Several years ago, two BC salmon farming companies experienced outbreaks of disease which resulted in the cull of all fish at three farm sites.
The outrage from the usual small group of anti-salmon farming clicktivists resulted in several news stories and blog posts condemning the CFIA’s policy of compensation for farmers who are ordered to destroy their stock.
This group is happy to hitch its star to issues about pipelines, mine spills and whatever their Illustrious Leader posts about. Oh, they’ll bring the outrage, you better believe it, prompting some of the laziest journalists in BC to include their perspectives in the name of false balance.
But avian flu? Forget about it.
Unless you live in the Fraser Valley, you probably don’t even know that hundreds of thousands of birds are being destroyed, and that farmers will rightly be compensated for it.
Because that’s the law. It’s the Health of Animals Act.
It’s intended to encourage farmers to report serious outbreaks of illnesses, and it works.
As salmon farmers, our sympathies are with the poultry farmers and hope that this is resolved quickly, with minimal loss of livestock.
And for all those who complain about compensation, yet have the audacity to ask for lower taxes, welfare, higher minimum wages, better benefits and a massive infrastructure so you can drive to Starbucks? Give yourself a reality check. Your precious opinions are just that: opinions. If you can’t admit to yourself that they might be wrong, they’re not worth anything in the first place.
It suggests that making judgements about antibiotic resistance in aquaculture may be difficult: DNA from 30,000 year old microbes recovered from permafrost show antibiotic resistant traits similar to their modern counterparts.
But there isn’t anything new here. They’ve reported this story several times already, but it must have been a slow news day.
Predictably, it again raised the ire of the anti-salmon farming crowd on social media, giving them something to Tweet about on a slow news Monday.
Yes, it’s true salmon farmers in Canada received around $93 million over three years in compensation for being ordered to destroy salmon infected by, or in close proximity to fish infected by, ISA virus and IHN virus.
The market value of those fish, however, would have been at least triple that amount. Nobody made money off compensation; at best, it meant people didn’t have to be laid off because of a massive gap in production. After all, farmed salmon grow for up to two years in the ocean. A chicken takes only eight weeks to grow to harvest, so it’s not nearly as big of a hit if a chicken farmer has to cull a herd.
All farmers get compensation
Compensating farmers for having to destroy their stock is nothing new.
In 2004, BC chicken farmers received $71 million in compensation for destroying nearly 14 million birds.
From 2002-2010, cattle, sheep and chicken farmers received $115 million in compensation for disease outbreaks, costs covered by the Canadian taxpayer.
Yet there’s no moral outrage over that. No calls for chicken farmers to hermetically seal their barns to prevent airborne diseases from entering. No calls for sheep farmers to create massive domes over their pastures with airlocks to keep airborne diseases out. No calls for cattle ranchers to equip each cow with hazmat suits to keep viruses out.
Yet when it involves salmon farms, people think it makes perfect sense to conclude that the solution MUST be moving farms out of the ocean.
The ocean is the best environment to farm fish. And although farmed fish are more susceptible to viruses because they live in closer proximity to each other than wild fish, they still are generally very healthy. More than 90% of the fish entered into the ocean live up to two years to harvest, and that’s with a minimal use of antibiotics, a pittance to what chicken farmers use to keep their herds alive for just eight weeks.
Missing the point of compensation
Farming is hard work. Farmers do not want the hassle — and costs — that come along with a disease outbreak.
Can you imagine what would happen if salmon farmers, faced with a reportable disease diagnosis, just sat on the fish, quickly harvesting them in the hopes that the disease wouldn’t spread too fast? The outrage there would be!
Dozens of companies went out of business. Hundreds of workers lost their jobs.
And although no one’s quantified what potential risk the outbreaks posed to passing wild fish (which carry IHN naturally, that’s where it comes from) it’s certainly never been higher than it was in those three years.
Compensation is intended to encourage farmers of all kinds to act quickly and co-operate with authorities.
Disease and disease control is just a part of farming. It’s the price farmers of all animals — and even vegetables — have to pay for grouping creatures and plants close together.
Nature has always been a battlefield of creatures and viruses trying to find their niche. Within the last 10,000 years we have radically altered that balance by developing agriculture.
It’s the price we pay for civilization.
The key is that we do it properly, with as few environmental impacts as possible. Salmon farming has made great strides since it began just 40 years ago towards being one of the most sustainable forms of livestock production on the planet.
What do these usual suspects actually do to help wild salmon? Not much other than talk.
So expect this movie to be a bunch of talking heads, Morton walking along riverbanks while soothing music plays in the background, closeups of dead fish while alarming music plays in the background and nonsensical conspiracy theories, fading to black only after a helicopter long shot of our “Pristine Coast” masterfully timed to avoid any scenes of deforestation, log dumps, cargo barges full of cheap Chinese crap heading north to the Anchorage WalMart and giant barges of gravel and coal heading back to China.
It’s just too painful to debunk the same points over and over again. We’ve already addressed them many times on this blog, particularly her claim that the ISA virus is in BC (even though she contradicted herself on the show by admitting her results were not confirmed).
So we were thrilled to read today that one BC scientist, who has been a cornerstone of fisheries science and who has published hundreds of papers crucial to understanding wild salmon, was recognized by the prestigious International Council for Exploration of the Seas.
Yesterday, UBC’s Dr. Carl Walters was awarded ICES’ Prix D’Excellence, an award recognizing scientists who “have contributed to the sustained use and conservation of marine ecosystems through their research, scientific leadership and/or leadership in the objective application of science to policy. Innovation, teamwork, mentoring, and objective communication with the public exemplify the career of the recipient of this award.”
Congratulations to Carl on this well-deserved award! His work over the past decade has been crucial in helping us better understand wild salmon dynamics, as well as interactions between wild and farmed salmon.
As the press release from ICES states:
“Over his career, Dr. Walters has been the most innovative scientist working in marine ecosystems and fisheries management,” remarked ICES Awards Committee Chair Pierre Petitgas at the awards ceremony during the ASC opening session. “He has also been a well-known advocate for co-operation between scientists and fishermen and has promoted cooperative arrangements between governments and fishing industries to provide improved information for stock assessment and management via methods such as industry-based surveys.”
When customers open a box of fresh, farmed salmon only to find the flesh has gone soft after being in storage for a few days, that’s a huge problem for both the customer and the seller. No one wants that to happen.
Most of the fish produced in BC is premium quality. But sometimes soft flesh problems arise.
BC salmon farmers have worked for years to prevent this from happening — after all, premium quality fish command premium quality prices.
The study’s findings suggest that soft flesh is linked to how much glycogen (stored sugar) the fish has in its cells:
“We report for the first time an association between soft flesh of Atlantic salmon and massive intracellular glycogen accumulation coinciding with swollen and degenerated mitochondria, myocyte detachment and altered extracellular matrix protein distribution. The results are important for further understanding the etiology of soft salmon.”
The study authors caution that they are not sure if the accumulation of glycogen is a symptom or cause of soft flesh, but the new findings will definitely help researchers better understand what is happening with soft salmon flesh and get closer to finding a solution.