All posts by salmonfarmscience

It seems that only poor, agenda-driven science attacking salmon farms gets mass media attention. We will show there is a lot more to the story, and the science.

What would happen if GMO farmed salmon escaped in BC?

According to the results of recent research done in West Vancouver, the answer is “probably not much.”

But it depends.

There are a lot of factors that would come into play if genetically-modified salmon escaped and managed to invade BC river systems and it’s hard to anticipate them all. But DFO’s Centre for Aquatic Biotechnology Regulatory Research has been working since 2008 to learn about how genetically-modified salmon would perform in the wild, and around wild species of salmon.

The land-based facility grows coho that have been modified to grow quickly, and uses tanks constructed to simulate river and stream systems to do various experiments with the fish.

Non-modified fish on the left, and modified fish on the right. All of the fish are 12 months old.
Non-modified fish on the left, and modified fish on the right. All of the fish are 12 months old.

Researchers from the centre recently published their work in the Journal of Applied Ecology, and one of their major findings was that if genetically-modified coho salmon invade a freshwater system when they are young, they don’t pose any more threat to wild fish than any other fish in the system. However, if the fish are older, because they have been modified to grow quickly, they will be larger and can significantly reduce the survival and growth of the wild fish.

For the record, no one in the world is currently growing genetically-modified fish for human consumption.


Salmon farm helping train the next generation of crime scene investigators

A fourth-year student demonstrates bloodstain pattern analysis with a hammer at the University of Windsor on March 21, 2014. From the Windsor Star, March 25, 2014.

It’s a small connection, but a fascinating one.

Blood from a Chinook salmon farm off Quadra Island is being used in the world-class Forensic Sciences program at the University of Windsor, Ontario.

The salmon blood is used to create blood stains on a T-shirt, and the second-year students are challenged to solve a “whodunnit.”

We use fish blood to create realistic blood stains on clothing and challenge the students to use DNA analyses to clear or implicate suspects.Safety concerns are minimized through the use of fish blood, while maximizing both realism and the likelihood of student success due to fishes’ nucleated red blood cells.

The goal in designing this laboratory exercise was to create a feasible protocol for large (over 300 students) second year university courses.

During two 3 hour laboratory sessions, students learn and apply clean/sterile technique, DNA extraction, polymerase chain reaction, restriction fragment length polymorphisms, and agarose gel electrophoresis. The students also learn to interpret the resulting gel bands in terms of inclusive or exclusive evidence.

Students have consistently ranked this lab as their favorite of five taken as part of a second year Genetics course.

Sounds like fun, and makes us wanna go back to school.

Here’s a published paper about the salmon blood experiment, and how it worked out.

‘Novel’ virus not so novel, after presence found in steelhead samples from 1977

A “new” virus found in BC farmed and wild salmon isn’t so new after all.

Piscine Reovirus (PRV) has been around since at least 1977, according to a new peer-reviewed paper soon to be published in the Journal of Fish Diseases, with Dr. Gary Marty as lead author.

The study tested 363 preserved samples of fish from 1974-2008, and 916 fresh-frozen samples from 2013.

None of the fish showed signs of Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), which some research done in Europe suggests may be linked to PRV.

In the past several years, PRV has been found in wild and farmed BC salmon. Last year, activist Alexandra Morton used this to launch a lawsuit against Marine Harvest Canada, alleging that the company put “diseased fish” into the ocean.

She quickly followed up the lawsuit by co-authoring a study on PRV and HSMI which suggests the version of the virus in BC diverged from the Norwegian strain in 2007, implying, of course, that somehow salmon farms in BC introduced the virus from Norway.

The study was unfortunately rather poor. Its biggest weakness is the small sample size.

  1. It relies on only 14 samples of fish taken in BC.
  2. It relies on only 10 samples of Atlantic salmon.
  3. All of the samples were taken in 2012.
  4. All of the conclusions about virus divergence are based on computer modelling.

In this study’s conclusion, it states that “Our work suggests PRV entered both Chile and western Canada recently.”

This year’s Marty study shows last year’s PRV study is wrong.

KeplerIn science, if you make a prediction about how something should work, and that prediction fails, your hypothesis was wrong and you start over.

The predictions made by the study co-authored by Morton are wrong, in light of the new Marty study.

Salmon farms did not introduce PRV to BC; it’s been here for decades and since before the first salmon farm was built, and maybe even longer.

One more tidbit: Marty’s study also showed that archived samples of Alaskan salmon carried PRV, too.

Lazy reporting, mean girls and plankton blooms

Linda Aylesworth of Global News took activist Alexandra Morton’s bait and ran a segment on TV about her recent attack on Grieg Seafood.

Unfortunately, Aylesworth didn’t make any effort to fact-check the claims of either Morton or the Grieg Seafood managing director quoted in the story.

“It’s a classic ‘he said, she said’ story,” Aylesworth states in the segment.

That’s a cheap cop-out and reinforces the cliche of the big company hiding something while the lone, plucky activist tries to uncover the truth. It’s also a lazy out for journalists who claim they are just presenting “both sides of the story” and letting viewers “make up their own minds.”

Ah, Lois Lane and classic investigative journalism, we miss you.
Ah, Lois Lane and classic investigative journalism, we miss you.

We don’t think that’s good enough, when a topic is being presented in a way that implies one party is lying, and that our precious wild salmon are threatened. The journalist needs to do better.

Why didn’t Aylesworth contact a real ocean biologist, say, someone at UBC or SFU, to ask for more information about plankton blooms so she can actually educate, instead of titillate, her viewers? Why didn’t she contact DFO, which regulates salmon farms, for information about the mass mortality incident, to fact-check the claims made by both interviewees? Why didn’t she contact CFIA, which regulates farmed animal health, and must be informed if any diseases of concern are found in a salmon farm?

