This book (available here) was written by a remarkable and courageous woman, Alexandra Morton of Echo Bay, British Columbia. It has 335 pages (not including notes), but it took me a long time to get through it. That’s because it contains several stories. Two of them are Morton’s personal history, and the picture she gives of life in the remote coastal communities of British Columbia. It’s something that most people who have spent most of their lives in Vancouver and Kelowna know nothing about.
Mostly, though, it’s the story of her battle against salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago off northern Vancouver Island. It began in 1989, and didn’t end until February, 2023.
Things started to get serious in 2001, when large numbers of wild salmon were infected sea lice. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, because of massive sea lice infestations in Scotland and Norway. Two years later, Morton and other scientists (including one from the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO]) observed massive die-offs of pink salmon. In 2009, there was a collapse in the Fraser River sockeye salmon return. As time went on, Morton and her allies observed fish that were blind, had tumours, and were missing their lower jaws. In 2013, pink salmon and chinook turned up that were yellow all the way through.
Morton and her allies – most of the First Nations in the area, the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation. the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Don Staniford, Greg McDade, and Jeff Jones – submitted a mountain of evidence that salmon farms were destroying the Broughton Archipelago ecosystem and the wild salmon population. Two major efforts to mobilize public opinion in 2010, the Get Out Migration and the Paddle for Wild Salmon, were major successes. The Norwegian fish farm companies – Mowi, Cermaq and Grieg – took a page from the playbook the tobacco industry used 20 years earlier, saying “there is no evidence”, or “the evidence is inconclusive”. Morton and her allies won several court cases. The Cohen Commission released a set of recommendations in 2012. Despite all this, and the position taken by most of the First Nations that the fish farm companies were trespassing on their territory, the fix was in for a long time. It wasn’t until 2017 that the Provincial government came around, and it wasn’t until February, 2023, after publication of this book, that Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Joyce Murray announced that licenses for 15 salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, a key migration route for wild salmon east of the Broughton Archipelago, would not be renewed.
One of the remarkable things about this saga is, because of the remote location and the general lack of interest of Canadian media (radio commentator Rafe Mair and Vancouver Sun columnist Mark Hume were two notable exceptions), Morton and her allies were pioneers in the use of social media. There was Facebook, of course, but videographers Twyla Roscovich and Damien Gillis (who worked with Mair) stepped forward to make hard-hitting YouTube videos. They made effective use of cell phone cameras (despite often spotty coverage) to show people in Victoria and Vancouver what was going on.
My biggest takeaway from this book was just how hard it is to stop something that has big money behind it. It’s a sobering lesson for climate change activists; it not enough to have all the evidence on your side; those who oppose changing anything will cast doubt and delay, and they have lots of friends in the right places.