A keystone species is a species that is essential to the functioning of the ecosystem as a whole. Such a species supports the entire interdependent network of life because other animals simply cannot live without it. In British Columbia, the Pacific salmon is a keystone species, fundamentally shaping life on the coast. However, their numbers are dwindling and there seems to be an epidemic of pre-spawn mortality in places like the Fraser River.
The race is on to discover what is happening to the to the iconic fish before it’s too late.
When industrial fish farms moved into biologist Alexandra Morton’s neighborhood, it soon became apparent that they were having an impact on the wild fish. She has been working in the remote wilderness for over 30 years, watching and studying the decline of BC’s salmon. Morton soon noticed that the young wild fish were carrying lice. Due to the fact that the farms are positioned near the main salmon migration route, when one of the farms has a disease outbreak, the viruses fill the entire channel. Species like the Fraser Sockeye, that have been declining, come through the channel and become contaminated by the time they get out. The sockeye that are doing well are the ones not passing close to the channel where the fish farms are found. Is this coincidence?
The dead bodies of thousands of fish are floating on many rivers but only a handful of researchers seem to be interested in what’s causing this to happen. In less than fifteen minutes they are able to find about eight different dead pre-spawn fish within a few yards of each other. It doesn’t seem like they’re all dying of the same diseases either. The evidence is clear, but the problem seems to be how to get the government to pay attention.
For example, The Department of Fisheries and Ocean (DFO) won’t even allow the samples that are being collected to be studied in their lab. Morton has to ship her samples to Norway. This is not only expensive, but the quality of samples gets damaged in the process.
In the wild, a predator catches the sick fish and that’s the end of both the fish and its virus. But on a fish farm, the sick fish are allowed to live and sometimes end up being sold to the public to be consumed. Because the people in the city don’t know what a healthy fish is going to look like, the fish farms get away with offering sick fish to the public.
This shocking documentary by filmmaker Twyla Roscovich and biologist Alexandra Morton is a call to action.