Fisheries and Oceans Canada is reporting publicly, for the first time, the number of sea lions and seals killed at B.C.’s salmon farms as farmers attempt to protect their fish.
Between January and March, 37 harbour seals, 141 California sea lions and two Steller sea lions, which are of “special concern” under the federal Species at Risk Act, were shot and killed at fish farms, according to data posted on the DFO website.
Three more harbour seals and a California sea lion drowned at the farms within the same period.
Critics say that too many seals and sea lions are being killed in order to protect the industry’s cage-netted fish.
The data are reported to the DFO by the individual salmon farms, said Catherine Stewart, the salmon farming campaign manager for Living Oceans, which opposes the farms.
There is no day-to-day on-site monitoring by the government of these farms, she said.
“Are they reporting all of the deaths? Are all of the farms reporting?” Stewart asked.
According to the data, Marine Harvest’s farm at Mahatta West in Quatsino Sound killed 46 California sea lions, 24 more than Fortune Channel, which is operated by Ewos Canada Ltd. More than 120 seals and sea lions were killed at various Marine Harvest Farms along the B.C. coast.
“Zero lethal interactions is our goal,” Ian Roberts, a spokesman for Marine Harvest, said in an email.
Marine Harvest operates half of the fish farms in B.C., he said, adding that their high volume accounts for the higher number of kills.
“We have now purchased additional protector nets to discourage these predators should they return next season,” Roberts said, adding that the first quarter spike in kills is “unusual.”
“Disposing of these animals is a last resort,” said Mary Ellen Walling, the executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association. “We don’t take this lightly.”
She said seals and sea lions are “very intelligent, and can be aggressive.”
They’ll find a way to get the fish, she added.