Tag Archives: sockeye

Activist Alexandra Morton lies on national TV

CBS’ famous 60 Minutes program recently aired several segments about salmon farming, and they were actually pretty fair.

The show was a generally fair representation of salmon farming in BC. I especially liked how the segment showing the seafloor beneath a fallowed salmon farm showed the seafloor was crawling with prawns.

My only two concerns were:

  1. Letting Alexandra Morton get away with a bald-faced lie when she talks about the ISA virus and says, “There’s nobody actually looking at the wild fish carefully.”

This is COMPLETELY false and it’s a shame 60 Minutes did not challenge her on this lie.

There were thousands of wild fish tested in Alaska, BC and Washington specifically for this virus in the past four years.

ISA surveillance fact sheet

Washington ISA test results

BC test results

Maybe she doesn’t think that thousands of properly-conducted scientific tests are “careful” compared to her method of sampling sick and dying spawned-out fish off riverbanks.

The problem with this is that as soon as Pacific salmon return to freshwater to spawn, they start to die. Their bodies rot around them. Their goal is to live long enough to reproduce.

Spawning fish will be infected with all sorts of things, many of which have similar symptoms. Their ravaged bodies will also be a very poor source of tissue for testing purposes.

As well, Morton’s statements about virus and “genetic markers” show her willful ignorance as she chooses to ignore how virus testing actually works, in favour of telling the story she wants to tell.

  1. Ending with a useless interview with a lawyer who refuses to say whether or not ISA is in BC.

I mean come on. A lawyer isn’t going to say anything definitive about a scientific question. This question should have been posed to a scientist, or several scientists, who could have provided a more responsible answer.

And they have — except 60 Minutes chose not to use it.

Farmed salmon is only 3% of global aquaculture production — so why is it all we ever hear about?

Sometimes we need to step back and look at the big picture, put things in context and re-evaluate what we think we know.

When we look at the global picture of aquaculture production, it’s quite interesting. If it wasn’t for aquaculture, we would have wiped out wild fisheries decades ago. But as it stands today, (or at least as of 2012, the most recent year for which complete data is available), aquaculture produces nearly 67 million metric tonnes of seafood.

That is enough to feed every single person on this planet two meals of seafood every week for one year.

Aquaculture CAN feed the world.

But in North America, “aquaculture” sometimes gets used as a dirty word, and people have been primed to think bad thoughts when they hear “fish farming.”

And the worst associations are with salmon farms.

Salmon farms are not perfect, true. They do have environmental effects, just like any human food-producing or harvesting activity. Let’s not pretend that harvesting up to 80% of a wild salmon run before it can spawn doesn’t have environmental effects.

I’m not trying to blame-shift or suggest we shouldn’t be critical.

What I’m trying to say is that the negative effects of salmon farming you’ve heard about have been grossly exaggerated.

Graphs!

Let’s look at global aquaculture production:

World Aquaculture Production 2012

Most of the world’s aquaculture production is freshwater fish. Nearly 40% of that is carp, mainly in China. In North America, aquaculture is dominated by US catfish farms which produce around 136,000 tonnes annually.

Diadromous fishes, which are fish with a freshwater and saltwater phase, make up only a small part of global production at 7%.

And farmed Atlantic salmon, the most talked-about and scrutinized form of aquaculture in the world, make up only 3% of the world’s global aquaculture production.

Diadromous Fish Production 2012

Why does farmed Atlantic salmon get all the attention?

Don’t people have concerns about the 37 million tonnes of freshwater fish being farmed each year consuming our precious freshwater resources, or leaching waste and antibiotics into our watersheds?

Not that I think this is a problem — most freshwater aquaculture farmers are responsible and careful, just like most saltwater salmon farmers. But why aren’t we talking about the elephant in the room? Why aren’t the biggest forms of aquaculture with the biggest potential to impact our environment getting at least the same amount of scrutiny as salmon farming?

One possibility — salmon farming really IS evil

One possible explanation is that farmed salmon deserves all the hate, and that it is the dirtiest, riskiest and most polluting form of farming imaginable. That’s what our commenting visitors will likely say, and it’s the refrain we’ve heard from Alexandra Morton and other activists who have dedicated their lives to opposing farmed salmon (but not, oddly enough, to presenting any useful or constructive feedback to help make salmon farming better).

