In a blog posting today, independent salmon biologist Alexandra Morton calls attention to the recent listing of Norway-based Marine Harvest – the world’s largest salmon farming company – on the New York Stock Exchange. The move comes on the heels of the revelation that the Harper Government is planning a major expansion of open net-pen salmon farms on BC’s coast, made public by First Nations Chief Bob Chamberlin.
As Chamberlin noted, the plan utterly disregards the conclusions of the $26 million Cohen Inquiry into collapsing Fraser River sockeye stocks, which recommended a partial moratorium on new farms and urged more scientific study into disease transfer from fish farms to wild salmon, calling for the Precautionary Principle to be implemented:
[quote]It’s time for us to hold this government to account. This is an urgent message to all the people who rely upon wild salmon in BC…I urge all of you to take a stand, to start writing letters to the editors, for First Nations people to start demanding that your chief and council stand up and do what’s right for wild salmon. We cannot sit back idly and hope something gets done. It’s up to you, it’s up to me. I want to lock arms with all of you and do what’s necessary to save wild salmon.[/quote]
For her part, Morton, connects the dots between the federal policy change and Marine Harvest’s move to recruit North American investment on the NYSE:
In early January, we learned the Harper government quietly invited the Norwegian salmon farming industry to expand in BC. He did this despite specific warnings to the opposite by his own federal Commission. He did this ignoring his constitutional responsibility to consult with First Nations. See press release by Living Oceans.
A few days later on January 28, 2014, Marine Harvest (the biggest of the three Norwegian operators using BC to grow “their” fish) was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. They rang the Opening Bell. Their press release states they plan to lead the blue revolution similar to 5000 years ago when we went from hunting to farming.They fail to mention salmon farming requires aggressive wild fisheries. Truth is a scarce commodity in this deal.
Shea: Thank you for your correspondence of October 30, 2013, regarding the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, which was headed by Justice Cohen.
Reid: As of January 19, 2014, DFO still has not responded to the Cohen Report, tabled Oct 31, 2012. This is why I and others started Environmental Petitions with the federal AG – to force DFO to respond concretely. That process requires a mandatory response in 120 days. No response yet.
Shea: The Cohen Commission provided Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) with valuable information that informs our day to day work of protecting Pacific salmon. DFO is responding to Commissioner Cohen’s recommendations by taking concrete actions that make a real difference.
Reid: One of Cohen’s important recommendations was for DFO to relinquish its conflicting role of supporting fish farms and put its full effort into implementing the 2005 Wild Salmon Policy, and the 1986 Habitat Policy. The report says there should be a new western director general charged with bringing back Fraser sockeye. DFO has not responded to these recommendations.
Shea: The Government of Canada’s commitment and long-term support for the salmon fishery in British Columbia is demonstrated by the significant annual investment that is made on a wide range of activities including fisheries science, protection of fisheries habitat, salmon enhancement, catch monitoring, and enforcement. Currently, DFO invests more than $65 million per year, of which about $20 million is directly related to Fraser River sockeye.
Reid: Well, no. My estimate of habitat restoration needs is $500 Million over five years. If you look at the Clay Bank on the Cowichan that was fixed for a cost of $1.5 M and is perhaps 300 yards long, it is immediately clear the cost of habitat restoration needed in BC. And on the Fraser, DFO actually allowed removal of spawning gravel that resulted in the destruction of 3 Million pink salmon. And where is restoration for 20 miles of San Juan River that looks like a lunar landscape from logging damage? Ditto for the Klanawa. And there are those 77,000 culverts all over BC with electrical potentials fish will not cross to feed or spawn. The BC government fixed 50 and stated the rest would take 3,080 years. It has been letting science people go for years, and the Harper Government has been in the news for dismantling science all over Canada.
So, please, send me a disaggregated budget that identifies real projects and costs. Salmon enhancement is about $21 M for all of BC – but it’s not habitat restoration. Furthermore, by comparison, Bonneville Power, invests more than $40 Million each year for one river, the Columbia, with the entire US budget reaching $1 Billion some years. And your panel that follows Fraser sockeye stocks is an impressive technical achievement, requiring DNA analysis twice per week in real time. This is outstanding, but it is not habitat restoration, nor enhancement. And what does enforcement do with rehabilitation of freshwater salmon habitat which all agree is the real problem? I will take your budget apart to see what, if anything, matters to the issue.
Shea: In addition, Economic Action Plan 2013 included three major measures that are directly addressing Cohen Commission recommendations. First, the Government committed $57.5 million over five years that will help bolster environmental protection in the aquaculture sector through science, enhanced regulatory regime and improved reporting. Second, it contained a new program to support recreational fisheries conservation activities through partnerships with community groups. Third, all revenue collected from the Salmon Conservation Stamp will be dedicated to the Pacific Salmon Foundation, which will mean approximately $1 million more in revenue every year to support the Foundation’s great work.
Reid: Well, no, putting $57.5 M into fish farms is not the same thing as addressing the Wild Salmon Policy, enhancement and habitat restoration for wild, native Pacific salmonids. BC wants fish farms out of the water.
Second, your community group program is only $1.9 M over two years, with only $.2M on Vancouver Island in 2013.
