Critics still talking crap about farmed salmon poop


The entire BC farmed salmon industry produces about as much poop every year as 409 dairy cows.

That’s it. That’s barely the equivalent of two average-sized BC dairy farms.

This is important because one of the most common criticisms leveled at salmon farms is that they are using the ocean as an “open sewer.” As usual, the risks are vastly blown out of proportion.

Our favourite activist Alexandra Morton likes to say that salmon farmers are one of the only farmers that “don’t have to shovel their manure” and that we should all be very concerned and scared of farmed salmon poop because there’s so much of it and it’s full of “chemicals.”

We hear or read this one at least a few times each week. And it’s true. It’s also true that, as usual, Morton is telling half-truths distorted by her obsession with the scatology of salmon.

So how bad is it really? Well, for one thing, fish poop is a lot more benign than human poop because they eat a way healthier diet than most of us. And for another thing, recent research shows the environmental impacts are hardly noticeable.


Old data, old arguments

Before we get to the new data, we have to consider the old, and it’s really old. The tidbits of info you’ve probably heard are almost all certainly based on information published back when the Vancouver Canucks still played in Pacific Coliseum.

Some environmental activists still claim (without providing a source) that a farm of “200,000 fish can produce as much fecal matter per year as a city of 62,000 people.”

Others, quoting even more ancient sources from the 1980s and 1990s, claim that the waste from a farm is equivalent to a city the size of Victoria, BC.

They’re all wrong. Time to catch up to the latest science.

The Hardangerfjord in Norway produces as much farmed salmon as all of BC. Plus it makes a great desktop wallpaper.
The Hardangerfjord in Norway produces as much farmed salmon as all of BC. Plus it makes a great desktop wallpaper.

Studying the Hardangerfjord

The Hardangerfjord is the second-largest fjord in Norway and possibly the most beautiful. It’s also home to enough salmon farms to produce 70,000 metric tonnes of fish each year. That’s nearly equivalent to the total capacity of all salmon farms in BC.

According to research published just two years ago, all the salmon farms in the Hardangerfjord produce 7,000 tonnes of particulate organic waste (as well as organic phosphorus and nitrogen, included in the 7,000 tonne total); 127 tonnes of dissolved inorganic phosphorus and 770 tonnes of dissolved inorganic nitrogen.

So all the farmed salmon in the Hardangerfjord produce 7,897 tonnes of waste. Considering that the BC industry is very similar to the farms in Hardangerfjord, with very similar fish, feeding practices and almost identical feed, it’s pretty safe to assume that the BC industry produces about the same amount of waste per year as Hardangerfjord.

Fish poop vs human poop vs cow poop

The average human makes about 128 grams of poop each day (more after Taco Tuesdays). That’s 46.72 kilograms per year.

The average dairy cow produces 19.6 tonnes of poop (and urine) per year.

That means all the salmon farms in BC, all around Vancouver Island, produce as much poop as 169,028 people each year, and as much poop as 409 dairy cows. 

We can’t think of another farming industry that produces so much healthy protein with such little waste.

So next time someone tells you that one salmon farm produces as much poop as a city, you can tell them that’s just a load of crap.

Alex’s astounding ignorance of science showcased yet again in error-riddled pox claims

Hi! We’re back. Did you miss us?

While we’ve been gone, it appears our favourite anti-salmon farming activist has slid a little further into insanity, and taken her little cult with her.

Today she made this astounding claim on her Facebook page, based on a Google Translate version of a Norwegian news article.

“Pox virus just discovered in farmed Atlantic salmon…. millions of Atlantic salmon have been imported into BC for salmon farming and no one knew to screen for this virus. THIS is one of the greatest dangers associated with salmon farming – importation of new viruses.”

OK first thing here, Alex, is that this virus was NOT just discovered. Are Nylund in Norway first described salmon gill poxvirus seven years ago.

Second thing is, no one has seen the lesions linked to this virus in BC farmed salmon.

It is clear, Alex, as you continue to make exceedingly ignorant and simplistic statements about viruses and diseases, that you do not understand how they work.


Let us explain it to you, as we would to a child.

  • Viruses exist everywhere in air and water. They are tiny little things. There are more of them on Earth than any other kinds of animals, even bugs.
  • They infect things and make copies of themselves.
  • Sometimes they cause diseases. Most of the time, they do not.
  • Scientists, people who collect information and do lots of tests and actually verify and offer up their results for other scientists to check, discovered that in Norway there’s a virus called the salmon gill poxvirus.
  • The scientists found, after doing lots of tests to show that their first result wasn’t just an accident, found that the virus was in a lot of farmed salmon that died at once.
  • The scientists found that the virus was linked to some unique-looking boo boos that the dead fish all had.
  • All this information led the scientists to conclude that the salmon gill poxvirus can be very bad for farmed salmon, and that a good way to tell if your fish have it is by looking for the unique boo boos.
  • Farmed salmon in BC are examined all the time, and no one has ever found the unique boo boos that the scientists in Norway found.

