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Fair Comment

Protesters who are blind to any science that contradicts their beliefs feel that they can say whatever they want about fish farming.

They seem to believe that the law protects them under “free speech” or “fair comment.” Recently the Court of Appeal for British Columbia has shown that this is not the case.

fair comment

To claim a fair comment defence you must have facts to back up your comments, or clearly designate your comments as opinions, not claims of fact.

Fair comment is a legal term for a common law defense in defamation cases (libel or slander)… In Canada, for something to constitute fair comment, the comment must be on a matter of public interest (excluding gossip), based on known and provable facts, must be an opinion that any person is capable of holding based on those facts, and with no actual malice underlying it. The cardinal test of whether a statement is fair comment is whether it is recognizable as an opinion rather than a statement of fact, and whether it could be drawn from the known facts.”

This recent appeal decision started with a court case last year.

On September 28, 2012 Mainstream Canada, a fish farming company, took Don Staniford, a vocal anti-fish farm protester, to court. The reason:

“On January 31, 2011, Mr. Staniford, under the name of the “Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture” or “GAAIA,” launched a campaign attacking salmon farming…
As part of the GAAIA campaign, Mr. Staniford issued a press release on January 31, 2011, publishing it on the GAAIA website. The press release reads in part (hyperlinks underlined):
Salmon Farming Kills – Global Health Warning Issued on Farmed Salmon
Vancouver, British Columbia – The newly formed Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture (GAAIA) this week launched a smoking hot international campaign against Big Aquaculture. ‘Salmon Farming Kills’ employs similar graphic imagery to the ‘Smoking Kills’ campaigns against Big Tobacco and warns of the dangers of salmon farming. …
The copy of the press release sent to the media includes four mock cigarette packages, all modelled after the packaging for Marlboro brand cigarettes…The packages contain the following statements: “Salmon Farming Kills,” “Salmon Farming is Poison,” “Salmon Farming is Toxic” and “Salmon Farming Seriously
Damages Health.” The web-version of the press release had a total of twelve cigarette packages.”

The fact that the Norwegian flag was used on this fake packaging and that Mainstream Canada is owned in part by the Norwegian government led them to believe that this attack was aimed at them.

Despite the fact that there was a lack of scientific papers backing up these claims linked on the GAAIA website, Judge Adair of the Supreme Court of Canada ruled:

“Although I have concluded that Mr. Staniford’s statements are defamatory of Mainstream, I have concluded that he should succeed on his defence of fair comment. I have found that he was actuated by express malice towards Mainstream. However, I have found that he had an honest belief in the statements he made, and injuring Mainstream because of spite or animosity was not his dominant purpose in publishing the words in issue.”

According to Judge Adair, if you believe your statements you are free to make them. What the Judge missed was that Staniford was not making statements of his beliefs (as in: I believe that salmon farming kills, or I feel that salmon farming is evil) but was trying to make statements of fact. He did not post evidence to back up his claims.

Because of this, Mainstream Canada appealed this ruling.

On July 22, 2013 Justice Tysoe of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia ruled that:

“The trial judge erred in finding the test for the defence of fair comment was satisfied.  The defamatory publications did not identify by a clear reference the facts upon which the comments were based that were contained in other documents.”

Don Staniford is a classic cyber-bully. His only goal is to rid the world of salmon farms, either in the ocean or on land. He is malicious in his intent and will not stop until he has reached his goal. He has shown he is willing to ignore any information that contradicts his views and that he is a single-minded zealot. He has shown that he thinks it’s OK to mock and ridicule anyone who dares to oppose his views.

Thankfully the courts in Canada are willing to stand up to bullies and demand that they back up their claims with facts. I don’t believe that this ruling will slow Staniford down in his pursuits but it does send a clear message to activists: do your homework before you open your mouths.

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2013 in News, Opinion

 

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Bullies Pretending to be Journalists.

Bullying can take on many forms; name calling, peer pressure, as well as physical or emotional abuse. Put those in multimedia formats and you have a storm of pressure pushing you toward a certain point of view.

As discussed many times before, the people in the group Salmon Are Sacred regularly use these tactics to push their agenda of anti-salmon farming philosophies. They use live protests which include signs smeared with mud – that they claim is “farmed salmon poo” – as well as grotesque photos of fish necropsy claiming that farms are to blame for all wild salmon ills. They protest grocery stores to try to pressure them not to sell farmed salmon. They have a vitriolic website full of false or misrepresented science and a Facebook group that often uses peer pressure and bullying to make sure that all contributors to the group follow the same philosophies. Now they have added documentary film making to the list.