Third, the Salmon Stamp money given to the PSF is actually $1.8 M per year – and is not new as it has been done for some years. I recommended to Brian Riddell, CEO, that he suggest quadrupling the Stamp so revenue was $7.2 M per year to local projects, and gain a commitment from DFO and BC for $7.2 M per year each. The resulting $21.6 M is the beginning of a program of some size, with the leverage of local restoration groups and businesses, that begins to seriously address habitat restoration.
And, in all fairness let’s put this $1.8 M in proper perspective. You are putting $400 M into NL for fish farms, so the $1.8 here is .45% of what you are currently giving to fish farms that Cohen said you should hive off from your activities because it is fundamentally opposed to your responsibilities for wild fish. Where is the $400 M for wild BC salmon?
Shea: The Government has also decided to limit salmon farming activities in the Discovery Islands until September 30, 2020, including not allowing any new marine aquaculture sites; this is in line with Commissioner Cohen’s recommendations. During this time, additional scientific research will be conducted and a disease risk assessment process will be completed. While the Canadian aquaculture industry already operates under some of the strictest regulations in the world in order to minimize risks to the environment, this action responds to the Commission’s call to address “scientific unknowns” in the Discovery Islands.
Reid: Well, yes, a moratorium on the Discovery Island farms is in line with Cohen. On the other hand, his terms of reference, which you set, only allowed him to look at Fraser sockeye. His recommendations should be viewed as applying to the entire province.
As for science, this paper shows a 50% drop in wild salmon numbers in BC since fish farms were introduced. They note the same in Ireland, Scotland and Atlantic Canada, in fact anywhere farmed salmon are introduced. Note that Commercial sector employment has been cut 50%, 1,700 jobs, in the same time period. So fish farm jobs likely eliminate jobs in other sectors, resulting in a net employment loss.
Also, you may recall that your own scientist, Kristi Miller, found the exotic disease, ISA, back to 1988 in Fraser sockeye and both ISA and HSMI, also an exotic Norwegian disease, in the Creative chinook farms – roughly 125,000 diseased fish per farm – in Clayoquot where your own estimate is only 501 wild chinook remaining in 6 streams. And didn’t they just win one of your ‘awards’ for being environmentally sustainable?
You will be aware that the Cohen evidence found an inability for DFO’s Moncton Lab, the CFIA and BC to find ISA disease. And now Miller and Riddell will be doing such work, which sounds good, but you have only allowed this with DFO, CFIA, and fish farms parsing the news releases. I’d say this is a ‘no’ as well.
And on the ‘strictest laws’ comment, this is regularly said all over the world. In the recent past, in Chile, USA, Norway and Scotland. The obvious answer is that your assertion cannot be true because every nation has its own laws.
Shea: The Department is committed to the viability of the salmon fishery in British Columbia so that it remains a sustainable and prosperous resource for years to come.
Reid: I would say, sadly, BC opinion is that DFO is managing wild salmon into extinction and in the end there will be no problem when all the salmon are gone. This includes Kennedy Lake sockeye, Georgia Strait coho, those Fraser 4-2s and 5-2s and the Owikeno sockeye that collapsed more than 20 years ago but have not recovered. Your own science says these are small fry and not killed in freshwater. You will know that the SFU Routledge Owikeno fry were the first ones to be found with ISA in BC, by three different labs.
The only thing keeping a number of Norwegian salmon farms afloat in Canada is the hundreds of millions of dollars they net from taxpayers when their fish die of disease.
You might think the multi-billion dollar fish farm industry was a licence to print money. You’d be almost right, but not for the reason you might think. Norwegian aquaculture giants Marine Harvest, Cermaq Mainstream and Grieg Seafood comprise 90% of BC’s farmed salmon industry and Marine Harvest operates in 22 countries. What you don’t know is that taxpayers, meaning you and me, pay big money to them when their fish get diseases and have to be slaughtered.
Food safety regulator’s fishy business
Once the Canadian Food Inspection Agency detects a reportable disease, it issues a slaughter order and the fish are destroyed. Then the CFIA sends a very large cheque to the fish farm. This taxpayer cheque compensates them for disposable items like infected nets, cost of transport and offloading, cost of sequestering diseased carcasses in perpetuity, and disinfecting all other items that came in contact with the fish, including the boat that transported them. In addition to all this, the commonly accepted extra payment for each fish is up to $30. This figure really comprises an average payment because of all the other costs mentioned.
You’d think the fish farms would have insurance for losses, but my conversations with a marine insurer tell me they have difficulty getting insurance because they lose so many ‘crops’ to – wait for it – disease. So why are we, the Canadian taxpayer paying these foreign, multi-billion dollar corporations?
Industry loses up to a half of its fish to disease
Fish farms like to say their fish get diseases from wild salmon because the latter don’t get sick, as if that’s a justification for cash. Not so. A recent PHD dissertation from Norway showed that the problem with farmed fish is that they are stressed – the cages are overcrowded. This results in high output of the stress hormone cortisol and that weakens immune systems in farmed fish, thus they get disease. They actually change benign viruses into infectious killers.
How much product is lost to disease? One third to one half of all aquaculture products in the world are lost to disease every year, some $35 – $49 Billion (1). I started a Freedom of Information request to the CFIA and DFO to find out just how much we taxpayers in Canada pay to these billion dollar foreign corporations. I have been waiting 10 months now with no answer, so, let me give you a reasonable estimate.
