apocalypse she believes is fomenting in fish farms across British Columbia.
“There used to be a lot of ignorance surrounding the issues of salmon farming,” continues Santos. “That is not the case anymore. We know a lot about it these days. It’s a proven fact that wild salmon stocks have fallen apart all over the world as a result of this practice.”
The essence of the problem isn’t really farming. And it’s not what pro-wild stock advocates are calling for. Rather, they want the farms, which are operated in open water, removed from migration routes. Currently, there are almost 100 fish farms in the province.
“What we’re calling for is a complete separation between farm fish and wild fish,” says Santos.
The problems are manifold. The concentration of fish in farm settings, says Santos, is extreme. There are millions heaped into open water pens together, and the close quarters gives pathogens an ideal breeding ground. Accordingly, sea lice are like plague.
With pathogens come antibiotics. Of course, given the porous membrane between nature and farms, the drugs just ooze into the wild, as do feces and other waste.
There’s also competition and interbreeding between wild fish and farm fish to think about.
Why? According to Santos, the vast majority of farmed fish is processed into illustrious food products, with market destinations in the United States, China and Japan.
Meanwhile, back in British Columbia, says Santos, salmon are heavy with sea lice. It takes one to three such parasites to kill a chum. Santos says she’s seen some beleaguered by 13 lice on one side of the body alone. There is a drug farmers can use to fend off lice. Called Slice, it has yet to be approved by the government, and there’s growing evidence of its harmful effects on the natural world.
With lower chum salmon counts come lower eagle counts, says Santos. But it goes deeper than that. Sickly salmon promise sickly orcas. They promise sickly bears. They even assure sickly humans, biologically and economically. The salmon, she posits, is the foundation for much of the province’s ecological framework.
Santos is a volunteer with Squamish Streamkeepers and the Squamish Environmental Conservation Society. She also volunteers in Alaska with a fish and wildlife organization. Further, Santos spent a stint in Echo Bay, B.C., where famed anti-fish farming activist Alexandra Morton lives. Morton took the legal underpinnings of fish farming to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and she’ll be discussing her case at BAG on Jan. 24.