Dr. Peter Ross has published world-renowned scinece on pollution and marine mammal health during his 13 years at DFO

Silent Summer: Leading Fisheries Researcher on Harper Govt. Killing Ocean Pollution Monitoring


by Dr. Peter Ross

Since being hired 13 years ago as a Research Scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), I have been fortunate to conduct research on such magnificent creatures as killer whales, beluga whales, harbour seals and sea otters. I have visited some of the wildest parts of coastal British Columbia, Arctic Canada and further afield. I have been humbled by the power of Mother Nature as we deployed teams to explore and better understand the lives of creatures beneath the surface of the ocean. I have marveled at the evolutionary adaptations of marine mammals to an existence at the interface of land, sea and atmosphere. And as a scientist, I have come to learn that I possess but rudimentary powers of observation when it comes to the mystery and beauty of a vast ocean. For all of this, I remain eternally grateful.

A blend of challenging field work and cutting-edge laboratories has helped me to look into the lives of fish and marine mammals, and the ways in which some of the 25,000 contaminants on the domestic market affect their health. Our research has drawn on the combined expertise of dedicated technicians, biologists, vessel operators and aboriginal colleagues, ultimately leading to scientific publications now available around the world. This is knowledge that informs policies, regulations, and practices that enable us to protect the ocean and its resources, both for today’s users, and for future generations.

I am thankful for the rich array of opportunities aboard Canadian Coast Guard ships and small craft, alongside Fisheries Officers, chemists, habitat biologists and managers, together with colleagues, technicians, students and members of aboriginal communities. I have enjoyed weaving stories of wonder on such issues as the health of killer whales, effects of flame retardants on beluga whales, hydrocarbons in sea otter habitat, trends in priority pollutants in harbour seals, impacts of current use of pesticides on the health of salmon, the identification of emerging contaminants in endangered species and risk-benefit evaluation of traditional sea foods of First Nations and Inuit peoples.

Past scientific discoveries such as high levels of PCBs in Inuit foods, dioxins in pulp and paper mill effluent, and DDT-associated eggshell thinning in seabirds formed the basis for national regulations and an international treaty (the Stockholm Convention) that have led to cleaner oceans and safer aquatic foods for fish, wildlife and humans. Canada was a world leader in spearheading this profoundly important treaty, drawing on ground-breaking scientific research in tandem with the knowledge of aboriginal communities.

I am thankful to my friends, family, supporters and colleagues, who have always been there to converse, share, learn and teach – in the laboratory, in the field, in the cafeteria, in the hallway. These people have made it all worthwhile.

It is with deep regret that I relay news of my termination of employment at Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the loss of my dream job. It is with even greater sadness that I learn of the demise of DFO’s entire contaminants research program – regionally and nationally. It is with apprehension that I ponder a Canada without any research or monitoring capacity for pollution in our three oceans, or any ability to manage its impacts on commercial fish stocks, traditional foods for over 300,000 aboriginal people and marine wildlife.

Canada’s silence on these issues will be deafening this summer and beyond.

For more information about Ross’ work:

Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic, by Marla Cone, published by Grove/Atlantic http://www.groveatlantic.com/?title=Silent+Snow








12 thoughts on “Silent Summer: Leading Fisheries Researcher on Harper Govt. Killing Ocean Pollution Monitoring

  1. Unfortunately cut-backs in DFO are not unusual, and not restricted to Harper and the Conservatives. When I, too, got my dream job at the Halifax Laboratory in 1964 I could not believe the great access to equipment and the vibrant group of researchers. The head of the lab, Dr Idler, left for Newfoundland when he found out that the Fisheries Research Board was being disbanded and that DFO was no longer going to keep its independant status. Since then in the Maritimes we have had constant changes in direction as government policy changed. These included termination of any research that would help industry – some of these people ended up at the Technical University – and of the parasitology group. In 1997 the cuts were very extensive, including closure of the Halifax Laboratory and loss many scientists including the acid rain group and many working in the fresh water and anadromous group. I lost my job when, after being shuffled from histology of wild marine animals to an aquaculture group, my job was sent to another province. If government research is to be continued, I think we need to be at arms length from the politicians!

  2. Very sad news that you are losing your “dream job” with our Canadian government. Perhaps the experience and insight you have gained throughout your career will help you find a niche in another organization or independently to continue your work. We need people like you that truly care about our environment and not just about the dollars you are paid. Clearly our Harper govt needs to get their priorities in order. This does not make me proud to be a Canadian … I am ashamed of my govt yet again.

  3. As a recently retired government scientist with DFO working on BC sockeye salmon lakes for 30 years, I am in awe at the actions of the conservative government in muzzling research scientists, whose basic tenant is to “objectively search for truth’ the mandate of scientific research. When in USSR in the 70’s I saw first hand the impact of muzzling of scientists that did not follow political policy and saw the fear in their eyes, afraid to talk to me for fear of prosecution or even imprisonment! Is this fear and blatant disregard for Canada’ environment what you wish our country Canada to become, a secretive, undemocratic soviet-style state? I’m sorry, but I can no longer remain silent and tolerate the secrecy associated with your party policy and the untruthfulness of some of your ministers. I will do all within my power as a citizen and as a working aquatic scientist to resist passage of the underhanded and fraudulent way you hope to pass the omnibus budget bill without public discussion. If passed this will effectively undo what for 30 years I have done to preserve and enhance salmon habitat in British Columbia. Our present government is a disgrace to me and to the world-view

  4. I am utterly gutted by the action of the Harper Government and their complete lack of respect for our lands and people. Richness is not defined by coin in the pocket but by the entire fabric of our nation. This bill takes away our right to care for our lands, our people, and the lifeforms we are charged with caring for. Their actions are irresponsible and based on the Alberta Boys agenda.. more oil more cash in his pocket someday. Harper has strong links to Imperial Oil and worked there in his youth. Also linked to Stockwell Day and the Reform Party. Perhaps we should have seen this coming but who would have thought a Canadian Prime Minister and his cabinet would act in this way. Considering their actions and Harpers attachment to Imperial Oil he should step down.

  5. Your powerful and gracious ‘thank you’ to associates and the environment itself doesn’t surprise me.. you work with other exemplars in nature’s exemplary setting.

    Your work is being derailed.. or better said ‘sunk’ by a government running on bitter and pithy petro fueled and evangelistic fumes. When you needed people like yourself or your associates, they instead gave you disasters like Peter Kent and Keith Ashfield with Joe Oliver piling on for good measure. Its the same in the boreal right now re caribou and poisoning the wolves..

    Please don’t give up, though I understand it must be disastrous right now for yourself and others in your field.

    I believe there are far far more responsible Canadians who appreciate how your work contributes to our lives and the overall environment, than the minimal numbers of invasive, ignorant and destructive political animals who would destroy it.

  6. I find this this extremely sad and disheartening. May God bless you Dr. Peter Ross for your love, compassion and service.

  7. My best guess is that if they don’t have the information, then the problem of pollution doesn’t exist.

    If they gut the monitoring agencies, they do away with the sources of information that can be used to force them into better policies and practices.

    It’s basically head in the sand politics at it’s worst.

  8. Well not surprising. After all they were revealing how legislation is legalizing the pollution of our oceans and waterwayd. The Harper government is hell bent on destroying every safeguard we have whether it be for health or environmental. They must go!

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