Huge spike in herring deaths in Canada; activists blame hydrolicers

Editorial Staff

Herring deaths in British Columbia have seen a five-fold increase over the past year.

Data from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has revealed a significant increase in herring, killed in B.C. salmon farm operations in 2022.

Numbers are said to have reached 817,000 – a five-fold increase from the previous year and 21 times higher than in 2020, according to a recent report by Canadian broadcaster CBC.

Activist group the Watershed Watch Salmon Society has highlighted this escalating problem, with concerns about the impact of hydrolicing, a mechanical sea lice removal process used in salmon farming that inadvertently kills smaller wild fish like herring.

Cermaq Canada reported over 700,000 herring deaths across multiple facilities, associated with the use of a specific hydrolicer vessel.

DFO’s conditions of licence requires aquaculture companies to do the minimum amount of harm possible to wild fish that swim into their facilities. The companies must also maintain a record of wild fish caught at the facility during harvest and when salmon are moved.

In a statement emailed to CBC, Cermaq Canada said the spike in the herring kill numbers “coincided with an unprecedented increase in wild herring biomass near our farms on the west coast of Vancouver Island,” and that ongoing efforts are “significantly mitigating incidental catch.”

“In 2022, incidental herring catch at salmon farms along Vancouver Island’s west coast was 0.086% of the estimated Pacific herring spawning biomass in the area — a five-fold increase over a 10-year average of 0.015%,” reads the statement.

Social licence

The issue has raised concerns about the declining herring population, a keystone species in the Pacific food web, and calls for a shift away from net-pen salmon farming to closed containment systems, as promised by the federal government for 2025.

The premier of the province David Eby said it’s time for government and industry to act and move net-pen salmon farms out of the open ocean to closed containment systems.

“For the net-pen fish farms, I think it’s safe to say that the social licence for those that just sit in the ocean and cause the death of other fish, has expired,” said Eby.


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