I’ve looked long and hard for evidence to support this extreme position. I’ve never found it. I’ve found evidence that shows salmon farms do have impacts and do pose potential risks to wild fish, but I have not found evidence that shows these impacts and potential risks are any worse than the impacts already caused by myriad human activities in the ocean.

In fact, I believe that if we were to farm more and fish less, that wild salmon would thrive like they did before the post-WWII boom in technology allowed us to catch more fish than ever before.

I am always open to changing my mind if new evidence comes to light. But I haven’t seen anything convincing, just failed predictions, speculation, and flawed mathematical models.

 Another possibility — the negative sell

What makes the most sense to me is that salmon farming has been the victim of a long-standing demarketing campaign.

Demarketing is the negative sell, promoting your product by criticizing your competition. It’s the core of the long-standing Coke versus Pepsi ads, and the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ads.

People are often willing to pay twice the price for wild salmon because they think it's somehow better.
People are often willing to pay twice the price for wild salmon because they think it’s somehow better.

This sales technique is as old as the barter system. “No, you don’t want Hannu’s cows. They have parasites. Mine are clean and healthy!” It’s easy and effective.

The problem is, the salmon farming industry had no idea how to fight back. Instead of mounting their own ad campaigns, like Pepsi and Microsoft, they spent very little on self-promotion during the past decade, allowing negative public sentiment to fester and grow.

Environmental groups were more than happy to take donations to continue nurturing this negative sentiment.

Today, it’s commonly accepted that wild salmon is somehow better than farmed salmon.

This means different things for different people. Some think it’s more nutritious, some think it tastes better, some think it’s more environmentally friendly. Ask them why, though, and they rarely have a solid answer.

That’s because there isn’t really any evidence for those beliefs, other than personal preference and feelings.

Follow the money

Who has benefited the most from negative views of farmed salmon?

That’s easy enough to figure out. Starting in the mid to late 1990s, when farmed salmon production increased from a small amount to more than half of all global salmon production, salmon prices sank to a historic low because there was so much fish on the market.

2014-04-22 12_29_01-www.globefish.org_upl_Papers_Knapp.pdf

 

2014-04-22 12_12_37-www.globefish.org_upl_Papers_Knapp.pdf

 

Ex-vessel prices for wild salmon in Alaska and BC dropped to all-time lows. Many fishermen got out of the business.

They realized that in order to compete with farmed salmon — a quality, consistent and cheap product, which is exactly what customers wanted — they would have change. 

Those fishermen who remained adapted and changed, and began marketing their salmon like never before. They marketed it as a special, niche product associated with wildness and emotion and nature and before long prices had greatly improved.

In the last 20 years, the ex-vessel value of Alaskan salmon has increased from $127 million to $691 million. 

The salmon fishery now employs 45,100 people and creates $2.5 billion in economic value. 

And some of those people are more than happy to lob a few stink grenades at farmed salmon every now and then to make themselves look good.

Salmon farmers suck at promoting themselves

Salmon farmers have been painted as Goofus (right) while salmon fishers have painted themselves as Gallant (left).
Salmon farmers have been painted as Goofus (right) while salmon fishers have painted themselves as Gallant (left).

But while wild fishermen successfully adapted to new market conditions, salmon farmers didn’t defend their reputation because they didn’t have to — demand for farmed salmon has continued to grow, regardless of criticism, so salmon farmers kept quietly growing their fish.

There’s a new challenge on the horizon, however. The same groups who were paid to condemn farmed salmon in favour of wild salmon are now being paid to condemn farmed salmon in favour of promoting land-based experiments. Salmon farms are once again being used as the strawman in promotions for products that haven’t even been proven to work.

That’s right. None of these land-based salmon farms have been proven to work on a scale that is economically and environmentally sustainable. Sure, you’ll hear a lot about projects in the works, or how they’re going to change the world. But look deeper for their actual harvest numbers. How much fish are these “successful” systems actually producing?

My friend over at The Truth About Alaska Salmon recently did a great blog series about land-based, closed-containment salmon farms, which showed that the reality of these projects is a whole lot different than the hype.

But facts are boring, it’s emotion and exciting stories and controversy that gets our attention.