Alexandra Morton and Twyla Roscovich have produced and filmed “Salmon Confidential.” This is the description of the documentary from their website:

“Salmon Confidential is a new film on the government cover up of what is killing BC’s wild salmon.”

This film is biased from start to finish. It does not try to show both sides of the issue and let the viewer make up their own mind about salmon farming in B.C. Instead it is an hour and nine minutes worth of propaganda whose sole purpose is to call people to action against an industry. This is a call to bully government into ignoring any science except that posed by this group.

Salmon Confidential Exposed (SCE) is a website dedicated to showing, through science and research, the inherent problems with the documentary.  Here is the description of the blog from the website:

“The film is riddled with errors, false claims and incorrect assumptions which must be corrected. This blog will provide facts and realities which bust Morton’s myths about salmon farming in her latest film.”

Sadly people are so emotionally attached to their belief systems about salmon farming that they are not willing to look at the science. They literally are willing to plug their ears and sing “la la la” when anyone presents an opposing view to their own.

The blog Salmon Farm Science has pulled an interesting response from the Salmon Confidential Exposed site.

A response to the Salmon Confidential Exposed blog.

Christine actually says “I don’t need to think… I just know.” If only life were that simple!

In order to create this peer pressure filled documentary much editing was required. Many people were misquoted or taken out of context. One interviewee was straight out lied to about who was interviewing him and why. The blog Farm Fresh Salmon has an excellent article laying out how Roscovich creates such one sided documentaries. Here is a quote from that blog:

“Now there is word that the only interview included in the film that doesn’t align with the filmmakers’ pre-conceived perspectives was undertaken using a fake name and credentials. Word has come to PAA that Dr. Gary Marty was quite taken aback when he attended a viewing of Salmon Confidential to see that “Jean from Shaw TV” who had interviewed him some time ago, was in fact Ms. Roscovich. The interview footage appears in the film.

Sorry – do we need to say that again? Twyla, who made Salmon Confidential, identified herself as Jean from Shaw TV when she did the interview with Dr. Marty which appears in the film.”

Dr. Gary Marty works for the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture as a fish pathologist. He has been interview many times by multiple media sources and is willing to share his point of view about the aquaculture industry in B.C. It seems that Roscovich didn’t even try to get a straight interview with Marty. What is gained by lying about your identity under the guise of journalism except to remove some of your credibility? This is unethical journalism.

To gain interviews Twyla Roscovich is willing to pay sources (another point raised in the Farm Fresh Salmon blog) and to lie about her own identity by presenting herself as a reporter for Shaw TV.

If Roscovich is not an ethical source of information how about Alexandra Morton? Is she any more reliable? Not according to Farm Fresh Salmon:

“A person once published in the “prestigious Journal of Science” now resorts to petty acts of vandalizing work places, defacing farmed salmon in grocery stores, intimidating store managers to remove farmed salmon, threatening politicians with public protests, initiating boycotts of product and misrepresenting lab reports – all in an attempt to fulfill her dream of eradicating salmon aquaculture in her adopted home of Canada.”

If the two creators of this documentary use questionable ethics to get their point across is this documentary a credible form of journalism? You decide.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2013 in Opinion

 

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Take the blinders off

Alexandra Morton has proven again that she has her blinders on.

Blinders… because she shies at any ideas that do not match her own.

Morton is absolutely against salmon farms and has no time or interest in looking at any other avenues for enhancing wild salmon populations.

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Morton wields a great deal of power over the salmon are sacred group. Her influence and opinion is so powerful that even when her supporters do mention other man-made environmental problems they feel that they have to add fish farms to the list so they can still be in the “in” group.

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Overfishing, logging, mining, oil; all of these problems are man-made. West coasters who lived here in the 1950s-1970s saw the disastrous effects of poorly regulated logging, which destroyed salmon habitat up and down the coast, having long-term impacts on stocks. Getting rid of salmon farms would not do anything to improve or stop any of the effects from these much  larger and higher impact industries.

