Aquaculture antibiotics study needs more context

A new study about antibiotics in aquaculture was recently published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, and although it provides some good, useful data, it doesn’t mean much without more information.

Study highlights

  • 5 out of 47 antibiotics were detected in shrimp, salmon, tilapia and trout.
  • Oxytetracycline is the most commonly detected antibiotic compound.
  • Antibiotic resistant bacteria in seafood increase >8-fold in the last 3 decades.
  • We report a low risk of drug exposure from consumption of U.S. seafoods.
  • We recommend vigilance toward stemming microbial risks.

Sounds pretty innocuous, but as usual, the data is already being used by third parties to suggest that antibiotic usage in seafood farming is high and a potential problem.

Not true.

Let’s clarify one thing. Seafood farming and aquaculture have different meanings. Aquaculture is a far more general term, which includes farming as well as enhancement projects.

Wild salmon DO do drugs

Let’s use the definition supplied by the American Fisheries Society.

Aquaculture is an established and growing industry in the U.S., and an increasingly important supplier of foods for U.S. consumers.

The industry also produces baitfish for sport-fishing and ornamental fish for the pet trade.

In addition, federal and state fish hatcheries raise millions of fish for stocking in U.S. waters to support commercial and recreational fisheries and species restoration efforts.

Aquaculture is an important contributor to U.S. agriculture and a cornerstone of aquatic natural resources management.

All aquaculture operations will have a demand for drugs, biologics, and other chemicals, collectively referred to as “regulated products”.

There you have it: wild salmon DO do drugs!

Unfortunately, while this new study looked at five common species, including farmed American catfish, it did not look at any aquaculture-raised American salmonids. This is a glaring oversight, considering that billions of them are raised in aquaculture facilities and released every year on the Pacific coast.

It would be very interesting to see what sort of amounts of antibiotics are used in Pacific salmonid enhancement facilities in Canada and the USA.

Antibiotic resistance predates antibiotics!

Research published in 2011 adds even more interesting context to this study.

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.

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More complaining about salmon aquaculture compensation is unmerited

Yet again Blacklocks Reporter resurrected their story about compensation paid out to salmon farmers in Canada last week.

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.

2014-09-30 10_41_06-Livestock Diseases Prevention, Control and Compensation Schemes_ Prevention ...

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.

Range cattle at risk from BSE? Why not just put them all in bags, then, how dare you expect taxpayers to bail you out.
Range cattle at risk from airborne diseases? Why not just put them all in bags and helmets, then, how dare you expect taxpayers to bail you out.

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.

It isn’t.

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.

Many farmers are tempted to follow the terrible advice of Canada’s biggest-ever boob of a premier Ralph Klein, who said during the mad cow disease crisis in Alberta that any “self-respecting rancher would have shot, shovelled and shut up.”

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!

Oh wait, that’s EXACTLY what happened more than a decade ago, before salmon farmers were eligible for compensation, when IHN virus spread all around the BC coast because farmers didn’t immediately cull their fish.

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.

“It reduces the time lag between an outbreak and containment actions, and hence diminishes the overall cost of control. “

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.

New salmon aquaculture-bashing film looks like it’s gonna be a humdinger of a crockumentary

There are a lot of films we would like to see made.

Like “Guardians of the Galaxy 2″, or “Ernest Goes to Hell” (RIP Jim Varney).

Don't know about you, but, we'd watch the HELL outta this, hur hur hur!
Don’t know about you, but, we’d watch the HELL outta this, hur hur hur!

 

On a more serious, latte-sipping intelligentsia-wanna-be note, there are a lot of documentaries we would like to see made.

Like a documentary about where the hell ISIS came from, or about the Vancouver Island Marmot.

Instead we got this.

Another fawning stroke for Alexandra Morton's already planetoid-sized ego.
Another fawning strokey-strokey for Alexandra Morton’s already planetoid-sized ego.

Yes , nobody asked for this but apparently Scott Renyard decided to assist our favourite activist in reliving the glory days, when she sort-of walked down Vancouver Island to hang around on the Leg lawn and wave signs and shout at The Man with a bunch of her friends one afternoon.

The role salmon farmers play in "The Pristine Coast" because the filmmaker apparently can't handle the thought of allowing different viewpoints.
The role salmon farmers play in “The Pristine Coast” because the filmmaker apparently can’t handle the thought of allowing different viewpoints.