That’s why people remember Pepsi versus Coke and Mac versus PC, because there’s a Gallant and a Goofus.

Salmon farmers need to stop letting their critics paint them as Goofus and start getting out there and promoting themselves.

 Full circle — let’s start looking at the big picture

Bringing it back to my original point, the debate over salmon farming is only a tiny part of the whole. Aquaculture — including salmon farming — is here to stay, regardless of what a few critics say.

If we are really concerned about making sure that aquaculture has minimal environmental impacts, let’s stop focusing purely on the salmon farming scapegoat and look at things in context. There’s room for improvement in all aquaculture, and salmon farmers have led the way in positive change.

This needs to be acknowledged, and if we really want to help our planet, we need to change the discussion to a debate about farmed versus wild, to a discussion about how we can do both in a way that ensures a sustainable seafood supply for future generations of people, and for the ocean ecosystem.

Junk science attack on processing plant gets its facts totally wrong

Just because a study is peer-reviewed doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good science.

Here’s a perfect example. A new paper published by John Volpe, Michael Price and Alexandra Morton — who have published more than a few studies among them with spurious claims and questionable data — suggests that farmed salmon from Nootka Sound processed on Quadra Island are threatening wild salmon with sea lice and diseases coming out the processing plant’s effluent pipe.

But there are some serious flaws with this paper that suggest it should be retracted.

For one thing, at the core of the study’s premise is the claim that “Walcan Seafood only processes fish from open-net salmon farms on the west coast of Vancouver Island (Dill 2011); therefore, the sea lice we recovered undoubtedly originated from infected Atlantic Salmon that were farmed in a distant region.”

Most people in Campbell River and on Quadra Island know that Walcan processes a lot more than farmed salmon. Walcan processes farmed salmon and wild sockeye. They process shellfish. They process whatever people pay them to process, and they do a great job of it.

Here’s an article from 2010 several months after Morton collected data for this study, featuring Walcan president Bill Pirie talking about how great the record sockeye run was that year for business.

Walcan workers are running off their feet, putting in 12 to 14-hour days, seven days a week as Campbell River area fishing boats bring in the sockeye for processing.

Here’s a video of the plant, taken around the same time Morton was collecting data for this study, showing the plant processing oysters.

But wait, there’s more. The source this paper cites says nothing that backs up the author’s claim. Click on the “Dill 2011” link above and look on page 29. Nowhere does Dill say that Walcan only processes farmed salmon from the west coast of Vancouver Island.

That’s a serious flaw in this paper that the peer-reviewers missed.

pgwalcanlg2
According to the four nitwit authors of this study, Walcan only processes farmed Atlantic salmon. Therefore, this photo is a lie.

And it’s important, because again, the paper’s central premise is that “Marine salmon farms and their processing facilities can serve as sources of virulent fish pathogens; our study is the first to confirm the broadcast of a live fish pathogen from a farmed salmon processing facility into the marine waters of Canada’s Pacific coast.”

This begs the question: What comes out of the effluent pipes of processing plants which process wild salmon? After all, there are well over 100 of them in BC.

Why didn’t the authors of the paper do a comparison with at least one of these other processing plants?

The answer is because they knew the comparison would disprove their hypothesis instantly.

Wild fish carry sea lice and diseases, too. They have done so since long before the first people came to BC and they continue to do so. Anyone who denies this fact is either lying to you, or just plain ignorant.

It’s guaranteed that if you go test the effluent pipes coming out of wild salmon processing facilities you will find stuff.

In fact, you will probably find more stuff than this paper shows, because farmed salmon processing facilities in BC — including Walcan — have spent more than $4 million installing effluent treatment and collection systems, which are not even required. They installed them because they believe it’s the right and responsible thing to do, and to show BC that salmon farmers and processors are doing everything they can to make sure there is no risk to wild salmon from their operations.

There’s another reason why farmed salmon processors have spent millions on these systems — so they can achieve the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices standard, assuring customers that salmon from those facilities are among the safest, most environmentally-sound and safest sources of seafood in the world.

In contrast, most wild processors discharge untreated effluent and bloodwater directly into the ocean.

The authors of this junk science paper fail to acknowledge any of that, instead building on a flimsy (and false) detail to construct a spurious conclusion, unsupported by any data — even their own.

