Becoming a better animal
June 28th, 2022
“I went into the wilderness to figure out what whales were saying to each other,” said Alexandra Morton while accepting the 2022 George Ryga Award for social awareness in literature at a VPL event on June 21. “But I soon realized I was in the same environment as the whales I was studying. You can’t separate yourself from that.”
Morton began learning lessons from whales and their prey, wild salmon. When salmon farms, which raise non-native Atlantic Salmon for human food consumption, moved into the Broughton Archipelago where Morton lived, she began to see a negative impact on wild salmon populations. Through scientific research, she determined sea lice, diseases and viruses from the farmed salmon were infecting wild salmon. As wild salmon populations began to decline, fish farm companies denied their operations were impacting wild salmon. The fight was on.
When “the fish farm thing happened,” said Morton, “I thought, ‘I’ve got this. I can figure this whole thing out. I’m going to write a report for government.’”
But after writing 10,000 letters and turning to activism, the fish farms stayed. “What I failed to understand was that I should have reached out to people … it was about social awareness.”
Morton continues her research into fish farm impacts on wild salmon and, in order to publicize her findings, she wrote Not on My Watch: How a renegade whale biologist took on governments and industry to save wild salmon (Random House Canada $35) for which she earned the George Ryga award.
In her acceptance speech, Morton discussed new science that will provide more insights into what is impacting the decline of wild salmon in BC. “It will become our guide to what we are doing wrong on this coast,” said Morton. “We can learn from the salmon how to become a better animal; learn how to fit into this planet; learn how not to destroy everything that is around us.
“When you give me an award like this, it [gives me] power to help make the changes we need to make.
“But I want everyone to know that you, individually, have become as important as the rain and wind and the tides and the mountains. We are so big on this planet, there are so many of us on the planet now, that nothing functions without our love and protection and goodwill to species.”
Morton referred to a decision the federal government was about to make regarding the renewal of fish farm licenses in BC. “Think of me when you hear the decision. Are salmon going to come to the sea unharmed? Are we going to give them safe passage through these waters of British Columbia or not?”
See video link of Alexandra Morton’s acceptance speech here:
[The day after Morton’s speech, Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard announced the temporary renewal of many fish farm licenses in BC while strengthening reporting requirements to contain pathogens harmful to wild fish. So, the phase-out is not immediate although licenses for open net pen salmon farms near the particularly vulnerable Discovery Islands have not been renewed. A final decision on how the remaining farms will be removed from the Pacific will be released in the spring of 2023.]
Not on My Watch ISBN: 9780735279667