Are Wild Salmon Stocks Endangered?

    This is an extremely important question. Many people depend on wild salmon for food as well as their lively-hood. Many animals depend on wild salmon to survive. Very little is known about what happens to salmon during their lives out in the ocean. Salmon have existed for roughly 70 million years, along with predation. Predators hit salmon during many parts of their life cycle. Humans are the largest population of salmon predators.

      Eggs are eaten by birds, other fish, including their own kind and can also be washed out to the ocean by weather, floods and humans changing their environment. It is estimated that 10% of those eggs will make it to the smolting stage. As salmon leave the river to head out to sea until maturity their predators increase. Seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins even things as small as sea lice and plankton can now harm them. When they return to the river to spawn (critical to their survival) humans jump in with both feet and take what they think they are entitled to. We need food as much as any other animal and happen to be the top of the food chain. Personally, I think salmon are safest in the deep ocean blue, who knows though, perhaps whales have a location where they cross paths with schools of salmon.

         Nature has a way of balancing things. If predators are plentiful, salmon returns could very well be affected.  The following cycle will have even less salmon returning, which in turn starves out some of its predators. Next thing you know there is a large salmon return. Putting us humans into the equation messes up the balance Mother Nature provides. Now that there is a large return, we up the amount we harvest and wonder why a few years down the road, the salmon returns are so low. This leads us to blame.

       In the last 40-50 years we have seen salmon numbers declining.  I have thought about this issue for many years. My views have changed almost as much as wild salmon runs. As humans we put blame on everyone else but ourselves. That is just human nature. We learn to say “not me” at a very early age. The way I see it, every one of us that have eaten a wild salmon, polluted the ocean or a river or built a dam are to blame. I’m not saying stop eating wild salmon. We just need to find a balance. Blaming each other will not solve the problem. Knowing that there is a problem though is half the battle. It all comes back to environment. Sometimes we can’t control the environmental changes, they just happen. We can however, control the damage we do to the environment. Some things have changed for the better but we still have a lot to learn and change for the future of salmon survival.

      Salmon are typically anadromous:  born in fresh water, migrate to salt water and return to fresh water to reproduce. This gives salmon more than one environment. Oxygen levels, Temperature and salinity as well as food sources are directly related to salmon growth. If the salmon live long enough to make it back to their spawning grounds, what do you think happens if there is a plankton bloom blocking passage to their home river? Here in British Columbia plankton blooms occur anywhere between early spring and late fall. Directly in line with the return of salmon stocks, just something to ponder.

      Some people believe sea-lice are a major concern to salmon stocks. Fish farmers have fingers pointing at them for this issue. Farming salmon isn’t what it was 30 years ago. The industry has evolved, making changes that improve upon the past. Most if not all salmon farms now sample their stock monthly for lice counts. As long as the motile counts are below thresholds, the stock is fine. If motile counts increase above thresholds then the fish must be treated. There are no vaccines available against sea-lice yet but there are studies being done and who knows perhaps in the future one can be found that helps salmon while being environmentally friendly. For now, the most effective method is an in-feed treatment, which has little to no environmental concerns. There are a lot of other things possible to help with sea-lice for instance feeder fish that eat lice.

     Commercial fishing has had its share of blame as well. By-catch seems to be the main issue with commercial fishing. Can be very difficult to target only one species using purse seines. Other issues include loss of fishing gear in the ocean causing entanglement for other ocean dwellers, or bottom trawlers destroying the ocean floor. As humans we need to hunt and grow our food.

     Even the logging industry has been blamed for damaging rivers and streams. The industry as a whole has seen the error in their ways and have taken preventative measures to ensure their impact to the environment is minimized.

      These three industries have all been blamed for endangering wild salmon by environmentalists. These same environmentalists use cardboard and wood for their picketing signs. Also tell us to protect wild stocks by not eating farmed fish. This doesn’t make sense to me. Eating wild fish to protect them seems very unreasonable. I do see a need for environmentalists but I wish they could work with industries to find solutions rather than just putting out blame.

     I think we all want to protect our environment but end up damaging it regardless of what we do. Industries in general do harm to the environment. Back in the day, nobody really thought about it and we really did heavy damage. Nowadays we tend to think about the environment a lot more. Things are being done in all industries to protect or minimize damage to the environment. We still have a long way to go but there is definitely improvement with every year that goes by. As a fish farmer I feel I am a guardian of the ocean. There to help clean up the beaches and pick up garbage found drifting in the ocean. We do beach clean ups every month and find a lot of stuff that would accumulate had our farm not been in that location. The ocean waters are essential to our fish stocks. It is important to me to keep that environment clean and healthy for future generations as well. Blame can and does get passed from industry to industry. My thought on this, as you may already know, is we are all to blame. So lets just do our best to minimize our impact to our planet and stop blaming each other. We know the problem so lets find some solutions.

