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Alexandra Morton canoes with Ahta the dog in the Ahta River in the rain. Last month Simon Fraser University awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Science, stating her "work linking sea lice infestation in wild salmon to fish farming in the Broughton Archipelago has drawn international attention and challenged both the salmon farm industry and the government officials who regulate it."She is walking from her house in Sointula, near Port McNeill on Vancouver Island to Victoria, more than 400 kms away, where, on May 8th, she will hold a rally with whatever supporters she's managed to gather along the way, in an attempt to get the provincial government to pay attention.Ms. Morton wants fish farms in B.C. to move out of the open net sea pens where they now raise millions of salmon, to transition to land-based, contained systems. (Alexandra Morton/ The Globe and Mail)
Alexandra Morton canoes with Ahta the dog in the Ahta River in the rain. Last month Simon Fraser University awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Science, stating her "work linking sea lice infestation in wild salmon to fish farming in the Broughton Archipelago has drawn international attention and challenged both the salmon farm industry and the government officials who regulate it."She is walking from her house in Sointula, near Port McNeill on Vancouver Island to Victoria, more than 400 kms away, where, on May 8th, she will hold a rally with whatever supporters she's managed to gather along the way, in an attempt to get the provincial government to pay attention.Ms. Morton wants fish farms in B.C. to move out of the open net sea pens where they now raise millions of salmon, to transition to land-based, contained systems. (Alexandra Morton/ The Globe and Mail)

Mark Hume

Activist's long journey to save wild salmon Add to ...

Alexandra Morton has been to court, winning an action last year in the Supreme Court of British Columbia that forced the provincial government to turn over the regulation of fish farms to the federal government.

She has been to Ottawa repeatedly, most recently a week ago to testify before the standing committee on fisheries and oceans about the impact salmon farms are having on wild stocks.

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She has been to Norway, to lobby the fish farming industry there, which owns most of the fish farming companies here, in an unsuccessful attempt to get them to change their practices on the West Coast.

She has been on the water in the Broughton Archipelago, off the northeast shoulder of Vancouver Island, for nearly 30 years, and for the last decade has been doing field research on sea lice that has resulted in the publication of papers in 17 journals.

She has been vilified by her critics, who dismiss her as an environmental zealot who has a thing about bashing fish farms. But last month, Simon Fraser University awarded her an honorary doctorate of science, stating that her "work linking sea lice infestation in wild salmon to fish farming in the Broughton Archipelago has drawn international attention and challenged both the salmon farm industry and the government officials who regulate it."

It has been a long journey for Ms. Morton - and she's not done yet.

Later this week, she will leave her home in Sointula, on Malcolm Island, near Port McNeill, and start south.

The plan is to walk all the way to Victoria, more than 400 kilometres away, where, on May 8, she will hold a rally with whatever supporters she's managed to gather along the way, in an attempt to get the provincial government to pay attention.

Ms. Morton wants fish farms in B.C. to move out of the open-net sea pens, where they now raise millions of salmon, to land-based, contained systems. The idea is to separate farmed salmon from the migratory routes of wild fish. She believes that farms are causing lice epidemics that are killing wild fish.

The government has so far rejected her premise. Despite her work over all these years, provincial politicians have ignored her.

So she's going to try a pilgrimage in the hope that, if she can get enough boots on the front lawn of the legislature, just maybe Premier Gordon Campbell might finally agree the fish farm file needs to be dusted off and acted on.

Ms. Morton is calling her trek the Get Out Migration, linking the annual spring migration of wild salmon to her goal of getting farms out of the ocean.

"I have decided it is time to take the issue of industrial salmon farming to the people in an unprecedented way," she writes on her blog. "I have written letters, done the science, met with government and industry around the world, engaged in government processes, talked to thousands of people, been the subject of international media and films and today I stand facing a vertical wall of impenetrable denial. Nothing has brought reason to this situation. We will lose our wild salmon if government continues to carelessly put farm salmon before wild salmon every time."

She has an invitation for people to join her along the route. It will be interesting to see how many do.

Cosy Lawson and her 11-year-old daughter, Laterra, are planning to walk across from Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, to rendezvous with Ms. Morton.

In an e-mail, Laterra says: "I am doing this walk because I think it is important to have our wild salmon here for many years to come. I want to see what the wild salmon was like a while ago, thriving in the rivers like I have been told. I would like to see that when I grow up." Her dad, Steve Lawson, says that in 1982, about 80,000 sockeye salmon spawned in the rivers of Clayoquot Sound. Last year, there were just 16.

Mr. Lawson suspects sea lice from fish farms in the area are to blame.

Government and industry would dispute that, saying there is no conclusive scientific proof of such a link.

But Ms. Morton thinks the case has been made. Now, she's asking those who agree to walk beside her for a while.

Details on the journey, including a day-by-day itinerary, can be found at the Salmon Are Sacred website: www.salmonaresacred.org.

Follow on Twitter: @markhumeglobe

 

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