Sea lions feast at Cermaq salmon farm

© Clayoquot Action Group
Sea lion at Cermaq's Rant Point farm

Dozens of hungry sea lions have broken into a salmon farm off the coast of British Columbia, Canada.

They are reported to be feeding off the stock in what has been described in the Canadian media as an “all you can eat” buffet.

The Rant Point farm off the west coast of Vancouver Island is owned by the salmon giant Cermaq, which has been reporting problems with sea lions over the past couple of weeks. The company has described it as a “breach incident”.

Cermaq said the sea lions keep moving in and out of the pens, making it hard to estimate exact numbers, but the figure is thought to vary between six and 20 per pen. Sea lions can eat more than 5% of their body weight in a day.

There have been similar incidents off the BC coast in the recent past.

Conservation group Clayoquot Action said was notified of the break-in by a whale-watching group on Sunday, and has been observing the stellar and California sea lions since.

“Some of them were coming and going from the pens, and so we’re quite concerned about entanglement,” said Bonny Glambeck, campaign director with the group. “It’s really common for these sea lions to get injured in this situation.”

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) said the facility has predator netting and electric fencing around the open-net fish pens, yet somehow, the sea lions breached its defences.

In a statement, Cermaq said the net did not appear to have been damaged, and the sea lions appear to have gained entry by jumping over the stanchions.

The DFO said it was consulting with its biologists with the aim of trying to remove the sea lions from the net pens without injuring them. But it pointed out that the creatures have not responded to passive methods in the past.

Andrew Trites, director and professor at the University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit, said there is a narrow window to get the sea lions out of the pens and now it will be a difficult task.