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Even when talking about a river that has no fish farms near it but has a myriad of other man-made issues they are still trying to blame salmon farms. If all this salmon love were put toward cleaning up the Fraser River imagine how happy the salmon would be. A nice clean place to spawn would do wonders for all species of salmon.

To borrow from Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth affecting salmon, Alexandra, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Opinion

 

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Liar Liar

The poem “liar liar pants on fire, hanging on a telephone wire” is one I remember from elementary school. It was a fun, albeit childish way to show that you didn’t believe what your friend was telling you.

I have learned some other versions since then. My favorite is “…your nose is longer than a telephone wire.” These lyrics come from a one hit wonder song by The Castaways.

The origins of the poem are lost in obscurity but one possible starting point is the poem “The Liar” by William Blake, written in 1810. The first line reads as follows:

“Deceiver, dissembler Your trousers are alight From what pole or gallows Shall they dangle in the night?”

Your trousers are alight!

As fascinating as I find etymology I am disappointed to see adults using this poem as a way to dismiss and belittle other people.

Mary Ellen Walling, The Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association is a common target for the people on the Salmon Are Sacred Facebook group. She is an easy target for this group because she is willing to take a positive stand for salmon farming in BC. Their response is to resort to elementary school tactics in order to show their opposition to what she has said.

pants on fire

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Canada is a free country; everyone has a right to state their opinion, even if it’s childish. It would be refreshing, however, to see differences of opinion expressed in a more mature and intelligent way.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Opinion

 

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Bullying – Not just for teenagers.

The topic of bullying has been the focus of B.C. news reports recently since a 15 year old girl tragically decided to take her life as a means to end the torment of bullying.

Because the victim of the bullying was a 15 year old the focus on how to deal with bullying and how to help victims has focused on teenagers and pre-teens. This is a topic that deserves a great deal of attention. Bullying has been around for as long as people have been around. People physically or verbally harm others to raise their own status with others.

However, the permanence and pervasiveness of the internet have radically changed bullying and its effects. A child can no longer change schools with the hope of starting fresh when the lies that have been told about them are out there for the whole world to see on websites that are hard if not impossible to delete.

Bullying is not a problem that affects only teenagers; it doesn’t necessarily end when you leave high school. There are workplace bullies that will make your working environment very unpleasant and there are (for lack of a better word) activist bullies. I would define activist bullies as those people or groups who use defamatory comments to state their negative viewpoints about an industry or business.

Defamation—also called calumny, vilification, traducement, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words)—is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation a negative or inferior image. This can be also any disparaging statement made by one person about another, which is communicated or published, whether true or false, depending on legal state.

Such is the case with the recent defamation case between a local B.C. fish farming company and a vocal protester. The case is titled: Mainstream Canada v. Staniford, 2012 BCSC 1433. The trial was held in late January and early February of 2012, the judgment was made on September 28, 2012.

Protester Don Staniford created false cigarette covers depicting farmed salmon as causing cancer and killing people, among other statements, and then posted them on his website. The Norwegian flag was used as the backdrop for these messages. Mainstream Canada is owned by Cermaq and the majority share holder of Cermaq is the Norwegian government. Since Staniford was in B.C. at the time of the publication and he was using images from B.C., Mainstream Canada felt that this was a direct attack on them and thus brought this defamation lawsuit to court. The judge agreed that Staniford was targeting Mainstream.

The bullying didn’t end with the cigarette covers. Staniford is a long-time protester of the salmon farming industry and often uses crass, cruel and mocking language when referring to the industry and anyone who would support it.

His reply to the lawsuit and the requests to have the images removed from his website show the contempt he has for the industry.

When Mainstream Canada – a Norwegian-owned outfit – demanded he take his website down, the service provider did so. But Staniford sent back a copy of one of his spoof cigarette packages, “with a picture of a fist with a raised middle finger.”

This contempt was noted by Judge Adair.

The judge summarized her extensive analysis of Mr. Staniford’s statements in the following passage (at para. 198):

… Mr. Staniford does not in fact do anything to conceal the spite, ill-will and contempt he holds for industrial aquaculture and salmon farming in general, and Mainstream … in particular. I think the evidence is overwhelming in this regard. Mr. Staniford’s Internet postings are filled with insulting and demeaning comments and cruel caricatures. He ignores and disdainfully dismisses peer-reviewed science (…) when the conclusions conflict with his own views. The language in his publications – including the mock cigarette packages in particular – is extreme, inflammatory, sensationalized, extravagant and violent. The word “kills” is everywhere.

