Sea lions move on from Clayoquot Sound fish farm pens after salmon is harvested

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Two weeks after dozens of sea lions descended on Cermaq’s Rant Point fish farm, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) says the animals are set to move on after all the salmon was harvested.

“Rant Point is now considered empty of fish. The sea lions may still attempt to access the infrastructure out of habit, however without fish to eat they are unlikely to remain,” the DFO’s aquaculture media contact Lauren Girdler told Westerly News.

The last fish were harvested from the Rant Point Farm on 12th April, according to Cermaq Canada. This comes after between 10-20 sea lions were spotted in the British Columbia fish farm’s net pens towards the end of March.

Sea lions in Cermaq’s fish farm near Tofino. Photo: Clayoquot Action

Despite the Rant Point fish farm having been equipped with exclusionary predator netting and electricity fencing around the pens, Cermaq confirmed earlier in April that sea lions had breached the facility by “jumping over the stanchions.”

Girdler said the “DFO has no indiciation that large numbers of Atlantic salmon have escaped from the facility” amid the sea lion beach but stated that “Cermaq has been actively working to repair any holes in the nets to prevent fish escape.” Cermaq had previously claimed that it “has not got any evidence of fish escaping.”

When the sea lions entered the facility, conservationists Clayoquot Action called it an “all-you-can-eat-buffet,” releasing footage online of the sea lions inside the fish farm, which can have up to 500,000 farmed salmon in it at one time.

Sea lions in Cermaq’s fish farm near Tofino. Photo: Clayoquot Action

Clayoquot Action argued that it is likely Atlantic Salmon did escape because of the invasion of sea lions, warning the animals would now likely move on to another fish farm after the Rant Point facility was emptied.

“Given the amount of time that the sea lions were in the pens for, it is highly unlikely that they didn’t escape. This is a form of pollution in Clayoquot Sound having the Atlantic salmon competing with wild salmon for food,” Clayoquot Action’s Bonny Glambeck said.

Sea lions in Cermaq’s fish farm near Tofino. Photo: Clayoquot Action

“Sea lions are a very intelligent animal. It’s like a bear adapting to human behaviour. These sea lions have now learned and adapted to getting into these farms. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do the same thing again,” Glambeck added.

The invasion of sea lions at the facility comes amid controversy in British Columbia over the Canadian government’s plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farms by 2025. The Canadian government has, so far, closed around a quarter of the salmon farms in British Columbia, refusing to renew licences for 19 sites in the Discovery Islands.

A recently released report by First Nations found outlined how British Columbia communities would lose 4,700 jobs and, as much as, $1.2 billion in economic activity per year if all 79 farming licences are not renewed. The primary economic benefits from salmon farming to First Nations in coastal BC are $50 million.