Peter Ladner in Business in Vancouver: Recalculating the Costs of Salmon Farms in BC


Read this story by Peter Ladner from Business in Vancouver, which details the author’s own recent conversion to a skeptic of the open net pen salmon aquaculture industry in BC. (Aug. 14, 2012)

I used to be keenly interested in fish farming. I toured fish farms, processing plants and hatcheries. I once spoke at the national meeting of the Canadian aquaculture industry in Ottawa to say that opposition to fish farms was overblown and misguided. I earned that trip through a series of columns in BIV defending the industry from ridiculous claims such as fears that escaped Atlantic salmon would outmuscle the native Pacific salmon and take over local streams. Today, I’m not so sure about the industry. I’ve followed anti-fish farm crusader Alexandra Morton’s campaigns with interest, believing that “crusading scientist” is an oxymoron (notwithstanding Morton’s honorary degree from SFU) and refusing to believe that all the problems of B.C.’s wild salmon fisheries could be pinned on lice, disease or antibiotics from fish farms. I’ve listened to my friends in the aquaculture industry insist that “90% of what she’s saying is not true.” According to one, who wouldn’t speak for attribution, “They have never found a disease in [farmed] Atlantic salmon that is not already present in [wild] Pacific salmon.”

Then I accepted an invitation to hear Morton speak July 16 at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. About 200 people were there on short notice to help her raise funds for disease testing at the Salmon Coast Field Station (, and for her advocacy group, the Pacific Coast Wild Salmon Society. There was money in the room.

Introduced by SFU professor of statistics Rick Routledge as one of the most competent scientists he had ever worked with, Morton launched into an impassioned and highly persuasive diatribe against an industry-government coverup of the spread of harmful European viruses from farmed salmon to B.C.’s beleaguered wild salmon stocks.

“Salmon farms amplify disease to levels wild salmon are not equipped to survive,” she concluded. Morton has taken it upon herself to finance tests of wild salmon to confirm her data showing that B.C. farm salmon are testing positive for European farm salmon diseases, among them the lethal infectious salmon anemia (ISA) virus that has devastated fish farms in other countries.

Morton says the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has been hiding ISA-positive results from Fraser River sockeye stock and in salmon farms in Clayoquot Sound. DFO scientist Kristi Miller, otherwise forbidden to speak to the media, told the Cohen commission she was prohibited from testing further for ISA, even though she had found it in two Clayoquot Sound salmon farms.

“No ISA virus has ever been found on farmed fish in B.C.,” declared Mary Ellen Walling, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA). She says 7,000 fish have been tested by several government labs. “We would be very concerned if we found it on farmed fish.”

With good reason.

B.C. Agriculture Minister Don McRae said in March that Asian and U.S. markets were threatening to close their borders if the ISA virus was confirmed here.

That threatens an industry that is B.C.’s biggest agriculture exporter, provides some 6,000 direct and indirect jobs and contributes $800 million annually to the provincial economy, according to the BCSFA.

With all that at stake, it’s not surprising that government would bend and sway to protect the industry. But it’s inexcusable. That’s a view shared by John Fraser, former MP and fisheries minister, as he used the SOB epithet three times in his fiery closing remarks at the dinner, concluding, “if we don’t solve this [fish farm disease] problem, we’re not going to have any fish.”

For that to happen, publicly funded scientists have to be allowed to work to protect wild fish, not the fish farming industry.

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