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Preparing A Fish Farm For Smolts

Working and living on a pen system with a float house and feedshed for 8 days at a time is the lifestyle a fish farmer gets accustomed to. Isolated on the ocean, off the west coast of British Columbia can be brutal and rewarding. Working through extreme weather conditions like outflow winds and winter storms can make life miserable. The next time you see stormy weather have a look at what it looks like on the ocean. Imagine being there in a float house or having to work on a pen system, not fun. Then we get the long days of summer, sunny, cool breeze, ocean like a mirror. Exploring the location you are in can be pretty exciting. Boating around the area taking in all the scenery and wildlife. This makes the winter storms worth while. Have to take the good with the bad.
Setting up a site to recieve smolts takes alot of work. Once the site is decided on, a pen system gets anchored on the site lease. An average pen system consists of 12 — 100’x 100′ pens. 18 lateral anchors plus 6 head anchors are used to keep the system floating in place. Two types of anchoring is used; shore pins and 1 ton mechanical anchors. Shore pins are used where possible, often found on one or two sides of the pen system.
With an anchored system the farm needs a house for crew and a feedshed for storage. Now the site crew can move in.
It takes about 5 people to run a fish farm everyday of the year. A manager, an assistant manager, a supervisor and two farm techs. We found having a Manager on a four and three shift (4 days in camp, 3 out of camp) and everyone else on opposite 8 and 6 shifts works best. The A.M is opposite the supervisor and the two farm techs are opposite each other.
Once a crew has moved in and living at the site, environmental(ocean) data gets observed and recorded daily. Salinity levels, Oxygen levels, temperature, turbidity and harmful plankton levels are what we monitor every day. All readings are taken from three different depths; 1 meter, 5 meter and 10 meter.In order to get that data, we need to have the tools. These tools consist of a secchi disk, tow sock, plankton sample bottle, microscope and slides, refractometer and a dissolved oxygen meter. Most important to our stock is their environment. Accurate daily sampling is vital to our stocks survival. Feeding fish with low oxygen levels can drop the oxygen level lower and possibly kill fish. Harmful plankton blooms happen frequently and can wipe out a farm if undetected. With that said, environmental sampling only stops when there is no longer a fish farmer on site.
With good environmental conditions the next step a good fish farmer takes is a system inpection. With wind, tide and waves, twisting, pushing and pulling against the system and moorings you want to be sure everything is holding right. Ropes chafe, shackles loosen off, cables break. With a proper inspection you will catch this before it goes and possibly stop it or repair it before extreme damage is done.
Now its time to setup the pen system to recieve nets. Installing a bubblemat system should be done before the nets arrive. A bubblemat is a square inside a square made up of 1 inch plastic pipe with holes drilled into it to make an 80 foot square air diffuser. it is weighted and hangs at about 140 feet from the surface. Another 1 inch pipe is connected to the bubblemat and comes to the surface to be attached to an air manifold on the system. The air manifold is connected to two large air compressors. When the compressors are turned on the air gets pushed through the bubble mats. With valves setup on each one we can put air through any combination of bubblemats. This is used during plankton blooms to push plankton out of the pen system. It also has the benefit of increasing the dissolved oxygen in the water column.
Now there is time to get ahead before the nets arrive. Top ties are needed as sacrifice lines for the net. Each pip on a stantion needs one. It’s made up of a 3 foot piece of quarter inch rope. One of these is tied onto a stantion for each of the three pips. One side of a pen has about 12 stantions, thats 36 top ties per side. Bottom ties are needed as well. Bottom ties are a 6 foot piece of five eighths rope. The nets will come with loops made on all of the verticle ribs. The top loop is about 4 or 5 feet from the topside of the net. It gets tied to the system bull rail. There are usually 8 loops per side, or 32 per net. Those loops will hold the weight of the net and net anchors. With top and bottom ties made we are fully ready to install nets.
The pen nets arrive on a big crane barge. They are stretched out and installed with the crane. Starting at one outside corner the first bottom tie gets installed, then the crane moves and stretches the net to the opposite corner, this continues until there is a bottom tie in the corners and middles of each side. Now the top of the nets are straightened and the rest of the
bottom ties are installed. There should be no weight on the side of the net once the bottom ties are properly installed. Top ties can now be installed. Divers are needed to install weights on each verticle ribline.
With the nets installed we can work on building a birdnet closeline. A birdnet is installed over a pen hanging from the birdnet closeline. As the name suggests this net is to prevent birds from landing in the pens, it also works to protect our stock from otters, mink and other predators.
Well looks like the pens are now ready for a diver hole check inspection before the smolts arrive. All of this work takes a 5 man crew about 2 months to complete. Preparing a site for smolts is probably one of my favorite parts of the farming cycle.