This should never have been published. The authors should be ashamed of themselves for trying to fool people with such an obviously biased, flimsy piece of junk science and at the very least it should be retracted, corrected and the data compared with data collected from a wild salmon processing plant.

Then we might have some useful science that can actually tell us something instead of what this says, which is “We, the authors, hate farmed salmon and are willing to say anything to get you to agree with us.”

 

 

Read the full paper here.

Sockeye farm makes a splash

A farmer in Langley has managed to raise sockeye in tanks to 1.5 kilograms and plans to sell them in local stores.

Way back in the early days of salmon farming in B.C. farmers experimented with growing practically every kind of fish.

During the first salmon farming “gold rush” in the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of people saw dollar signs and thought they could make a fortune by throwing some fish in an old fishing net and tossing feed at them. There were some successes, but there were a lot more failures, as the old-timers will tell you.

One big set of failures were the attempts to grow sockeye to market size in net pens.

It didn’t work out very well; sockeye are highly susceptible to disease. This is simply a fact farmers and enhancement facilities have encountered when they have tried to culture sockeye. In salmon enhancement facilities in Alaska, where they raise hundreds of millions of sockeye to smolt size and then release them, nearly half of the cultured fish routinely died from IHN virus and other diseases in the 1990s, before hatcheries were finally able to get a better handle on biosecurity.

Other attempts to grow sockeye bigger than smolt size have met with dismal failure.

Today, only Atlantic salmon and some Chinook salmon are raised in ocean pens, because of the farming expertise that has been developed for those species as well as the high-quality broodstock that has been developed to pass on farm-friendly genetics from generation to generation.

Because it’s the dominant salmon in the marketplace, many people have tried (and failed) to grow Atlantic salmon in tanks to market size.

But not everyone’s given up on sockeye.

One farmer in Langley has managed to raise sockeye in tanks to 1.5 kilograms and has the capacity to produce 25 tonnes of sockeye and trout per year. This is very interesting and encouraging and any good news story about salmon farming is good for all salmon farmers. There is a photo gallery posted with the story that gives a good look at his farm and his fish.

There is one small problem with the story, however.

This is not the “world’s first land-based” sockeye farm.

Way back even before salmon farming caught on, back in 1974, J.R. Brett at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo did extensive experiments with growing sockeye salmon in tanks. His research showed something that all salmon farmers have to struggle with — the bigger the fish get, the slower they grow and the more feed they eat. This is something all salmon farmers, in the sea and on land, still have to deal with.

We will be watching this Langley farm with interest and wish Don Read all the best as he works to make this a viable business.

 

 

What’s so special about Harrison River sockeye salmon?

2012_Harrison_sockeye_escapement
While most Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks have generally declined in the last decade, the Harrison River stock have managed to increase their productivity.
Total Fraser River sockeye returns and productivity since detailed records began in the 1950s.
Total Fraser River sockeye returns and productivity since detailed records began in the 1950s.

Why has one group of sockeye salmon from the Fraser River system experienced a growth in productivity over the past decade while other Fraser River stocks have declined?

Storytellers playing scientist have tried to convince people Harrison River sockeye don`t pass salmon farms when they migrate north, therefore they are doing well simply because they don’t pass salmon farms. This explains everything if you’re already predisposed to blame salmon farms for everything and accept simple answers to tough questions.

It’s true that at least some Harrison sockeye migrate out of the river delta and go along the West Coast of Vancouver Island, unlike most other stocks which generally migrate along the East Coast of Vancouver Island.

However, as usual with activism-driven science claims, there`s a lot more to the story.

For one thing, it’s not true that Harrison sockeye going through Juan de Fuca Strait don’t pass salmon farms.

But the most important piece of the puzzle is that Harrison sockeye have a very different life strategy than other salmon stocks.

Unlike other sockeye, which feed and grow in lakes for several years before going to sea, Harrison sockeye go to sea shortly after they emerge from the gravel where they hatched. They are in the ocean nearly a year earlier than other sockeye stocks. This may give them an advantage in early marine survival growth, occupying a niche that few other species do. They may enjoy better feeding conditions as fry and juveniles, less competition for food and less threats from predators.

