First Nations Flotilla

“Colonisation continues. It’s not just about theft at this point, it’s not about the destruction of resources, it’s about reclaiming what’s ours. And what is ours is not just the land…. it is the ocean.”

These are unceded waters. This is First Nations territory. Fish farming is not only killing off wild salmon, but it is violating the constitutionally entrenched rights to fish and food of First Nations. Sea Shepherd is humbled and honored to stand behind the many First Nations peoples leading this fight. These leaders are defending their waters against extinction due to unwanted disease and harm. Yet they are also standing up to the corporate commodification of their oceans which continues to colonize indigenous peoples by limiting access to food, clean water and cultural practice. By defending their rights, their waters and their salmon, these awesome warriors are protecting the coast for every human and animal that hopes to call this place home.

“It is not just for us, it is for the ocean, it is for everybody. So that everybody has access to these sort of things, instead of being so reliant on corporations. It is about health: human health and health of the environment.”

Hope for Wild Salmon and Orca as the Noose Tightens on Salmon Farms

Sea Shepherd concludes third scientific expedition to investigate the possible link between salmon farms and declining wild salmon population in the Pacific.  Meanwhile, lawsuit to stop transfer of infected fish continues.

Vancouver, BC, September 17th, 2018 – After three months of scientific investigation in the waters surrounding the open-net fish farms of British Columbia – and, for the first time, in Puget Sound, WA, Sea Shepherd’s Operation Virus Hunter has come to an end. This is the third year of the organization’s wild salmon defense campaign.

Working alongside a team of scientists including independent biologist Alexandra Morton, Sea Shepherd’s vessel The R/V Martin Sheen evaluated open-net pen salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago, Discovery Islands, and Johnstone Strait regions of British Columbia, Canada. Following an invitation from Kurt Beardslee from Wild Fish Conservancy, the team also investigated farms in Puget Sound in the United States. In total the team investigated 39 farms.  Sea Shepherd is supporting researchers as they investigate the relationship between open-net pen salmon farming, the transmission of viruses and bacteria into Pacific coastal waters, and the decline in wild salmon populations. 

As with previous seasons, Sea Shepherd is working closely with First Nations who oppose the presence of foreign fish farms in their unceded territories. George Quocksister Jr., Hereditary Chief Gigame of the Laichkwiltach Nation, captured video footage inside the Barnes Bay farm this season. The footage shows farmed fish exhibiting symptoms of poor health. Finning, lethargic behavior, gasping for air, and lying stationary at the surface were common observations many farms.

When farm salmon exhibit poor health, the concern is that this becomes an unsafe infectious site to wild fish outside the pens.  Wild salmon already face a challenging environment full of predators and the increasing impact of climate change. They are disappearing wherever there are salmon farms around the world. Hard data on the spread of viruses and bacteria from salmon farms on wild salmon is difficult and expensive work and by providing a ship and crew to scientists, this research has been advanced significantly.


The footage from inside the pens also captured images of wild species trapped inside the farms, including herring and other species that were documented eating farm waste, raising the concern that each farm is saturating the marine food-web with disease organisms.  Chief Quocksister Jr. was physically blocked from entering additional farms by salmon farm employees as the industry tries to prevent images from in the pens becoming public.

There was a significant increase in aggressive surveillance of the research group this season. A company calling themselves Black Cube, which has the same name as the Israeli intelligence agency hired by Harvey Weinstein to discredit and intimidate victims of sexual abuse, was reportedly hired by salmon farming giant Marine Harvest to follow, film, and intimidate the researchers and crew aboard The R/V Martin Sheen. When questioned about the episode, Marine Harvest suggested that it was a different company doing surveillance that coincidently had the same name.  Aluminum boats with blacked out windows followed the crew relentlessly, even when tied up in local towns.