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Tools of the Farm

Farming Salmon can be a challenge. Left out on the ocean with one other person per shift. Wind, tides and waves make things difficult. Knowledge is not only neccessary but also vital to operate a farm of 12 100’x100′ pens filled with about 300,000 salmon in a completely isolated area. Day to day activities take planning and troubleshooting as well as experience with the equipment used. Running, maintaining and sometimes repairing equipment can be quite a challenge.

These five machines are probably the most important pieces of machinery on the farm.
Generators are needed for power in our isolated areas. Houses are setup with a large generator and diesel tank. As you can guess, runnning these generators takes alot of fuel. Most houses also have an inverter which only uses the generator to charge a battery bank. Farms need a feedshed and most are equipped with a generator, diesel tank, gas tank, forklift, feed machine and room to hold enough feed until the next order arrives 14 days later. These two generators are vital pieces of equipment on the farm.

All our feed comes in 1 ton bags, therefore a forklift is needed. The forklift is used to off-load feed from a feed barge as well as load feed silos for the feed machine.If the forklift breaksdown, fish do not recieve the feed they need which means lost growth. We keep our vital machines running by giving them daily inspections and keeping on top of changing oil and filters and belts when needed.

Feeding System
Feed systems are all basically the same. They consist of 2 blowers, silos, dosers, selectors, feed pipes and feed spreaders. What happens is a computer program starts the two blowers which have pipes leading to the bottom of the silos, there is also a doser setup below a silo. The doser drops feed from the silo in measured amounts into the air stream or pipe below it. The air then pushes the feed to the selector. The selector has one feed pipe connected to it for each pen it will feed. The computer selects which pen to feed and an arm turns in the selector to that pipe. The end of the feed pipe is put into the center of the pen with a spinning feed spreader.

Another important piece of equipment on the farm is a capstan. Securely anchored, this machine allows us to move or lift up two 2 tons. With the power of a forklift the big advantage of this unit is it can be moved into place by hand, places a forklift couldn’t be in.This comes in handy when dealing with large nets and anchors in the ocean. If mis-used it can be very dangerous to the operator.

Of course working on the ocean means boats, operating them as well as working with other boats that either bring supplies or remove items from the farm.Everything found at the fish farm had to come in by boat. We have crew boats and site skiffs as well as flatdecks. Working with tug boats, landing crafts, barges and seiners. All have their function in our business. Working on the ocean has its benefits. Being in isolated areas makes fishing, prawning, crabbing or wildlife viewing excellent indeed. As you can probably guess, site skiffs get used alot during non-working hours.

As you can see, it takes alot of equipment to operate a farm. A fish farm has to operate every day of the year. Any of these machines going down for more than a day can be costly to a farm. Preventative maintenance is very important to keep this equipment running smoothly.Safe and proper operation of this equipment is also key.

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Harmful Plankton Blooms

Well haven’t blogged for a while. Winter is here in Canada and the way I see it is short days and long nights equal more blog time. Our farm made it through plankton season with no losses to plankton, very nice. I have just read an article about plankton. It has inspired me to post an article I have written awhile back on Plankton.I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to comment on it.

Harmful Plankton Blooms

 Plankton is microscopic and found in the oceans, seas and bodies of fresh water throughout the year. Generally, saltwater plankton wander or drift with the ocean currents.

Plankton can be broken down into 2 groups.Phytoplankton derived from the Greek word phyton or plant and Zooplankton from the Greek word zoon or animal.

Blooms that are harmful to the fish we grow are caused by large numbers of phytoplankton, microscopic plants that float in the sunlit layers of the ocean. In winter, the water is cool and the daylight is short, this keeps plankton populations low. In the spring and summer, water is warm and there is lots of daylight hours and plankton flourish.Blooms begin with sunlight and nutrients being available. With the correct environment the plankton will grow and reproduce quickly and get so dense that the water gets cloudy. A Heterosigma Bloom turns the water into tomato soup. There is no predicting how long a bloom will last once begun. Could be short-lived or last weeks.There are three major ways plankton can affect fish. Mechanical irritation, producing toxins and lowering the dissolved oxygen in the water column.

Mechanical irritation

Mechanical irritation happens when fish breathe water through their gills. The water filters through the gills and the spiny plankton get stuck in it and irritate the tissue.This causes salmon to produce a mucus to help clear the gills of foreign objects. Extreme irritation causes over production of mucus which in turn suffocates the fish.Here on the B.C coast we watch for 6 different species that cause mechanical irritation.