Staniford used “Fair Comment” as his defense in this case and the judge accepted this defense.

[202]     Although I have concluded that Mr. Staniford’s statements are defamatory of Mainstream, I have concluded that he should succeed on his defence of fair comment.  I have found that he was actuated by express malice towards Mainstream.  However, I have found that he had an honest belief in the statements he made, and injuring Mainstream because of spite or animosity was not his dominant purpose in publishing the words in issue.

A blog posting on the Positive Aquaculture Awareness website sums it up well:

The decision that wrong, derogatory statements are allowed to stand because someone’s disillusion is strong enough is terribly disappointing for salmon farmers.

Geoff Plant, B.C.’s former Attorney General, who lists his occupation as Lawyer, recovering politician and learner, has written an interesting blog post (called The Plant Rant) about this case. He notes that:

Reflect again on Mr. Staniford’s statements, and ask yourself what it would be like to be an employee of Mainstream and its parent company, carrying on lawful businesses, companies which the trial judge said, “model the behavior of a responsible corporate citizen”.  Mr. Staniford launches a highly public campaign. Its message, shouted from the rooftops, is that the product you make kills people.  You are personally demeaned and ridiculed for appearing as a witness in court on behalf of your employer.   What you learn is this: in our democracy, free speech is more valued than decency, fairness, self-respect, self-restraint, intellectual integrity, or responsibility.  And when it comes to public debate, the law rewards the most outrageous and hurtful among us.  It’s a harsh lesson, I think.

Plant also makes the point that, with rulings such as this one, there seems to be little the law can do to protect people from bullies.

A recent decision of the BC Supreme Court provides a powerful illustration of how vulnerable we are to public criticism, no matter how vicious, and how little there is that the law will do to stop it.

This is a blatant case of bullying and Mainstream Canada has chosen to stand up to the bully and has filed an appeal to the ruling.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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Not a threat

Gary Marty is one of Alexandra Morton’s favorite punching bags. Marty recently wrote a letter to the Nanaimo Daily News responding to Morton’s inaccurate statements regarding viruses in salmon. Marty does an excellent job explaining the errors in Morton’s story as well as in her logic and science.

Marty makes two very important points that the press would do well to remember:

1. False positive test results are not a threat to either wild or farmed salmon.

2. Tests that do not work properly are not a threat to wild or farmed salmon.

Science is not a one-shot deal. Results need to be studied and tests need to be run multiple times. That is the core of the scientific method. Morton’s credibility as a scientist is continually lessened every time she publishes an incorrect finding. Sadly the press finds that she is an easy sound bite and they continue to give her space.

I will let Marty have the last word:

“Alexandra Morton is a great story teller, but much of what she says is just that: a story.”

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Opinion

 

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Transfer of Guilt

Patrick Moore, an original founder of Greenpeace, quit the organization after 15 years. Recently he wrote the book Confessions of a Greenpeace Drop Out. He was recently quoted as saying:

“What the (activist) environmentalists have done is they’ve gotten all the city people thinking all the people out there in the environment growing all the food, cutting the trees, digging the minerals and damming the rivers are the enemy. When in actuality it is them (city people) who are demanding all that stuff be done to satisfy their needs for infrastructure, energy, food and materials in urban centers. And yet they are able to transfer whatever guilt they should be feeling onto those hard working people who are outdoors in the rain and snow and sun doing all the work to produce all the stuff the people in their condominiums and corner offices are enjoying.”

Environmentalist groups prey upon people’s sense of guilt about our use of the environment, but they don’t consider the long-term consequences of guilt-based campaigning.

“Only eat wild salmon” is a very easy philosophy to spout. The problem lies at the end of that line of thinking. If everyone who currently enjoys farmed salmon were to switch and only eat wild salmon, we would eat our wild salmon to extinction in a few years.

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline is hotly debated and recent news of a report about a spill in the U.S. has brought it to the forefront in the last few days. Some will use this as an “I told you so” moment and point to the evils of “tar” sands and a need to stop all oil development in this country.

But even Thomas Mulcair, leader of the federal NDP party, makes the point in an interview on CBC radio that the NDP are against the B.C. pipeline but would be open to a pipeline heading east, or at least processing the oil in Canada before shipping it internationally. Stopping the production of oil is not practical, but perhaps there are ways to do it better.