No, what we got here is more of the same tired narrative Morton has been promoting for decades and Global TV thoughtlessly regurgitated it without question, and without any attempt to scratch the surface.

 Mean girl rabble-rousing

Some interesting information has trickled back to us about Morton’s activities while filming this farm in Nootka Sound.

Apparently, she and her three friends riled up the tourists who were there to fish, inspiring many of them to boat out to the farm and abuse the farmers over the VHF radio.

Afterwards, Morton got on the radio and tried to play “good cop” by telling the farmers that she’s got nothing against them, that they are just doing their jobs. As she wrote on her blog, “Thank you to the patience of the salmon farming crew at Concepcion Point. This must have been as stressful on you as it was on us.”

How thoughtful. She works to rile up the tourists against them, starts rumours in the media that imply they are thoughtless stooges killing wild salmon and hiding disease, and then she tries to play nice.

Like  the popular girl in high school spreading rumours about you, then pretending to be nice to you the next day.

All about plankton blooms

Plankton blooms are natural in BC and a common occurrence at salmon farms. A few years ago, this blog, which sadly now appears to be defunct, did an excellent post on the topic. It’s well worth a read.

As well, the Harmful Algae Monitoring Project is a great resource. Scientists have been working with salmon farmers since 1999 to monitor and better understand harmful algae (plankton) blooms.

Morton attack on Grieg Seafood is unintentionally hilarious

Thanks for the laugh today, Alexandra Morton.

Her latest blog post, written in the style of a mystery / spy story, contained this gem:

We observed a smelly slick of fish oil seeping from the pens. A biological oil spill. Farm salmon are so fat that when mass die-offs happen they release large amounts of fat.


Once we were done laughing, we asked ourselves, if that’s true, then why aren’t the back eddies of our rivers covered in an “oil slick” when millions of spawning salmon die and decompose in them every fall? How come when fatty seals and sea lions die, they don’t leave an oil slick? In fact, given the number of creatures that die in the ocean every day, how home the entire surface of the ocean isn’t covered with an oil slick all the time?

Morton took water samples to test for the presence of algae (analyzed in the sterile environment of her hotel room), perhaps she could test them for the presence of fish oil as well to back up that statement.

Otherwise, this is just another one of her loaded weasel word statements meant to paint a word picture of how awful farmed salmon is, in her view.

Another weasel word tactic she uses in this post is that she does not include everything Grieg Seafood CEO Morten Vike had to say about her previous allegations, focusing instead on his use of the word “fine.”

Well, Vike did have more to say, which Morton should have included since she knows full well the source is behind a paywall that almost none of her readers will be able to access.

Here’s the rest of what Vike had to say:

Algae blooms can kill farmed salmon quite effectively. Why didn’t Morton ask the local company fish health reps what was going on, instead of public “name and shame” letters to the corporate head office and the hilarious cloak-and-dagger spy routine?

Also, if she really wanted to know if there was an algae bloom, she could have asked the fine folks at the Harmful Algae Monitoring Program, which regularly receives and analyzes water samples from salmon farms all around Vancouver Island. It’s more than likely that this farm sent in samples, too.

But as we discussed earlier today, to many people, opinions are more important than facts.


We’re back, baby, plus a thought about Neil Degrasse Tyson

imbackbabyAfter a nice two month summer vacay, we are ready to resume regular postings.

We’ve got a gem from our favourite activist we can’t resist, and will be publishing it later today.

But first, we want to draw attention to something which happened recently to Neil Degrasse Tyson, one of the world’s greatest spokespersons for science and critical thinking.

Tyson has risen in public consciousness thanks to his sense of humour, ability to explain complex topics in simple terms, and because he is a great speaker. He recently hosted the hugely-popular revival of “Cosmos,” carrying on Carl Sagan’s legacy.

But recently Tyson made some comments about genetically-engineered crops (GMO) that sent thousands of people to their keyboards to angrily bang out anti-GMO screeds on dozens of articles.

Here’s what he said:


Suddenly, the same people who had been praising him for his comments about religion, space exploration and critical thinking turned on him like a pack of yellow dogs.

“Stick to your telescopes, Neil.”


“I wonder how much Monsanto just donated to the Hayden Planetarium.”

Those are just a few examples of the hundreds of hostile comments posted directed towards Tyson since he expressed his opinion about GMOs.

The whole episode reinforces something we’ve observed for years in aquaculture: opinions are more important to people than facts.

So many times we have met and conversed with people who are dead-set against salmon farming. We can provide fact after fact showing that their concerns are unfounded. But it’s rare that someone with a strong opinion will change it based on new information.

People will work desperately to preserve the integrity of their opinion by dismissing anything that disagrees with it, even if that means inventing conspiracy theories and shooting the messenger and turning so quickly on someone who they trust to explain other topics they don’t understand.

It’s hypocritical, but unfortunately, it’s human nature.

Yes, the CFIA CAN detect ISA virus HPR0

One of the favourite claims in Alexandra Morton and friends’ narrative about the ISA virus in farmed salmon is that the CFIA can’t detect it.

Another one of their favourite claims is that the strain of ISA virus that doesn’t cause disease, HPR0, is elusive and hard to detect and so therefore it must be in the Pacific somewhere.

Neither are true.

The CFIA has no trouble detecting all known variants of ISA virus, and just recently confirmed (this word is important) HPR0 in New Brunswick.



They test wild and farmed fish in BC too, so if it was actually here, you’d certainly be hearing about it.