Hopefully that’s simple enough for even Alexandra Morton to understand.

Oh, and the third thing with this, Alex, is that no one is importing salmon eggs into BC anymore. Farmers all have their own broodstock programs and don’t need to bring in eggs from other countries. So quit fear mongering that old chestnut.

bug hunt

But we know she won’t. She needs a new fundraising cause to get through the wet, dark winter. Bug hunting for a virus that doesn’t exist would be a perfect thing to do, all she has to do is get people scared enough to open their wallets and give her untraceable donations, then go buy a few “utility” grade fish from grocery stores and send samples to her favourite lab for testing. It’s a few days work, tops. Then she can kick back and relax for the winter.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will actually be working for a living, and salmon farmers will be busting their butts in sopping wet storms to make sure their fish are healthy.

Because that’s what they do. Raise healthy fish in a healthy environment.

And even though Alex doesn’t seem to understand this simple fact, it’s still true: healthy farmed fish pose no risk to wild fish.

Ecojustice statement a Superbowl-sized insult to BC’s professional veterinarians

Like Doug Baldwin at the Superbowl, Ecojustice uses their victory to take a big, gloating dump on their opponents.
Like Doug Baldwin at the Superbowl, Ecojustice uses their “victory” to take a big, gloating dump on their opponents.

It’s enough to make you sick.

Last December, Alexandra Morton managed to convince Ecojustice to back her personal vendetta against someone who once made her look bad.

This month, the College of Veterinary Biologists relented (probably to stop the annoying Ecojustice press releases) and decided to set the Wayback Machine to 2007 and investigate her complaint.

"But Mr. Peabody, what does it matter if someone accidentally said something wrong 8 years ago?"  "Quiet you, this is PERSONAL."
“But Mr. Peabody, what does it matter if someone accidentally said something wrong 8 years ago?”
“Quiet you, this is PERSONAL.”

In the spirit of poor sportsmanship, Ecojustice, which exists to sue businesses and organizations over perceived environmental malfeasance, published this gem recently calling the College’s decision a “victory” for Ecojustice.

They earn themselves the Doug Baldwin Sportsmanship Award for the final comment:

“With this victory, the College better understands both its duty to investigate complaints from the public and its duty to ensure veterinarians are held accountable for their veterinary practices.”

The college knows its duty, and does it well.  This backhanded, smug slap at every single professional veterinarian in BC, in aquaculture or otherwise, is a disgrace, an insult and shows the anti-science ignorance – and possibly outright cynicism — of the lawyers involved in this case.


PS – Apparently Alexandra Morton is building another new house on Sointula. Keep on sending in those non-tax-refundable donations!

Oregon lake no longer stocking Atlantic salmon

Hosmer Lake. Source:
Hosmer Lake. Source:

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has been stocking Atlantic salmon for sport fishing since 1958. But no longer.

“Into the future, ODFW will focus on stocking Hosmer Lake with cutthroat trout,” reports the Bend Bulletin.

A lot of people probably had no idea the lake’s been stocked with Atlantic salmon for that long. But that’s over now, and so probably is the Atlantic salmon program at the Wizard Falls Hatchery.

“Yellow fish” issue in farmed Chinook salmon not linked to PRV, new study shows

Three heavy hitters in BC’s fisheries and aquaculture science community have published a new study after a laboratory challenge of several different species of salmon.

The study investigated the phenomenon of yellow (jaundiced) fish from a Chinook farming operation in Clayoquot Sound; the level of Piscene Reovirus (PRV) in these fish compared to other species; and any disease associated with jaundiced fish and PRV infection.


Activists have made much of finding yellow salmon but research shows there's no connection with PRV or a disease only observed in Europe.
Activists have made much of finding yellow salmon but research shows there’s no connection with PRV or a disease only observed in Europe.

In our controlled laboratory exposure study, we demonstrated that PRV persisted in each of the Chinook Salmon, Sockeye Salmon and Atlantic Salmon for 5 months after ip challenge without resulting in microscopic evidence of HSMI or any other disease.

Our study supports the hypothesis that exposure to PRV is not solely responsible for the development of Jaundice Syndrome. It may be possible that the presence of PRV is not contributory towards jaundice in Chinook but rather that its association is merely a reflection of the ubiquitous presence of PRV in wild and farmed salmon species of BC.