Toxin Production

Some species of phytoplankton cause toxins that can harm fish. Not a lot is known about what toxin is produced by these phytoplankton or how the toxins affect the fish. Also, some species can be toxic at high salinities and not toxic at lower salinities. On the B.C coast we know of and watch for 8 different toxin producing phytoplankton.

Low Dissolved Oxygen

Dissolved oxygen at levels below 4 mg/L can cause mortality in salmon. During the day, phytoplankton can create oxygen through photosynthesis. In the evening, the phytoplankton use up oxygen but don’t produce it as light is needed for photosynthesis. During thick blooms, dying or dead cells are broken down by bacteria which in turn use up more oxygen.

Phytoplankton Needs

Remember phytoplankton are plants and plants need sunlight as well as nutrients.Sunlight is needed for photosynthesis, this gives the cells the energy needed for cell growth and division.Phytoplankton need to take in nutrients from the water in order to grow. All species need phosphate and nitrogen and other elements like silicates, iron and sulphates. These nutrients are put into the surface waters from land run-off or by upwelling of high-nutrient deep water.

Plankton Growth

Factors that could influence plankton growth are water column stratification, species competition and vertical migration as well as allelopathy. The water column is considered stratified when there is two or more distinct layers. The salinity of the ocean varies anywhere from 0 to 35 ppt (parts per thousand). Normally the salinity is 25-30 ppt. Fresh water when warmed by the sun will sit on top of heavier salt water. When water is stratified there is little or no mixing in the water and plankton can position themselves in the sunnier water for optimal growth. Some phytoplankton (like heterosigma) can swim through the water column using flagella to get the nutrients they need for growth. Many phytoplankton can only divide once per day, others like Heterosigma can divide up to five times per day. Allelopathy is when a species produces toxins that kill or diminish the growth of other plankton, taking over the water column, once again like Heterosigma.

Harmful Plankton

Chaetoceros can be harmful to fish in concentrations of 25-30 cells/ml.
 Corethron Hystrix can be harmful at levels of 500 cells/ml. There have been blooms of Corethron Hystrix with concentrations of 800 cells/ml that have had no mortalities.
If more than 20 cells/ml of Heterosigma are seen there is soon to be cause for concern. Concentrations have reached 100,000 cells/ml.
 Chattonella have killed fish with low concentrations of 50 cells/ml.
 Dictyocha have killed salmon in concentrations of 100 cells/ml.
 Alexandrium Catenella can be deadly to fish as well as humans. It causes PSP (paralytic shellfish poisoning). Maybe harmful to fish at higher concentrations like 500 cells/ml.

2000 cells/ml of Cochlodinium or Gymnodinium will kill fish.  As you can see there are many harmful plankton that us farmers have to watch out for every day.

Fishfarmer Protocols

Fishfarmers are taught to sample, identify and count harmful plankton. Plankton tows are done using a plankton sock to determine the initial presence of harmful species. Water samples are taken daily from three depths, 1 meter, 5 meter and 10 meter. Rafter slides are prepared and scanned for harmful plankton. The most dominant species is noted and counts are recorded. Environmental conditions are also recorded daily. These conditions are Oxygen,Salinity,Temperature and Turbidity.

In conclusion, Plankton blooms are a natural occurrence in all the oceans.There are many types that can harm salmon. Once a bloom occurs around a fishfarm, there is very little a farmer can do. Don’t feed if concentrations are high as this could kill the fish. Turning on air compressors for bubble mats and in some situations tarping an entire farm are some things that can be done to minimize mortality.


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Fish Farming Education 101.

  Welcome to Obominog’s Fish Farming Blog.  I’ve been in the Aquaculture industry for the last 15 years or so. I started in the industry working on a seine boat packer. We harvested salmon from the fish farms using a stun and bleed technique. We filled the holds and packed the salmon to processing plants. As the industry progressed, processing plants provided their own boats and when our contract was up it was given to the processing plant boats. Thats how I became a fish farmer.

     I’ve worked on ten different sites growing chinook and atlantic salmon. I have great  fish husbandry techniques, feeding technique, boat driving skills and working habits. I can identify most if not all harmful plankton in the microscope. I do acurate monthly lice sampling. I’ve used many different products for fish sampling. I help operate one of the cleanest sites in our company (Other sites in our area are now modeling their sites to ours).

Beautiful fish farm site, found off the northern tip of Sonora Island in Nodales Channel.

Beautiful fish farm site, found off the northern tip of Sonora Island in Nodales Channel.

      With this blog I’m going to inform the public about the industry and what we do. I’m completely open to debating any subject that has to do with farming salmon. Our industry has been under attack by environmentalist and media for a long time. I see a lot of mis information on T.V, in newspapers and the internet. What most people do is read or listen to what others have to say and take it as truth. I am not a follower, I question things I hear. I’m inviting you to do just that, right here in this blog.


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