Some fish farms only make money when their fish die
Overall, my expectation is that the cross-Canada disease total will come in at several hundred million taxpayer dollars over the past decade for BC, NS, NB and recently NL. Here in BC, Cermaq Mainstream’s Dixon Point and Millar Channel 2012 IHN slaughters would have paid them, in my estimate, about $35 Million of our cash. That’s so much money that it moved this boom/bust business into positive earnings before interest and taxes (i.e., EBIT), when it lost money the year before – and only made money this year because of having disease. They’ve had a decade of problems before.
[quote]Mainstream Canada reported an EBIT pre fair value and non-recurring items of NOK 43 million, an improvement from a loss of NOK 26 million the previous year, even though volumes sold declined from 5,600 tons to 4,400 tons. EBIT per kilo was 9.6 NOK. Good prices in the North American market and the IHN outbreak last year are the main factors behind the improved result.(2)[/quote]
So Mainstream lost money when they didn’t have disease and made money when they did have disease – because you and I paid them. And they shipped far less fish, even though a third farm, Bawden Point, posted a weak positive for IHN – they were quickly harvested and sent to humans to eat. This should not be the case. Do complain, as I did, to Gail Shea, Minister of DFO (Min@dfo-mpo.gc.ca).
Fish Farms reel in another $400 million in Canadian subsidies
On another aquaculture front, you may be even more unhappy to know Shea announced $400 Million in gifts to the aquaculture sector in Canada last week. That’s a lot of dead, diseased fish. I have asked her for $400 million be given to the commercial, sport and processing sectors in BC that provide 600% more in contribution to gross provincial product than fish farms. I’ll let you know.
Fish, profits turn to mush
And fish farms in BC have been losing money. Mainstream lost money in 2012. Marine Harvest has lost money in the last few years, too, largely due to Kudoa, a fungal disease that cost them $12,000,000 in 2012 – and just prior, in 2011, things were so bad they laid off 60 employees – right before Christmas. Nice guys.
Kudoa results in myoliquifaction that makes farmed fish into mush. Would you buy salmon you had to put in a container with a spoon?
Grieg losing money, drowning sea lions
Oh, and then there is Grieg. They got IHN too, last year, in their Cullodon site in Sechelt. Fortunately, we did not have to pay for that as well. Grieg is also the company that had to pay a fine of $100,000 for drowning 65 – 75 sea lions in their Skuna Bay nets in 2010 – they tarted up that site to sell to the unsuspecting in the USA as environmentally-sustainable, organic farmed salmon. Where is PETA when you need them?
[quote]In Canada, the company cut losses, with a negative ebit [sic] before fair value adjustment of the biomass of NOK 2.71/kg, compared to a loss of NOK 8.22/kg in the same quarter of 2012.[/quote]
And the kicker? Cermaq is owned 59.2% by the government and thus the people of Norway. Why do we give another government our money for their killing our fish in our ocean rather than raising their fish on land in closed containers? This does not make sense.
Ask Shea for BC’s $400 million. We can spend it on habitat restoration, something DFO has been sadly remiss about in BC for decades. This year’s total DFO habitat projects for BC is a measly $900,000, only 2.6% of our own money Ottawa sent to diseased fish farms in BC.
Shea also announced the government included “three major measures” in its Economic Action Plan 2013 to address some of Cohen’s 75 recommendations — a statement that was challenged quickly by Stan Proboszez, a fisheries biologist who works with B.C.’s Watershed Watch Salmon Society.
“What she basically is saying comes out of this black box in Ottawa, I assume, and we don’t know how she is coming to these conclusions,” said Proboszez who participated in the inquiry. “We spent $26 million on looking for solutions.”
Shea said the federal government has committed $57.5 million over five years to help bolster environmental protection in the aquaculture industry, through improved reporting, science and an enhanced regulatory regime.
But Proboszez said past research subsidies have benefited the production side of salmon farming by looking at issues like net strength, noting:
[quote]It doesn’t really do anything to mitigate the risks around salmon farming, which I think is the problem, looking at the disease risks of salmon farming[/quote]
Cohen: “likelihood of harm”
In fact, Cohen found Fraser River sockeye faced a “likelihood of harm” from disease and pathogens on farms, especially in the Discovery Islands, which are located northeast of Campbell River, B.C., between Vancouver Island and the province’s mainland.
Shea said Economic Action Plan 2013 contained a new program to support conservation work in recreational fisheries, noting the government approved 28 projects worth $1.8 million for Pacific salmon.
“Again, that isn’t tied to any specific recommendation,” said Proboszez. “Justice Cohen doesn’t talk about that sort of solution.”
DFO’s actions not tied to Cohen recommendations
The minister also said the government is dedicating all of the money from the Salmon Conservation Stamp to the Pacific Salmon Foundation. She said that means the foundation will receive $1 million more annually.
“My understanding is that they’ve been discussing that action for years, irrespective of the Cohen inquiry, so again that should have likely happened a long time ago any ways,” Proboszez rebutted.
“Again, there’s no recommendation that has anything to do with that action.”
Proboszez declined comment on Shea’s announcement about the Discovery Island moratorium because he said he had not yet read the minister’s statement.
Cohen’s recommendations focused heavily on salmon farms
The Conservative government launched the Cohen Commission after just 1.4 million salmon returned in what was expected to be a return of 10 million sockeye salmon for the 2009 Fraser River run.
