Illustrative photo of a pink salmon. Image: YouTube / Loops Outdoors.

Fish farmers dismiss 'simply wrong' claims about BC salmon returns

Salmon farmers in British Columbia have claimed recent statements issued to Vancouver media from anti-salmon farming campaigners are contrary to data and evidence.

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The BC Salmon Farmers’ Association (BCSFA), which represents more than 70 businesses involved in British Columbia’s salmon sector, claimed veteran salmon industry opponent Bob Chamberlin had “stepped over the line with his latest inaccurate statements to media”.

“In his eagerness to ride the wave of good news about the potential strong returns of many species of Pacific salmon returning to rivers in BC this year, Mr Chamberlin has severely misrepresented historical data and relied on speculation to try and prove his unwavering belief that there is a relationship between wild salmon returns and salmon farms,” said Ruth Salmon, interim executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers’ Association.

“His soundbites may sound simple – but his facts are simply wrong.”

Bob Chamberlin has linked a predicted strong return of pink salmon to salmon farm closures.

Farm closures

Chamberlin is chair of the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance and a former vice president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. In several appearances on Vancouver radio, newspapers and television news, Chamberlin speculated this week that the closure of some salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago area in 2020 will result in a strong return of pink salmon returning to the Ahta river this year to spawn.

BCSFA said his press release claimed that this is “compelling evidence” that salmon farms are a “primary cause” of declines in wild salmon.

“However, the facts are there is no causative link, let alone a correlation, related to salmon farm activity and salmon returns,” said Ruth Salmon. “Pink salmon returns are very volatile, so much so that one can cherry-pick a single river in any year and make up a story to support their belief.”

Data sources

BCSFA, which cited Canadian government data sources that can be found here and here, said the facts about the Ahta river, pink salmon, and local salmon farm operations are:

  • An average of 19,291 pink salmon have returned to the Ahta river over the last decade in the ‘even’ years (pink salmon return in two-year cycles).
  • 907 salmon returned in 2020 – a relatively low return that mirrored the coast-wide low return of most all species of Pacific salmon (Chamberlin incorrectly states this number as 200, says the BCSFA). Eleven salmon farms were active during the outmigration for these salmon (March 2019).
  • A record-high return of 68,871 pink salmon returned in 2014. A total of 12 salmon farms were active in the area during this outmigration (March 2013).
  • Eleven salmon farms were active during the outmigration (March 2021) for this year’s (2022) return. Returning populations for this year have yet to be confirmed by fisheries experts, but early reports suggest strong returns of pink and Sockeye salmon may occur in many regions of BC.

“For many years, we’ve frustratingly been witness to anti-salmon farming campaigners going to media early with speculation and anecdotes to influence negative headlines about salmon farming in British Columbia,” said Ruth Salmon.

“The facts – that never receive the same exposure from media as the criticisms – have not once supported these allegations.”