There’s a pipe spewing blood into the otherwise serene, salmon-filled waters of the Discovery Passage channel, off Vancouver Island in British Columbia. It’s extremely gross, and potentially bad for the wild fish of the channel and beyond, according to researchers.
Videographer and photographer Tavish Campbell discovered the effluent pipe—a standard system for disposing of wastewater, but definitely not for churning out straight, gory fish guts—on a dive earlier this year, near an Atlantic salmon processing plant. Campbell told me in a phone conversation that he dove at that location after watching the fish farming and processing plants change the ecosystem around his home throughout his lifetime. He expected to see something coming from the wastewater pipe, but nothing like this.
“I didn’t know it would be so gruesome and disgusting,” Campbell said. He described the water as “shimmering with scales and chunks of blood."
Campbell took samples of the blood directly from the pipe flow and sent them to activist and researcher Alexandra Morton, who delivered them to Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island for analysis. Morton found that the blood contained intestinal worms, as well as Piscine Reovirus, a virus that’s common in wild and farmed Atlantic salmon, and is linked to heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI) in fish. The virus isn’t known to be harmful to humans, but can kill as much as 20 percent of an infected fish population.
Blood is a vector for infectious disease. Blasting it directly into the channel and bathing wild fish in the diseased blood is a marine conservationist’s nightmare.
According to CTV News in British Columbia, the pipe appears to be connected to Brown’s Bay Packing Company, a farmed Atlantic salmon processing plant near Campbell River. CTV contacted Dave Stover, the manager of Brown's Bay Packing, who confirmed that the company has a wastewater effluent pipe and claimed to have a permit. I left a message with the company for Stover requesting comment, and will update when I hear back.
Instead of dumping the wastewater into the wild, it could be turned into fertilizer. The B.C. government announced in October that it’s launching a review of fish farm science and practices.
"Our most stringent standard comes from the Global Aquaculture Alliance, which has a BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices) standard … and those standards are sort of the highest levels and we meet or exceed those,” Stover told CTV.
Campbell told me that he isn’t doing this for the benefit of any larger organization or cause, but out of a genuine concern for the salmon and the ecosystem around his home. “We’re definitely hoping to see some change.”
In the meantime, the pipe keeps gushing scales and guts into the water, unseen from the channel’s still surface.