The inquiry sat for 138 days of hearings, received more than three million pages of documents and listened to almost 900 public submissions.
Cohen said the department should not issue any new open net-pen licences in the Discovery Islands, cap production and limit the maximum duration of a licence to one year, starting immediately and at least until Sept. 30, 2020.
On Sept. 30, 2020, the minister should also prohibit open net-pen farms in the Discovery Islands, unless he or she is satisfied those farms pose at most a minimal risk to migrating sockeye, he added.
Cohen said the department should continue collecting fish data from the industry, farmed-fish samples for research purposes as a licence condition, and grant non-government scientific researchers timely access to fish-health data.
You may have thought the Cohen report on collapsing Fraser River sockeye was a stone dropped through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), leaving not a ripple. You’d be right. Google DFO Cohen Commission and what you find is everyone else in the country commenting loudly but diddly from DFO. Go directly to DFO and search, and the result is virtually the same. Page after page of nothing about the Commission – a year of silence so far.
Cohen reopened the hearings and the full extent of fish farm diseases cascaded out. The science experts Drs. Kristi Miller, Fred Kibenge and Are Nylund were interviewed. Miller’s work noted literally hundreds of thousands of fish with ISA and HSMI in Clayoquot Sound farmed chinook and SLV phenotype ‘viral signature’ back to 1988 in Fraser sockeye. Today there are only 501 wild chinook in Clayoquot and up to 90% of some Fraser sockeye subcomponents die of pre-spawn mortality.
Fish farm recommendations ignored
With this knowledge in hand, the focus of the most important recommendations in the 1,200 page tome – 75 in total, pages 105 – 115, Volume 3 – came to centre on constraining and removing Discovery Island fish farms near Campbell River, and for DFO to relinquish its conflicting role of supporting fish farms and put its full effort into implementing the 2005 Wild Salmon Policy, and the 1986 Habitat Policy. The report says there should be a new western director general charged with bringing back Fraser sockeye (read report here).
Since then, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) started a perfunctory job of looking at a few thousand fish, and saying it could not find ISA – this after Cohen testimony discredited its lab as not being able to find ISA. And DFO? It’s moved on to aquaculture. The performance measure – wait for it – is: “A transparent regulatory regime for aquaculture in British Columbia and an Integrated Management Plan for finfish, and shellfish, by March 2014.”
And the latest Norwegian related fish disease has just been shown to be present in BC wild salmon – PRV in Virology Journal, 2013. This may be worse than ISA, as it is the virus associated with heart and skeletal muscle inflammation – HSMI, developed circa 1999 in Norway. This is what those yellow pink salmon and the dying pre-spawn Fraser chum and sockeye are now being shown to have. Sadly, a large pre-spawn sockeye die-off occurred for the first time in the Skeena River in the past couple of months.
You can support the cost of testing all these fish, as hundreds of BC citizens, including me, are doing, on Alex Morton`s blog. She has this to say:
[quote]The Commission changed my life, I am tracking three European viruses, publishing on them in top scientific journals and informing the scientific community. Government is increasingly lagging behind and irrelevant to the science on salmon.[/quote]
I understand that Miller and Riddell (CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation), good smart people, will be co-authoring a report on fish farm/wild diseases.
Unfortunately, for them and us, fish farms, DFO, and CFIA will be parsing the news releases.
The BC Court of Appeal came down today in favour of Norwegian-owned aquaculture giant Mainstream-Cermaq in the matter of a controversial campaign targeting the industry. British activist Don Staniford, who devised the “Salmon Farming Kills” slogan and series of graphics and web postings – modeled on cigarette packages and containing various warnings about the hazards of open net pen fish farms – had successfully defended a defamation suit brought in the BC Supreme Court last year by a Canadian subsidiary of Norwegian government-owned Cermaq.
The court ruled today on the company’s appeal, reversing the earlier decision. The judgement grants the company a perpetual injunction against the cigarette-themed campaign and related materials, which will undoubtedly be seen by critics of SLAPP suits – designed to discourage public criticism of corporations and governments – as a blow to free speech. Staniford’s campaign linked cigarettes to salmon farming not just through human and environmental health impacts, but in terms of the pattern of denial of science by the aquaculture lobby.
According to the judgement, “The appellant sought general and punitive damages for allegedly defamatory comments made by the respondent in various publications, as well as a permanent injunction restraining him from publishing similar words and images in the future. The trial judge found the defence of fair comment applied to the defamatory comments and dismissed the action.”
The Court of Appeal found error in the trial judge’s interpretation of “fair comment” with regards to Stanford’s activities. “The defamatory publications did not identify by a clear reference the facts upon which the comments were based that were contained in other documents. The trial judge’s order dismissing the appellant’s claim is set aside, and the permanent injunction is granted.”
In addition to a permanent ban on disseminating similar materials in the future, the court awarded Mainstream $25,000 in general damages and $50,000 in punitive damages, noting, “The respondent is punished for his misconduct during the trial by awarding the appellant special costs of the action.”
Staniford had ignored a court order to cease his “Salmon Farming Kills” campaign during the original proceedings.
