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.
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.
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.”
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.