It also appears some winter off the West Coast of Vancouver Island in their first year.

Harrison River sockeye have been found to winter on the West Coast of Vancouver Island (black triangles note location where they were found) while they are still juveniles. They appear to be co-existing very well with the approximately 30 salmon farms from Quatsino Sound south to Alberni Inlet.
Harrison River sockeye have been found to winter on the West Coast of Vancouver Island (black triangles note location where they were found) while they are still juveniles. They appear to be co-existing very well with the approximately 30 salmon farms from Quatsino Sound south to Alberni Inlet.

Let’s say that again. A significant amount of Harrison River sockeye winter off the West Coast of Vancouver Island when they are very small, young and vulnerable.

There are approximately 30 active salmon farms on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, from Quatsino Sound south to Alberni Inlet. Clearly they are not having any negative impacts on wintering Harrison sockeye, not even when they are at a young and vulnerable stage.

The Harrison sockeye appear to have developed a very successful survival strategy, and it appears it co-exists very well with salmon farms. More research is needed to explore this connection.

More resources: This map shows all the registered salmon farm and hatchery tenures in B.C. However, many of the sites on the list have been inactive for years or have been rescinded by the provincial government. Typically, there are about 70 active farms in British Columbia.

Mining expansion along Fraser River, but ‘wild salmon advocates’ silent about risks to sockeye salmon

North Bay Resources plans to mine gold and other precious metals along the Fraser River near Lytton. The project will cover four times more area than all salmon farms in B.C. put together.

It’s easy to tell who butters professional protesters’ bread.

Maybe if they received a targeted grant to protest this, we would have heard something about it.

North Bay Resources announced recently it plans to increase the size of its gold, platinum, iridium and palladium mine project along the Fraser River in Lytton by 65 per cent, bringing the project to 1,020 acres.

We’re not saying this is a good or a bad idea. Just that we find it disappointing that the usual environmental voices and so-called “wild salmon advocates” have nothing to say about this. This one project covers more than four square kilometres. In comparison, if you were to put every salmon farm in B.C. side by side, they would only take up one square kilometre.

Where are the protesters? Where are the First Nations concerned about the impacts to their sacred salmon?

Sure is odd no one cares about the obvious risks a mining project right along the Fraser River would pose to sockeye salmon, and that they choose to focus on the hypothetical risks salmon farms might pose instead.

Reads like an eco-terrorist manifesto

Wow. Not long after we posted our thoughts earlier today, musing if Alexandra Morton is crazy enough to bring ISA to BC to fulfill her own prophecies, she posts a blog that reads like an eco-terrorist manifesto.

“This is a fight – as in fighting for life.”

“Me versus the world” language. Perfect for setting yourself up as a messiah or prophet.

“I am racing an epidemic and government gave the viruses the head start.  If anyone wants to say I am wrong I have this to say:  Prove it.  Step up now and lay your reputation on the line and tell us ISA virus is not in British Columbia.”

Classic double-speak. She makes two assumptions which have no proof except her word, then before anyone notices that, she shifts the burden of proof to anyone who disagrees with her by challenging them to prove a negative! Plus, anyone who dares to “step up now” will be held up for ridicule, have their credentials questioned, and be accused of corruption and conspiracy, just like she has done to any scientists who dare to assert that there is no evidence of ISA in BC.

“Please consider supporting us before the ISA virus does what it has done in every other country that allowed Atlantic salmon farming… go viral.”

This reads like an ominous threat or a ransom demand, as if she is saying, “Fund me, or I’ll make damn sure we find ISA in BC and it’s going to go viral… as in wiping out your farms viral.”

Coupled with the thought that she might be bringing ISA to BC from the East Coast through fish samples, we have a worrying scenario. Especially since farmers in the past have found wild fish thrown into their pens, put there in an attempt to infect the farmed stock with disease.

Sorry, Ms. Morton, any respect we had for you because of your past contributions to science are now gone. You talk like a cult leader and an eco-terrorist.

Her goal since 1988 has been to get rid of salmon farms, whatever the cost. That’s always been the endgame. Science was a means to an end, a tool. Now that it’s no longer useful, she has resorted to her long-dormant messiah complex and fearmongering techniques, with a dash of eco-terrorism.

Bad form.