Currently on vacation in Ireland, Staniford issued the following statement in advance of the judgement:
Win, lose or draw, the Norwegian Government should hang their heads in shame for abusing the Canadian courts to clamp down on free speech. This is a blatant SLAPP suit designed to kill global criticism of Norway’s disease-ridden salmon farming industry. However, far from stemming dissent this lawsuit has served only to amplify the campaign to clean up the Norwegian-owned salmon farming industry. ‘Salmon Farming Kills’ is now common parlance – even at home in Norway where Norwegian newspapers recently reported on the health hazards and scientists warned against the consumption of contaminated farmed salmon.
Staniford, who relocated his base of operations to Europe and the UK after a spell in Canada – where he developed the “Salmon Farming Kills” campaign – has not yet indicated whether he intends to pursue the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
If the “research” recommendations of the Cohen Commission Report into disappearing Fraser River sockeye are to be implemented, then the study of “pathogens” emanating from net-pen salmon farms would be a useful place to begin. Indeed, Justice Cohen is quite explicit that rigorous testing be undertaken on “the hypothesis that diseases are transmitted from farmed salmon” to wild species (Chapter 4, #68, p. 113B).
This is a fertile area for study. For example, Justice Cohen learned during a special reconvening of his Commission in December, 2011, that infectious salmon anemia (ISAv), is a lethal viral infection in wild salmon linked to the arrival of salmon farms to BC’s West Coast. Had he chosen to reconvene again four months later at the urging of Alexandra Morton, he would also have learned of another debilitating affliction likely brought to the West Coast by the salmon farming industry. A piscine reovirus (PRV), known to cause heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI), is a disease that so weakens wild salmon that they may be unable swim the oceans or migrate to their spawning grounds. Although Justice Cohen didn’t receive evidence on PRV-HSMI, he already knew enough from his hearings to warn that “devastating disease could sweep through wild [salmon] populations…”
Just as Justice Cohen anticipated in his Report, the presence of PRV-HSMI in BC’s wild salmon was not revealed by the provincial government or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the two agencies that are supposed to be monitoring the condition of marine health. Once again disclosure of PRV-HSMI came from Morton.
The credibility of her April, 2012, findings were supported by Professor Rick Routledge, a Simon Fraser University fish population statistician, whose research team found the piscine reovirus in 13 of 15 Cultus Lake cutthroat trout, a salmonid species (CBC, July 19/12). Such a virus might explain the mysterious collapse of Cultus Lake salmon runs.
Morton discovered PRV-HSMI when she purchased 45 BC-grown farmed Atlantic salmon from supermarkets in Vancouver and Victoria during February, 2012, and sent samples to PEI’s Atlantic Veterinary Lab for testing. Of the 45 samples, 44 tested positive for the piscine reovirus known to cause HSMI. The sequenced profile of the virus indicated it was 99 percent identical to the one found in Norwegian farmed salmon. If this reovirus is in BC farmed salmon in such high proportions, it is almost certainly in the wild salmon that swim past the farms on their migration routes, providing the most likely explanation for how the virus got to Cultus Lake cutthroat.
The implications for all salmonids are significant. As Morton explains, “The obvious potential that piscine reovirus is killing Fraser sockeye by weakening their hearts, rendering them less capable of fighting their way through white water rapids like Hell’s Gate, was never raised at the [Cohen Commission] Inquiry. Despite the Province of BC apparently knowing it was common in salmon farms.” As Morton contends, this information about PRV-HSMI is vital if we are to explain why “over 90 percent of the Fraser sockeye die as they are swimming upstream.”
Notably, when Dr. Kristy Miller was giving evidence at the reconvened hearings of the Cohen Commission in December, 2011, she did mention that preliminary indications — made independently by her in defiance of DFO instructions to cease investigations — identified piscine reovirus in Chinook salmon in a farm in Clayoquot Sound and in some Fraser River sockeye. Since the focus at the time was on infectious salmon anaemia (ISAv), the evidence of PRV-HSMI seemed to pass as merely incidental information.
But it wasn’t incidental information. It was and is extremely relevant, even though the presence of PRV doesn’t technically mean the clinical symptoms of HSMI are present. Reports from the provincial veterinarian pathologist lab as early as 2008 showed “congestion and hemorrhage in the stratum compactum of the heart” in farmed salmon, symptoms consistent with PRV-HSMI. And both the pathologist and the industry were aware of 75 percent infections rates of PRV in farmed salmon in 2010. Apparently this information was not conveyed to the Cohen Commission because the pathologist and industry did not consider the reovirus to be a health concern to wild salmon.
However, as Morton has pointed out in her website, this opinion is contradicted by “a joint scientific publication by the Center for Infection and Immunity, Columbia University, New York, and by Norwegian government scientists” who warn, “It is urgent that measures be taken to control PRV not only because it threatens domestic salmon production but also due to potential for transmission to wild salmon populations.”
This threat was not new information. HSMI was first identified in 1999 in Norwegian salmon farms, according to Brandon Keim, writing in Wired Science on July 13, 2010 (“Salmon Killer Disease Mystery Solved”). He reported that a two year study had determined the cause of HSMI to be a 10-gene piscine reovirus. “Infected fish are physically stunted,” Keim wrote, “and their muscles are so weakened that they have trouble swimming or even pumping blood. The disease is often fatal, and the original outbreak has been followed by 417 others in Norway and the United Kingdom. Every year there’s more of the disease and it’s now been seen in wild fish, suggesting that farm escapees are infecting already-dwindling wild stocks.” The disease, he noted, spreads like “wildfire” where fish are concentrated in high densities like salmon farms.