Not surprisingly, the list of co-stars is all the usual suspects, who have made nice careers out of opposing salmon farming. No salmon farmers were invited to participate.

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 not ever going to be a “famous documentary” but it would certainly fit on this list of “Famous Documentaries That Were Shockingly Full Of Crap.”

This crockumentary will never make out it out of small-time film festival purgatory, but if you do get a chance to watch it, leave a comment here and let us know what you think.

Cooke Aquaculture gets sued for alleged patent infringement

Cooke Aquaculture, which raises farmed Atlantic salmon on Canada’s east coast, is getting sued by MariCal Inc and Europharma for allegedly violating patents.

There isn’t a whole lot of information available right now, but the Bangor Daily News in Maine has a report:

“MariCal granted a license to Cooke Aquaculture to use processes under four MariCal patents, but the contract between the two companies expired in 2008, according to the lawsuit.

Each of the four legal counts — one for each patent — alleges that Cooke Aquaculture and its affiliated businesses have been and continue to infringe on the claims of the patents.

Europharma AS is the exclusive licensee of the rights to the four patents, according to the lawsuit, and Europharma Inc. is a sublicensee of those rights.”

We’ll be watching to see how this turns out.

What’s better than debunking Morton myths? Seeing a real salmon scientist get international recognition!

We were going to write about the contradictions, lies and half-truths which characterized activist Alexandra Morton’s hour-long radio love-in with Ian Jessop on CFAX yesterday.

But we didn’t really want to.

The official seal of the Pseudoscience Labelling Initiative, which may soon be required by law to preface any publication by Alexandra Morton.
The official seal of the Pseudoscience Labelling Initiative, which may soon be required by law to preface any publication by Alexandra Morton.

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).

We’ve also talked about another point she raised about Piscine Reovirus, which recent research shows has been in wild fish since at least the late 1970s. This physical evidence, of course, makes her claims based on computer modelling that it must have been introduced by salmon farms in the mid-2000s moot.

A great scientist’s career recognized

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.

Carl Walters
Dr. Carl Walters

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.”

Here is the full press release from ICES.

 

Why does farmed salmon flesh sometimes go soft? Study offers new insights

Kudoa in Atlantic salmon fillet
Soft and separated flesh in a salmon fillet caused by Kudoa

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.

Years of research have pinpointed one common culprit behind soft flesh: a fish parasite known as kudoa, which sometimes affects BC farmed salmon but has also affected wild-caught BC fish used in fish sticks and surimi for 40 years.

But sometimes soft flesh in farmed salmon happens without the presence of kudoa, and a 2014 study brings us closer to understanding why.

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.

Risk assessment of Norwegian salmon farming offers some surprising points

Every year since 2011, the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research has published a risk assessment for ocean salmon farming in Norway.

The results, most recently published in July 2014, offer up some points that might surprise die-hard salmon farming critics.

The most concerning risks in Norway, according to the research, are:

  • Wild Atlantic salmon face a moderate to high risk for “genetic introgression” (cross-breeding) from escaped farmed Atlantic salmon.
  • About 27 of 109 farms investigated for sea lice infection indicate moderate to high risk of likelihood for passing wild salmon smolts, and 67 farms indicated moderate to high risk of mortality from sea lice for wild sea trout.

The interesting results are in what doesn’t appear to be a concern:

Despite “extensive release of virus in many areas,” screening of wild salmonids showed low to very low presence of the same viruses.

  • Only 2% of all farms displayed unacceptable levels of “organic loading” (fish poop and feed) below the farms; therefore the “risk of eutrophication and organic load beyond the production area of the farm is considered low.
  • It’s interesting that, in Norway at least, the two points that salmon farm critics seize on the most — viruses and fish poop — are of least concern.

It’s debatable how meaningful it would be to extrapolate these findings to BC, but they raise some interesting points. Here in BC, where we have strong populations of wild salmon, which are unable to interbreed with farmed Atlantic salmon, the issue of “genetic introgression” is moot.

More than a decade of sea lice research has also shown that sea lice from salmon farms are unlikely to have any measurable impact on wild salmon, as experts at the Cohen Commission agreed.

Also, as BC experts said, the risk to wild salmon from farm diseases might be possible, but is also probably low.

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