Sea Shepherd puts pressure on the Canadian government by taking scientists to the salmon farms and their surroundings to conduct research and audits on viruses, disease and other factors.
This science is groundbreaking as the salmon farming industry refuses to acknowledge environmental risk nor comply with disease testing regulations. The government’s own Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) refuses to enforce regulations or punish industry noncompliance. Both industry and government actually work to produce biased research that favors the industry and profit over ecological management and regulation. In some cases, legitimate independent research and scientists themselves have been personally disparaged and silenced.
Sea Shepherd acts as an independent research and monitoring tool for the state of the farms, or the eyes on the water during the campaign. Sea Shepherd documents the stocking patterns of the farms and other possible variables such as sick and dying fish, waste, pollution and other environmentally harmful activities.
Sea Shepherd is a platform for First Nations to act upon the unwanted farms in their territories and serves as an amplifying tool for the community’s voices against the industry. Peaceful protests are organized by Sea Shepherd and First Nations to bring West Coast communities together and raise awareness of the harms of farmed salmon.
As a result of previous Virus Hunter campaigns, the Canadian government has agreed to “government-to-government” discussions with First Nations, and has begun deals to remove salmon farms from vital wild salmon migration paths.
By acknowledging that these are the unceded waters and lands of First Nations, this campaign not only focuses on marine conservation of wild salmon as an ecological issue but as a social justice issue with indigenous peoples at the heart of environmental action.
The R/V Martin Sheen has returned to the Pacific Northwest for the fourth year of Operation Virus Hunter, to continue its important research on the impact of salmon farms on wild salmon populations. For the first time in its history, the research vessel expanded its operations to the waters of Clayoquot Sound, where unprecedented levels of sea lice were recorded this spring jeopardizing the survival of young juvenile wild salmon.
Working in collaboration with renowned scientists such as biologist Alexandra Morton, and supporting First Nations in their efforts to remove salmon farms from their territories, Operation Virus Hunter shines a spotlight on a secretive industry with a devastating impact.
During Operation Virus Hunter 4, footage of juvenile wild salmon trapped inside the pens was obtained for the first time in Clayoquot Sound, a UNESCO World Heritage Biosphere Reserve. The footage also revealed diseased-looking farmed salmon, including fish presenting symptoms of jaundice, a condition directly related to an infection by PRV (Piscine Orthoreovirus). Fish farms are a perfect breeding grounds for the virus, which has been proven to be potentially fatal for wild salmon, especially for the declining Chinook species.
Despite denial from the industry, hours of underwater footage and samples gathered during Operation Virus Hunter demonstrate that viruses and diseases are present within salmon farms, and are spreading into the surrounding wild salmon habitats.
Sea Shepherd continues to collaborate with renowned scientists and students researching the devastating effects of salmon farms, through providing a platform to collect samples and gather important scientific evidence around the waters of British Columbia.
This year for the first time, Sea Shepherd has its own underwater ROV drone, allowing for important underwater footage to be captured. In August, video evidence of the sea bed underneath fish farms taken by Sea Shepherd shows discarded net gear, plastic and dead zones underneath open net pen installations.