From the evidence presented to Justice Cohen, he concluded that such warnings are real and justified, and “that salmon farms along the sockeye migration route have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and to exacerbate endemic diseases…” (Chapter 2, p. 22A). “I therefore conclude,” he writes ,“that the potential harm posed to Fraser River sockeye salmon from salmon farms is serious or irreversible” (Ibid.) — a damning finding considering that, in his terminology, “Fraser River sockeye” usually means “all wild salmon”.
Independent salmon biologist Alexandra Morton has worked tirelessly and endlessly to raise awareness about the threat open net pen salmon farms presents to our coast.
For decades now, this frequently published scientist has worked to understand the impacts of this industry on wild salmon. She has also clearly demonstrated that the entirety of the wild salmon economy far and away exceeds the importance of this one industry alone.
The Wild Salmon economy dwarfs, by any measure, the economic benefit of fish farming and it makes no sense to continue putting the health of our wild salmon at risk as a result. This was covered in Damien Gillis’ recent article in The Common Sense Canadian – which notes the staggering disparity between the sport fishing and salmon-dependent tourism economy and the paltry jobs and economic value provided by salmon farms.
The video below is from a recent screening of Salmon Confidential, a stunning documentary which has taken BC by storm, generating 115,000 views online and packed halls around the province since its release last month.
This short clip includes Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May, Alexandra Morton and a Provincial Candidate for the BCNDP, Gary Holman. Highlighted in the video is the current position of the BCNDP.
For the past few months the NDP has claimed that the Provincial Government has no jurisdiction or capacity to move on the information Alexandra has provided on viruses affecting wild and farmed salmon and bring an end to the threat to the Wild Salmon economy and deeply entrenched coastal culture of this great province.
However, the NDP has committed to “adopting the Cohen Commission recommendations“, which include a focus on applying the “Precautionary Principle” when dealing with the future of this industry and removing salmon farms from the Discovery Islands by 2020, unless DFO can prove they are having “less than minimal impact.”
This is a very welcome development. It means the NDP has committed to exercising this important Precautionary Principle when establishing policy related to this industry.
With that knowledge, let’s turn to the notion that BC has no jurisdiction as a result of a recent lawsuit which saw the Federal Government assume much of the oversight of the industry.
While this is essentially true, there is in fact a little known clause that exists in the agreements the Province holds with each and every fish farm.
It is an exit clause in their tenures which can be exercised within 60 days – with no compensation – that revokes the license for them to operate, if it is in the public interest. (See the full occupation license here)
Here is the exact text from Section 5, Subsection 8
8.1(g) (Termination) states that Marine Harvest agrees with the Province that “if we require the Land for our own use or, in our opinion, it is in the public interest to cancel this Agreement and we have given you 60 days’ written notice of such requirement or opinion, this Agreement will, at our option and with or without entry, terminate your right to use and occupy the Land.”
s. 8.3(a) goes further, and states, “You agree with us that (a) you will make no claim for compensation, in damages or otherwise, upon the lawful termination of this Agreement under section 8.1.” (emphasis added)
Given the NDP has adopted the Cohen Commission recommendation of exercising the Precautionary Principle, and there is ample evidence that our wild salmon are at risk, it is time we encourage the NDP to focus on these licenses, and engage this industry in a proactive fashion in a bid to eliminate this unacceptable risk to the economy and long established culture that healthy wild salmon supports.
Let’s all encourage those NDP candidates seeking your vote to honor their commitment to adopt the Precautionary Principle as recommended by the Cohen Commission.
And let’s press each and every one of them to act on these license agreements, with a focus on resolving this clear and indisputable threat, by asking them to execute the termination clause for fish farms licensed to operate on wild salmon migration routes.
If the NDP wants to be seen as credible on their claim of adopting Cohen’s recommendations and do whats right for the economy, then they must act now and follow though on their commitment while supporting the growth of the Wild Salmon economy – already more than ten times bigger than the salmon farming industry.
As the BC election approaches, the Norwegian-dominated aquaculture industry suddenly finds itself swimming upstream.
Despite mounting evidence of its impacts on the marine environment – and over significant public and First Nations’ protest – the farmed salmon lobby has managed to maintain its controversial open net pen operations for decades, relatively unopposed at the political level.
Until now, it appears.
A series of significant events over the past few months have left the industry increasingly vulnerable to a regulatory crackdown.
The first major blow to the industry came in October of last year, when Justice Bruce Cohen got tough on salmon farms in the final recommendations of his 2-year judicial inquiry into collapsing Fraser River sockeye stocks. While he acknowledged that no “smoking gun” emerged from the exhaustive $25 million investigation, aquaculture was singled out as a key suspect.
Cohen’s recommendations to protect wild salmon from open net pen salmon farms included:
Prioritizing the health of wild salmon over suitability for aquaculture when siting farms
Conducting more research into diseases that may be impacting wild salmon
Properly implementing the Precautionary Principle and removing farms in the Discovery Islands region (noted as particularly dangerous to migrating salmon runs) should more definitive evidence come to bear that they cannot safely coexist with wild fish.
It would take some six months for Cohen’s non-binding recommendations to register politically – but boy are they starting to now.
