by Alexandra Morton
As I continued to document the viruses spreading from salmon farms like an oil spill, fighting the Minister of Fisheries, Marine Harvest and Cermaq in court for mandatory farm salmon testing for the highly-contagious piscine orthoreovirus, as well defending myself against Marine Harvest’s lawsuit against me for touching their farm with a teaspoon to collect a sample, I got welcome news.
Paul Watson contacted me to say, he was sending research vessel Martin Sheen and crew to work with me again this summer.
Last year we documented the sad state of health of farm salmon and supported the Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw who served the industry with eviction notices.
I feel my fight to protect wild salmon would be hopeless without the strong First Nation leadership I serve and the incredible help of the crew of the RV Martin Sheen. In my darkest moments I despair at how incredibly hard it is to keep anything alive on this planet and in particular creatures we claim to love.
David Suzuki and Martin Sheen himself turned out to support Traditional Leader Willie Moon and help launch Virus Hunter II the 2017 voyage of the Martin Sheen. On July 30, we set forth.
I believe the only reason salmon farms are still allowed to pollute the waters of BC is because no one can see what is going on in them. Salmon farms operate in remote areas of the coast and they openly resistant to anyone getting close enough see the fish in the pens.
We have now passed through the Discovery Islands, a region that Justice Bruce Cohen earmarked as particular sensitive habitat for the beleaguered Fraser River sockeye salmon. In 2016 the Fraser sockeye collapsed to the lowest levels since non-indigenous record keeping began. Fisheries and Oceans’ management of these fish is not working. Justice Cohen recommended that the industry cease to operate in the Discovery Islands in 2010 years unless they can prove they are not having greater than minimal impact on the sockeye.
We welcomed Hereditary Chief George Quocksister Jr. aboard as we transited his territory. George has expressed strong concern for years that young wild fish are becoming trapped and dying in fish farms. When we pulled up near the Marine Harvest, Sonora Point farm in Nodales Channel he was alarmed to see the water dimpling like rain, as a long-time seine boat skipper he recognized that this was fish sign.
George called the First Nation fisheries office on his reserve, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, DFO’s Aquaculture Management Department, his elected non-indigenous leaders, everyone he could think of to come out and look at these fish, figure out what was going on and release these fish. No one would come. DFO has never returned his calls to this day.
So George took the dingy, approached the farm himself to ask a worker what kind of fish were in the pen. The farmer told him there were no fish in the pen. George did not believe him – too many decades of experience. He took an underwater camera and calmly and resolutely stepped onto the farm, put the camera in the water and started filming. He just held it there as the farmers tried to discourage him. They gave up, there was nothing they could do, we were watching and they returned to the farm shed, caught between a corporate giant rooted in Norway and an indigenous man determined to protect the fish that had fed his ancestors for thousands of years.
The footage revealed what George already knew, thousands of herring were darting desperately trapped in .5 meters of water in the scorching sun of the BC heat wave unable to dive into the cool depths. Tears glistened in George’s eyes, why hadn’t the farmers even bothered to release these baby fish, he kept asking over and over. It was such senseless abuse of a fish essential to life on the BC coast. He wondered aloud how many tons had been sucked up into the harvest boats with the farm fish and dumped somewhere, or used to feed the farm salmon. Marine Harvest was found guilty of a charge I laid for illegal possession of wild salmon and herring in 2012, but nothing had changed. George knew this was just one of ten pens on this farm, and one of a hundred salmon farm sites along the southern coast of BC.
As we arrived at the next farm two days later, George wanted to know what was happening in this farm and so tying on his ceremonial apron, affixing his cedar/abalone head band he calmly boarded the Hardwicke Site B, Marine Harvest site and then the Marine Harvest Althorp site. The footage from inside these pens was nightmarish. Brown wisps of feces laced the water as emaciated, misshapen, lice ridden Atlantic salmon marinated in this waste. How could Canada sacrifice the gift of wild salmon for this? How could people eat these fish? Why was the Minister of Fisheries fighting me in court to bring diseased fish to these once productive waters?
The sun cast a strange and uneasy red light the water through the heavy smoke from the fires raging through BC’s interior – yet another state of emergency – as I watched a man put everything on the line for wild fish carrying the promise of life as climate change descends our planet into chaos.
Heroes are rising everywhere. We cannot know if this will be enough to end the madness, but who can look a child in the eyes and not fight with all the goodness and power that exists in each of us.
Thank you Hereditary Chief Quocksister Jr.
Onward to the territory of the powerful Musgamagw Dzawada’enux