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Video: Pamela Anderson, David Suzuki send off salmon farm expedition

TV star and animal rights activist in Vancouver at the launch of a Sea Shepherd mission to get to the bottom of controversial farmed fish industry.

Pamela Anderson (right) on board the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's research yacht on Monday in Vancouver, alongside (from right) Chief Ernie Crey, Alexandra Morton, David Suzuki and Chief Bob Chamberlain.

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Pamela Anderson (right) on board the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's research yacht on Monday in Vancouver, alongside (from right) Chief Ernie Crey, Alexandra Morton, David Suzuki and Chief Bob Chamberlain.

It may not be Baywatch, but Pamela Anderson is watching some of B.C.’s bays — and ocean passages — much closer than many may have suspected.

On Monday, the 49-year-old actor and animal rights activist boarded a converted research yacht moored at Vancouver’s Fisherman’s Wharf as the boat prepared to embark on a research expedition to study the impacts of the salmon farming industry along the province’s coast.

Watch our video of Metro’s exclusive tour inside the R/V Martin Sheen while Pamela Anderson was on board to launch the farmed salmon study mission.

“I was concerned about the depleting salmon for the orcas,” Anderson, a Ladysmith native, explained. “I think there's a misconception that farmed salmon is saving wild populations of salmon. That's what we're trying to get across and get out there: the consumer has the power to help, and to not purchase farmed salmon. It's polluting our oceans.”

The research vessel R/V Martin Sheen belongs to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a controversial environmental group infamous for its aggressive tactics such as ramming whaling boats and shark finners, as featured in the reality TV show Whale Wars.

On board for what they’re calling “Operation Virus Hunter” — a voyage that will follow the migration of young Fraser River Sockeye salmon to the northern end of Vancouver Island — is B.C. anti-salmon farming crusader Alexandra Morton, a marine biologist who has spent decades collecting salmon for testing in laboratories.

She alleged that a virus documented in a Marine Harvest-operated salmon farm this year — piscine reovirus — may be linked to another more fatal disease, heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), which has devastated wild salmon populations around the world where it has surfaced.

Veteran broadcaster and environmentalist David Suzuki said that disease and pollution from aquaculture is a no brainer, and advocated for fish farms to be forced onto land.

“As a scientist,” he said aboard the R/V Martin Sheen, “it makes no sense to grow animals in open nets where you use the ocean as a shithouse.”

Chief Bob Chamberlain, Chief Councillor of the Kwikwasut'inuxw Haxwa'mis, said the First Nations of the area to be visited “welcome Alexandra to test any fish found within the traditional territories of our people, and this includes fish farms,” he said.

“And I challenge the Marine Harvests of the world to allow access so we can do the appropriate testing and get to the bottom of this mess … It's time for transparency.”

The salmon farming industry, however, said the open net farms found along B.C.’s coasts are environmentally safe and have minimal impact on surrounding marine ecosystems. And they dispute any connection between piscine reovirus and HSMI.

“B.C. Salmon Farmers are concerned about the aims of this voyage and campaign,” said the BC Salmon Farmers Association in a statement Monday. “Although they have reinforced that they will be ‘non-aggressive and non-harassing’ when approaching farms, the Sea Shepherd society has a long history of doing the opposite.

“We’re disappointed that this latest publicity stunt is attempting to paint a misleading picture of an industry that provides a healthy, sustainable product that feeds millions of people.”

Pamela Anderson speaks to media aboard the R/V Martin Sheen on Monday in Vancouver.

David P. Ball / Metro

Pamela Anderson speaks to media aboard the R/V Martin Sheen on Monday in Vancouver.

Sea Shepherd’s Canadian founder, Paul Watson, is currently a fugitive facing attempted murder charges in Costa Rica for his attempts to stop shark finning there, and faces an Interpol arrest warrant.

For this new salmon study mission, however, the militant organization insisted it’s entirely at the command of Morton and the First Nations who have invited them to inspect fish farms and their impact in their territories.

“It's the first research sailing boat Sea Shepherd owns,” Captain Oona Layolle, the organization’s director of ship operations, told Metro. “We're here to support Alexandra Morton's work and the First Nations.”

Photo gallery: On Board the R/V Martin Sheen with Pamela Anderson

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