First, in late March, Liberal Premier Christy Clark came out with an unexpected commitment to implement a number of Cohen’s recommendations. Clark vowed to cap future open-net salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, a critical wild salmon migratory route. Liberal Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick stated, “[Cohen] basically says we should use the Precautionary Principle and what we’re doing today as a government is agreeing with him.”
If the salmon farmers weren’t sweating before, this will surely have caught their attention. This is, after all, a government which has proven overwhelmingly sympathetic toward the industry throughout the past decade – even going as far as reimbursing it for environmental fines collected by the NDP.
Though a court case won a few years ago by independent biologist Alexandra Morton and her lawyer Greg McDade forced the federal government to take back the regulation of fish farms, the province retained power over the licensing and location of farms. Thus a change in policy at the provincial level could still spell trouble for the industry.
No sooner had Clark issued her tough talk on salmon farms, than NDP environment critic and likely future minister Rob Flemming moved to one-up her. Flemming told CBC radio, “They’ve been missing in action on this file for so long that to say on a friday afternoon six months after Justice Cohen delivered his report that they deign to agree with his recommendations just shows that they have not paid considerable attention to this.” According to the CBC story, “Flemming says the NDP would initiate a review of the issue including looking at banning open net fish farms along key salmon migration routes.”
Not just capping new farms, but removing and banning existing ones. That’s about as close to Justice Cohen’s prescriptions as any party – federal or provincial – has come to date.
Days later, NDP Agriculture Critic Lana Popham – also a leading candidate to take up the same portfolio in Cabinet – posted a statement on her facebook page, relaying the NDP’s developing policy on the issue. As environment and agriculture ministers respectively, Flemming and Popham would be the new government’s point people on the file – their comments here are deliberate and significant.
Popham’s preface to the policy statement suggested the public campaign for aquaculture reform is not going unnoticed. “Thank you to all the salmon warriors out there,” Popham wrote. “You’ve directed a lot of barbs our way recently, but your efforts to push political parties to do whatever is necessary to protect wild salmon is a great contribution to BC. Keep it up!”
The statement itself denotes the party’s likely framing of the issue going forward – i.e. addressing the economic risk-reward proposition: “[Wild salmon] is important for our coastal ecology, for the wild and sports fishing economies and particularly for First Nations. We also recognize that BC has an aquaculture industry that creates direct and indirect employment in our coastal communities and that it is incumbent on all to make sure the industry has minimal impact.”
The statement continues:
New Democrats have clearly stated that if we form government in May, we will work with the DFO to act on the recommendations from Justice Cohen including:
regularly revising salmon farm siting criteria to reflect new scientific information about farms on or near Fraser River sockeye salmon migration routes as well as the cumulative effects of these farms;
explicitly considering proximity to Fraser River sockeye when siting farms;∙
limiting salmon farm production and licence duration;∙
using the precautionary principle to re-evaluate risk and mitigation measures for salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, including closing those farms that are determined to pose more than a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye.
In addition, we will maintain the existing moratorium, introduced in 2008, on new fish farm licenses on the North Coast.
The NDP’s repositioning on the file comes following a new wave of public interest in the subject. Salmon Confidential, a 70-minute documentary which tracks Alexandra Morton’s research into viruses impacting both farmed and wild fish, has reached over 100,000 people online since its release last month. It is currently filling halls around the province during a series of pre-election screenings. These events are drawing in high-profile speakers such as David Suzuki and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, the Harper Government did an about-face recently, agreeing to take part in and help fund a new large-scale program to test for viruses likely connected with fish farms. The work is being led by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans geneticist, Dr. Kristi Miller, whose leading-edge research was a key focus of the Cohen Commission.
Miller made global headlines when, prior to her subpoena by Justice Cohen, she was muzzled from speaking to media about her work. Fromrecent interviews she’s given on this new research program – co-sponsored by Genome BC and the Pacific Salmon Foundation – it appears, at least for the time being, that muzzle has been removed.
The aquaculture industry should be concerned about these developments, not just because of what this new research may uncover, but because it demonstrates that even the Harper Government has been forced to change its approach to public concerns surrounding salmon farms. That includes a recent federal report suggesting it’s time to get serious about moving to closed-containment technology, which separates farmed fish from wild.
Finally, the industry should be concerned that the jig is up for the defense upon which it traditionally falls back – namely, the “jobs” argument. Recent data confirm that local economic benefits from aquaculture simply pale in comparison to the industries it puts at risk.
For instance, in 2011, according to DFO and Stats BC, sport fishing produced revenues of $925 million, contributing $325 million to BC’s GDP and 8,400 direct jobs. Compare that with the Norwegian-dominated aquaculture industry, which produced $469 million in revenues (that’s for all aquaculture, of which salmon farms are only one component). Salmon farms specifically contributed just $8.5 million to our GDP.
That’s because they invest very little locally in plant and equipment and produce only a fraction of the 1,700 relatively low-wage jobs across the entire aquaculture sector – which includes shellfish and other finfish. Moreover, the profits flow out of BC to foreign shareholders.
That paltry $8.5 million figure was down 8% from the previous year, and based on reports of numerous farms in the Campbell River area having been fallowed over the past year – for problems left unexplained by the industry – we can expect the 2012 numbers to slide even further.