The research supports the conclusion that in Pacific waters, PRV is not connected to the Heart and Skeletal Muscular Inflammation (HSMI) disease, and that there is no connection between PRV and the jaundice phenomenon in farmed Chinook salmon.


Salmon aquaculture virus study leaves one big unanswered question

A study by Norwegian researchers published late last month is apparently ” the first study confirming the presence of virus-infected escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in a nearby river shortly after escaping.”

The study makes some interesting speculations:

The recapture of the infected escaped salmon in nearby marine sites highlights the potential contribution of escapees in virus transmission to other salmon farms in the area.

…little is known about the effect of viral disease outbreaks in aquaculture on the wild salmonid populations. Disease outbreaks in salmon farms may lead to a substantial increase in infection pressure on wild fish in the surrounding area.

…escaped salmon may disperse over long distances, may enter rivers and may interact with wild conspecifics in their habitats. Therefore, an infected escapee may spread pathogens from the sea to wild fish populations in both sea and rivers distant from a disease outbreak.

That’s interesting, but there’s one big problem, which the researchers acknowledge.

…baseline data from the river regarding these viral infections in salmonids are lacking.

They cannot answer the question: how do the levels of viral loading on farmed salmon escapees compare to the natural viral loads in wild salmon?

As Yoda once said:

ControlToo bad this flaw doesn’t stop their speculation.

This could have been an excellent study if the researchers had taken some time to get data on wild fish in the rivers where escapees were found and sampled. Of course, wild fish sampled from these rivers post-escape would not provide any valuable baseline data, but they could at least provide information about viral loading in wild fish.

And the researchers could have also gotten some control data from other similar rivers where no escapees are found.

But it seems that in the rush to be able to declare this paper the “first” at something, or because it was outside the scope of the finding grant, they decided to sacrifice context in favour of speculation.

At least it does provide some good information about viral loading in escaped farmed salmon in Norway. It will undoubtedly be valuable to the researchers that decide to investigate natural viral loading in wild fish in Norwegian rivers.

Don’t like GM plants? Too bad, they’re going to feed the world, and aquaculture too

This genetically-modified camelina plant could be the harbinger of a new revolution in feeding aquaculture farms, and the world.
This genetically-modified camelina plant could be the harbinger of a new revolution in feeding aquaculture farms, and the world.

So much hate and fear has been directed at genetically modified plants in the past couple years you’d think that eating one would make your head explode or give you instant cancer.

But the truth is that genetically-modified plants are no more dangerous to humans than any other kinds of plants.

Every living thing on this planet, plants included, have evolved to avoid being eaten, or to turn their tastiness to their advantage. Plants are the product of millions of years of biological warfare, evolving new survival strategies to avoid being eaten or to make themselves tastiest when their seeds are fully developed (and can be conveniently deposited in new locations, fertilizer included, in the dung of their eaters).

People forget this. Mother Nature is all about living things eating other things to survive and plants are no different.

But there is a loud public opposition to genetic modification, in which humans bypass millions of years of slow evolution to give plants traits that help them survive in modern conditions. Plants such as papayas that don’t get ringtail disease, corn that is resistant to drought, rice that has an added vitamin which is crucial to human nutrition have all been engineered in recent years with the intent of providing more food with fewer resources for more people.

Sounds good, but a lot of people are scared of this evolution in farming.

It’s normal to be fearful of change, every technological advance humans have been criticized by detractors. But in the end, if it’s a truly valuable advancement, we collectively get over it and add it to our growing toolbox of civilization.

Genetic modification of plants is one of those tools that’s going to be a big part of humanity’s future. The current toolbox isn’t adequate to feed us all in the future.

Aquaculture is already part of it, but as it grows, responsible aquaculture farmers realize they can no longer depend on fishmeal and fish oil from wild fisheries.

That’s where genetic modification comes in.

From FIS today:

Oil from genetically modified (GM) camelina plants – developed to produce essential omega-3 fatty acids in their seeds – has been found to be suitable for feeding Atlantic salmon, aiding the development of an alternative feed for the aquaculture industry to help preserve wild fish stocks and maintain nutritional value of farmed fish for humans.

In a collaborative research project between the University of Stirling and Rothamsted Research, scientists developed GM plants to produce high levels of essential omega-3 fish oils.

This significant development enables the plants to produce up to 20 per cent of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the two omega-3 nutrients conferring human health benefits, while preserving wild fish stocks.

It’s going to happen. It has to happen. Otherwise, we will all have to take a giant step backwards, eat less fish, eat less meat, eat non-modified plants (good luck finding enough farmland to grow them all), based on nothing but fear of the unknown.

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