Sea lions go on fish farm feeding frenzy

Sea lion at Cermaq's Rant Point farm. Image: Clayoquot Action Group

A raft of greedy sea lions in western Canada have spent the last few weeks gorging on fish after slipping into an industrial salmon farm and refusing to leave.

Cermaq, a salmon farming company with operations in Norway, Chile and Canada, says the wily predators were able to evade netting and electric fences in late March as part of a “breach event” at its Rant Point farm near Tofino in British Columbia.

Loud devices have been set off to scare away the sea lions, but with no success. The company said exits are available to the intruders “should they choose to leave”– however the sea lions seem happy to stay thanks to their 'all you can eat buffet.'

In 2016, after sea lions breached another Cermaq fish farm, Canada’s department of fisheries and oceans (DFO) authorised the company to shoot the animals. This time around the DFO says there is a “strict requirement” that none of the sea lions be killed.

"Attempts to deter the sea lions and to remove them from the net pens, with least harm to the animals, have been ongoing in consultation with DFO biologists. Currently the sea lions have not been deterred.”

Spokesperson, DFO, Canada

Cermaq said staff are doing their best to get the sea lions out "without harming them, our people, or our salmon."

"Several methods are being utilised including the use of containment materials and active harvesting of targeted cages to minimize any potential impacts. Efforts are cyclical as dealing with animals who have learned behaviour can prove challenging," a spokesperson for the company said.

It’s not known exactly how the sea lions got into the pens, which have netting to contain the salmon, plus a heavier predator netting, as well as electric fencing around the open-net pens. Cermaq say the sea lions may have jumped or entered a pen when fencing was lowered for harvesting.

Cermaq Canada confirmed they plan on fully harvesting the salmon stocks by the third week of April and it is hoped that once the fish are gone, the sea lions will soon follow.

Fish farming has come under immense pressure in recent times due to concerns around environmental impact, predator control methods and animal welfare standards.

To help tackle this issue a number of animal charities, environmental groups and technology companies are working with the aquaculture industry to develop more environmentally responsible approaches to protecting the marine environment and keeping predators like sea lions out of fish farms without negatively impacting the animals or the surrounding wildlife.