Despite aggressive intimidation tactics, the campaign was successful and Alexandra Morton collected 53 tissue samples from waters adjacent to 23 of BC and Washington State’s open-net fish farms. These are unique samples, as they will help pin point the source of the infection. They will be tested for piscine orthoreovirus (PRV), a Norwegian virus believed to be associated with rupturing of the blood cells, a fatal condition in wild Chinook salmon. Preliminary lab results have tested positive for PRV in 100 percent of the samples analyzed to-date. Additional testing is underway.

Chinnok salmon are the primary food source of the endangered Southern Resident Orcas, whose plight of starvation into extinction has become known worldwide last month, when a mother carried a dead calf for 17 days.  These orcas have not been able to produce a living calf in three years due to malnourishment.

“We are in a race against a virus from Norway as it spreads through the Eastern Pacific Ocean,” says Morton, “Virus Hunter III has advanced the research by giving me access to so many farms in such a short period of time over a large area.  This work is critical to the orca that are starving to death on this coast, because the role of PRV in killing wild salmon has to be made clear to Canada and the U.S. as soon as possible.”

A 2015 court ruling, determined that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) must screen farm salmon for PRV and prohibit the transfer of infected fish into the marine farms, but this policy has been ignored.

Alexandra Morton went back to court last week as well as the Namgis First Nation to stop PRV-infected farm salmon from entering BC waters. Justice Cecily Y. Strickland heard evidence from the lawyers of Ms. Morton, the ‘Namgis Nation, DFO, and representatives from Norwegian-owned salmon farm mega-corporations Cermaq and Marine Harvest. 

The Virus Hunter campaign is building a powerful alliance between science, indigenous leadership, the law, and now international cooperation. 

BC Court Rules Salmon Farms Over Territorial Rights of First Nations

Despite salmon farms being in First Nation Territories, BC Court grants injunction in favor of mega-corporation Marine Harvest, demanding First Nations to stay away from fish farms.

August 2nd, 2018 [Vancouver, BC] – Today Justice Maisonville ruled that only Alexandra Morton can continue sampling close to salmon farms, but only in a boat that is 2.6m long, which is a vessel so tiny it is unsafe to operate in the marine waters of the BC coast.

As a result, Marine Harvest lost their bid to keep Morton away from their farms, but in a shocking omission the judge failed to recognize the rights of First Nations. “I am really disturbed by the failure of the court to explicitly recognize the rights of First Nations,” says Morton who is adopted by two local Nations, “I will use the rights I have been granted to sample on behalf of the nations who are fighting so hard to save wild salmon from salmon farms.”  This decision pertains only to the injunction, the judge left the larger decision on the rights of First Nations for the actual hearing.

In her affidavit, Alexandra Morton, a scientist and advocate for wild salmon, stated that Marine Harvest does not share adequate information on the infectious health status of the salmon in their farms and so it in the public interest to allow scientists access to the water immediately outside the farms. The Province of BC issues a Licence of Occupation for each farm, but these tenures do not grant exclusive occupancy, and only apply to the seafloor, not the water. The right to unrestricted movement of boats on the ocean extends back 500 years to the Magna Carta.

For the past month Morton has been aboard the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s research vessel Martin Sheen collecting samples of farm salmon waste pouring out of the farms in her continuing research on impact of salmon farms. Morton is particularly concerned about the highly controversial piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) that is at the core of two lawsuits to be heard in September. She has published three scientific papers on this virus.

Sea Shepherd founder, Captain Paul Watson commented on the ruling “I am not surprised by the verdict. B.C. Courts have a long tradition of siding with corporate interests against the interests of First Nations and environmentalists. I have to say I was deeply impressed with the evidence presented showing just how dedicated, heroic and passionate the First Nations people have been in their defense of wild salmon in their own traditional territories against this invasive wealthy Norwegian industry assaulting indigenous Pacific salmon species with their introduction of an exotic alien predator into an eco-system it does not belong.” Adding “It is however gratifying to see that Marine Harvest lost with the one thing they were most concerned with. The court has ruled that Dr. Alexandra Morton can lawfully take samples for scientific research purposes inside the restricted zone that bars all First Nations people from entering.”