By contrast, the province’s $13.4 Billion tourism industry (up 44% since 2000) is built largely on BC’s “Best Place on Earth” / “Supernatural BC” brand, which depends greatly on wild salmon and produces vastly more jobs than do salmon farms. The provincial NDP is already showing signs of grasping these facts and understanding how they can be used to frame industry reforms.
In other words, the final fig leaf protecting the industry is about to be swept away in the coastal breeze.
It remains to be seen, post-election, where a new NDP government goes with its aquaculture policy, what these new tests yield, and how the Harper Government reacts to them. The industry has proven as prone to escape as the creatures it rears. Yet, for the first time in a long time, the tide is clearly turning against the Norwegian farmed salmon lobby.
Anyone who has been following the sorry saga of inexplicable diseases and unusual mortality in BC’s wild salmon will not be surprised that the information in Twyla Roscovich’s documentary, Salmon Confidential, links the source of this trouble to the salmon farming industry. The surprise, however, is the impact of such information when its complexity is condensed to an intense 70 minutes.
The documentary, of course, is guided by its own perspective. But this perspective is supported by such compelling and powerful circumstantial evidence that it incriminates the salmon farming industry and the government agencies so obviously accommodating and protecting it. If the health of wild salmon are at risk, these are prime suspects.
Twyla Roscovich, with her keen filming and editing skills, presents a convincing case. But the highest accolades go to Alexandra Morton, the indefatigable BC biologist whose worries about the safety of wild salmon and the entire ecology they support have become her life’s concern. Her research and investigations have brought the public’s attention to the alien diseases threatening native Pacific salmon. It was ostensibly her work that resulted in the reconvening of the Cohen Commission to hear new evidence on previously undisclosed viral infections in wild fish. This testimony subsequently led to the incriminating recommendations in Justice Cohen’s Report, which clearly question the environmental safety of salmon farms.
Morton’s evidence linking salmon farms to diseases in wild salmon has now initiated “the world’s largest study of salmon health” headed by the genetics expert, Dr. Kristi Miller, the same researcher who refused to be silenced by the ministerial pressures of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans where she is still employed. This 5-year study, involving DFO, Genome BC and the Pacific Salmon Foundation will use state-of-the-art technology developed by Dr. Miller to examine salmon diseases from farmed, hatchery and wild sources.
Yet another consequence of Morton’s heroic efforts, belatedly announced on March 23rd by the BC government, is a moratorium until 2020 on any further expansion of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands area, that narrow cluster of passages where many wild fish are compelled to migrate on their journey from and back to their nascent rivers.
This situation, the film contends, is a death trap. One of the most searing images in Salmon Confidential is of a single surviving salmon swimming upstream past the white corpses of thousands of dead and unspawned fish. Something alien, unusual and traumatic is happening to BC’s wild salmon, testament to an unfolding ecological tragedy. Norway has confronted this same problem by banning salmon farms from the migration routes of wild fish. Why then, according to evidence given by one DFO official at the Cohen Commission’s reconvened hearings, has no such application ever been refused on BC’s coast?
A memorable and revealing moment occurs in Salmon Confidential when Dr. Kristi Miller testifies that DFO warned her not to do any testing if she didn’t know what the ramifications would be. In other words, this government agency has an unofficial agenda that could be compromised by an inconvenient scientific discovery. Placing ignorance ahead of knowledge is the perfect formula for environmental catastrophe.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the CFIA, seems to have a similar unofficial agenda. Infectious salmon anemia is designated a reportable disease of global health concern. If the CFIA should find ISA in BC farmed salmon, international protocol would require that all exports stop. So the solution to this problem, according to Salmon Confidential, is to not find the disease. The documentary explores the complex ends to which the CFIA has gone in order to hide evidence — complete with a threatened government Bill 37 (2012) that would forbid any individual from revealing the existence of such diseases as ISA. The reality is that at least two other new diseases in wild salmon, piscine reovirus and salmon alphavirus, have also been linked to salmon farms.
Despite the serious tone of Salmon Confidential, the documentary does have moments of levity. When salmon farmers refused to give Morton any samples of their fish for testing, she and her fellow investigators found an ingenious solution. They simply bought farmed salmon from a local supermarket — of the 11 fish carefully dated and identified with the name of the grower, 3 tested positive for ISA. And when Morton decided that testing dying fish from a salmon farm would be the definitive evidence, she was even denied “mortes”. As the researchers plotted how to surreptitiously recover a sample, an eagle picked up one of the carcasses and unceremoniously delivered some crucially important body parts to a nearby rock.
But Salmon Confidential is much more serious than it is entertaining. For anyone who cares about the future of wild salmon in British Columbia, this is a film that must be seen. It identifies Twyla Roscovich as a skilled documentarian and places Alexandra Morton in the pantheon of heroic environmentalists — not to mention a competent scientist and a gifted detective. Both these women have the insight, perseverance and fortitude to help save BC’s ecological future as they shake the edifice of deception and duplicity that they characterize as the history of salmon farming in British Columbia.
By coincidence, Salmon Confidential was finished in time for the upcoming provincial election in May. Both Roscovich and Morton hope its timely arrival makes the protection of wild salmon a part of the political conversation. Indeed it should, given the crucial importance of these iconic fish to BC’s identity and ecology. The film is now touring the province and will be shown around the province over the next several months. See showing details here.