British Columbia

Pamela Anderson and Sea Shepherd Society join anti-salmon farming push in B.C.

The B.C. born celebrity has joined a new campaign on the old battleground of the West Coast salmon farming industry, launching a trip by activists and a biologist today.

Campaign led by controversial Sea Shepherd Society urges consumers to avoid farmed salmon

Actress and animal-rights activist Pamela Anderson was in Vancouver, Monday, urging consumers not to eat farmed salmon from B.C. (CBC)

Celebrity and animal-rights activist Pamela Anderson joined David Suzuki and others to urge consumers not to eat B.C. farmed salmon on Monday, at the launch of a new campaign aiming at highlighting problems in the industry.

"The bottom line is that fish farms in the oceans are polluting the oceans," said the former Baywatch star, who was born in Ladysmith, B.C.

"Please take this into your own hands and simply say no to farmed salmon."

The event was held in Vancouver aboard a sailboat owned by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a controversial direct-action marine conservation group that will be flying its pirate-inspired flag along the B.C. coast this summer.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society unveiled the R/V Martin Sheen in 2014, and her first voyage involved a fight against plastic pollution. (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)

Controversial virus on salmon farms

The Sea Shepherd's R/V Martin Sheen will be travelling from Vancouver to Port Hardy, B.C., carrying biologist and activist Alexandra Morton as she carries out field research on a virus found on B.C. salmon farms and in the wild.

Piscine reo-virus, or PRV, has been present on the B.C. coast since at least 2007, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Its presence in salmon farms is undisputed — even the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association says 70 to 80 per cent of salmon on farms are infected with PRV.

The controversy surrounding PRV is whether it's the direct cause of a deadly disease called Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation, or HSMI, which damages the hearts of salmon, and what role fish farms may play in transmitting the virus to wild salmon.

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association claims PRV doesn't cause heart disease in B.C. salmon, as fish have been documented living and growing with the virus, but without developing HSMI.

However, research by DFO and others on those questions is ongoing. In May, a federal scientist revealed that HSMI had been found at a B.C. salmon farm for the first time.

The piscine reo-virus has been found in B.C. salmon farms and in the wild, and scientists are trying to determine whether it causes a deadly heart inflammation in the fish. (Johathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

'Operation Virus Hunter'

Morton said diseases from fish farms are a major threat to wild salmon smolts as they swim past the farms on their way to the open ocean. 

"You would not walk your child through the infectious disease ward of a hospital on her way to school. That is not something any parent would choose to do," said Morton.

"And yet that's what we're doing with the juvenile salmon that are outmigrating."

On the Sea Shepherd vessel, Morton will be travelling a path juvenile Fraser River Sockeye would take from the mouth of the river at Vancouver, to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, in a project called "Operation Virus Hunter."

She'll be gathering mussels to test for the presence of PRV around fish farms and elsewhere.

She hopes the research and activism will put pressure on the federal Liberals to take action.

"I don't think that the minister of Fisheries is even paying attention at the moment to his own scientists."

Biologist and activist Alexandra Morton will travel on the R/V Martin Sheen from Vancouver to Port Hardy, following a path that juvenile Fraser River salmon could take past dozens of fish farms. (

Salmon farmers concerned about campaign

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association is calling the Sea Shepherd campaign featuring Anderson "misleading," and is concerned about the R/V Martin Sheen approaching salmon farms.

"Salmon farmers are concerned about the aims of this voyage and campaign," said executive director Jeremy Dunn.

"This group has reinforced they'll be non-aggressive and non-harassing when approaching our farms, but the Sea Shepherd Society does have a long history of doing the opposite."

In the past, the direct-action group has used vessels to disrupt whaling activities, and Canadian-born founder Paul Watson has been wanted by Interpol.

Morton said working on a Sea Shepherd boat was "way out of my comfort zone" but accepted the offer for the profile it would bring to her efforts.

"This boat is not touching anything," said Morton. "Even though Sea Shepherd has a reputation of aggression and harassment, that is not on the agenda this summer."


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