“I consider it legitimate and important to document and expose the disease contamination released by salmon farms into BC waters,” says Alexandra Morton. “Government seems afraid of this industry and thus is allowing the biggest ongoing industrial spill in the history of BC. DFO has left it up to scientists to measure the impact of salmon farming and Marine Harvest is doing everything they can to stop this work. I am so pleased Justice Maisonville has made a ruling that will allow this research to continue.”

However, Marine Harvest seems unhappy with the research by Morton and other scientists aboard the Sea Shepherd research vessel Martin Sheen. Since early July, Marine Harvest has hired Black Cube Strategy and Consulting which is following the scientists in vessels with blacked out windows, bristling with cameras. They follow the research team farm from farms, at anchor and when they are tied up at the dock in towns. This company is immersed in controversy of falsifying evidence, including trying to intimidate and disqualified victims from Harvey Weinstein.

Meanwhile, the government-to-government talks continue between the Province of BC and First Nations of the Broughton Archipelago on the fate of the 20 salmon farm tenures that expired there on June 20th. As well, Marine Harvest is facing three additional lawsuits.

Baby Orca Death Could be Linked to Salmon Farm Virus

A new study has identified that Piscine Reovirus, a Norwegian virus introduced in BC by salmon farms is reported to cause Chinook salmon cells to explode and could be a missing link to explain why resident whales are starving to extinction.

July 25th, 2018 [Vancouver, BC] – On July 23rd an orca born into the critically endangered Southern Resident orca population died within hours of birth. Despite the decline of Orcas due to the loss of Chinook salmon, their primary food source, the Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Jonathan Wilkinson, refuses to screen farmed salmon for a virus that causes Chinook salmon blood cells to rupture “en masse”.

Research published in 2017 in the prestigious scientific journal, PloS One, reports that saving the southern resident orca from extinction may depend on restoring Chinook salmon populations in the Fraser River. It is a well-known fact that over 60% of the pregnancies of these whales are being interrupted due to malnourishment, and that this shows another painful reproductive failure, unfortunately these whales have not managed to give birth successfully for three years now.

Despite this, 80% of the farmed salmon sighted in pens along the Fraser River salmon migration route along eastern Vancouver Island are infected with piscine orthoreovirus (PRV), a virus recently reported by DFO to affect Chinook salmon. The paper published in the journal FACETS2 earlier this year describes how PRV invades the blood cells of Chinook salmon, replicates rapidly in the cells until the cells burst causing organ failure, severe jaundice and release of the virus into marine habitats.

For the third consecutive year, Sea Shepherd’s research vessel, the Martin Sheen is conducting audits into the damaging effects open-net salmon farms have in British Columbian waters.

Holly Fearnbach, NOAA nmmlweb-killerwhale-lrg-101

Independent Biologist Alexandra Morton won a lawsuit against the Ministry of Fisheries in 2015 prohibiting the Minister of Fisheries from allowing farmed salmon to be transferred into marine pens without screening for PRV.

Canadian Fisheries Regulations prohibit the transfer of fish infected with a disease into Canadian waters. Because the majority of BC farmed salmon is infected, the salmon farming industry admits it would be severely impacted if this law was applied to their operations.

For reasons not fully understood, the Minister of Fisheries refuses to acknowledge this 2016 Federal court ruling and continues to refuse to screen for PRV. As a result, most farm salmon sold in markets is infected with PRV as per research also published in PloS One, on December 3rd 2017.

“I am terribly saddened by the loss of this young whale and the suffering her mother is enduring,” says Alexandra Morton. “Here in Canada we are guilty of allowing our government to ignore the very laws that would prevent this. The Trudeau government is protecting millions of introduced Atlantic salmon infected with a virus that causes wild Chinook salmon cells to explode as whales go extinct for lack of Chinook salmon. Canada is giving up so much for the benefit and profit of three salmon farming companies that dominate the BC salmon farming industry.”