Hereditary chief George Quocksister Jr., 68, from the Laich-Kwil-Tach Nation has been gathering footage of unhealthy salmon all month. Quocksister has been going from salmon farm to salmon farm along the east coast of Vancouver Island from Campbell River to Alert Bay.
"I'm examining them and seeing what's going on in them, and it's sure not very good," he said on the phone from a boat in a remote area off the coast.
"I'm not a scientist, right, but you can obviously tell they have a disease," said Quocksister. "It's beyond horrible."
The footage has been edited into a video and posted online by independent biologist and marine activist Alexandra Morton.
"I've been at this for at least 25 years, very, very intensively, and I've never seen footage like this. I made the point in the film, this isn't one farm, it's all of them," said Morton.
She readily admits the video has been selectively cut from hours of footage to show the worst of what Quocksister found at the salmon farms, which are run by Cermaq, Marine Harvest, and Grieg.
"There are also fish that aren't diseased that are down deeper, but there are diseased fish in those farms and those are the fish that I'm concerned about, so I'm showing them," said Morton.
She says if anyone — especially the Department of Fisheries and Oceans — is interested in viewing all of the footage, she and Quocksister are ready to make it available.
Cermaq, Marine Harvest and Grieg declined to respond to requests for comment. Marine Harvest deferred to the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, which represents all three companies.
Jeremy Dunn, executive director of the association, said he'd seen the video but believes it's been created just to show "a certain narrative."
"I can tell you that the salmon on farms in British Columbia are extremely healthy," said Dunn. "Over 90 per cent of salmon that are entered into the farm are harvested out, and less than one per cent have any pathogen or virus that might be seen as harmful to wild salmon, so we have very healthy stocks here in B.C."
"There are no predators in a salmon farm, and, in any population — and there are 50,000, maybe 70,000 in a single pen, and in any population, there may be abnormalities. You would see this in any species —fish, humans or livestock." he said.
"Some of those abnormalities might be through genetic defect at birth or they may be through mechanical damage — the fish gets caught on a net and it causes injury. Those fish are what we would consider a poor performer. They are taken out of the farm on a regular basis, and, at harvest, they are taken out and not served to an end consumer."
Asked about the herring and other wild fish shown in the video, which appear to be inside the salmon pen and feeding on something coming out of the fish pen, Dunn downplayed the impact of fish farms on wild stocks.
"Small fish will swim in and out of nets on a regular basis. Some fish will stay in the net. It does provide a refuge for them from predators," he said, adding the bycatch from commercial fisheries is worse than that in the commercial fish farming industry.
For Quocksister, the images of the disfigured salmon he collects haunts him.
"I'll tell you, I don't sleep right at times, because I keep seeing this shit in my sleep, right?" he said.
"Seriously, this ... has got to stop."