The idea that all organically-grown food is better than conventionally grown seems reasonable (after all people have been trying to convince us of this for years), but there is little scientific evidence to support it. There is evidence that some food grows better under organic standards (such as soybeans) but when it comes to harvest yield and our ability to “feed the world” conventional methods are more efficient. If it takes more land to grow the same amount of food using organic standards. That means there will be less land for products that could reduce our use of oil, such as bio-diesel and plant-based plastics.

These are only a few examples of environmental activist positions that do not hold up in the real world. Holding a picket sign and shouting slogans is easy, finding practical solutions to the issues you are concerned about is much harder.

Putting the blame for environmental problems on the backs of those working hard to provide you with the essentials that you can’t produce for yourself is going to harm you in the long run.

As the old saying goes, don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2012 in Opinion

 

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Alaskan salmon: Product of China

The package of salmon burgers sure looks appealing. I came across one similar during my last visit to Costco.

Front and centre is a delicious-looking burger, with lots of eco-labels on it to make us feel better about what we’re buying (for more info on eco-lables visit our posting on the subject: The Gospel of Seafood). If we’re lucky the package will have an old-timey picture of a fishing boat on it somewhere, or perhaps a white-bearded grizzled smiling man in a rainslicker. Yellow, of course.

The package goes out of its way to make sure we know that it is made from “ALASKAN” salmon, even mentioning it twice with the added notation that it is also “WILD.” It’s very well presented, and inside the package is a delicious and wholesome product, no doubt about that part.

But there’s some context missing.

These salmon burgers have travelled an awfully long way.

For some of our readers, Alaska is a long way away, but we’re talking even farther.

These burgers come from fish which are so well-travelled they should carry passports.

These burgers come from fish which were caught in Alaska and frozen at sea. The fish (packaged as head-on, gutted whole fish) were then shipped to a factory in China.

There, the fish were thawed, and cut into fillets. Chinese workers pulled out the pin bones by hand from the thawed fillets. The fillets were turned into salmon burgers, then re-frozen and repackaged.

They were then put in a box and sent all the way back across the Pacific Ocean to the USA and Canada to our grocery stores.

Alaskan pink salmon is frozen at sea, and shipped to China where it is thawed. Workers in the Chinese factory pull out the pin bones by hand, fillet the fish and then convert it into value-added products to be re-frozen and shipped back to the USA.

This has been going on since 2003, when Alaskan seafood producers realized they needed to do something different to increase their profits. As discussed in our posting Profits First!, farmed salmon had flooded the market in the 1990s, driving down the price of all salmon and making it available fresh all year round. Many North Americans made salmon a more regular part of their diet because of farmed salmon. However, this meant Alaskan fishermen saw a big drop in their profits, especially after the booming 1980s, when the Alaskan fishery was worth $800 million (ex-vessel value, the price fishermen get for their fish). Fishermen saw an all-time high for ex-vessel prices in 1988 that has never been matched since.

In order to compete after struggling through the 1990s, Alaskan seafood producers decided to increase their presence in the value-added market. To keep their costs low, they decided to outsource to China. It worked so well that today most of the big-name Alaskan seafood products you find in the frozen food section were processed in China. See the list on page 15 of this document for specifics.

“Something that would cost us $1 per pound labor here, they get it done for 20 cents in China.” — Charles Bundrant, founder of Trident Seafoods, 2005.

Thousands of American processing jobs were lost. But Alaskan seafood producers survived. And American consumers generally had no idea the salmon burgers they were eating had traveled 8,000 miles to China and back, because seafood wasn’t included in Country of Origin Labelling requirements until 2009.

Today, you might see tiny print on that bag of salmon burgers which states the country of origin as USA in big, bold letters, but also includes much smaller letters declaring it “processed in China.”

It’s another one of Alaska’s little white lies about salmon.

To see more pictures of how frozen fish are packaged, shipped, thawed, processed and re-frozen to ship back to the USA, and to Europe, take a look at this presentation. The pictures begin on page 22.

“The tide for the Alaska salmon industry has turned, and the Chinese are the reason.” — Peter Redmayne, Seafood Business magazine 2006.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Opinion

 

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Profits first!

This is part three in a three part series on Alaskan salmon ranching. Click link to view part 1: Alaska’s Little White Lie and part 2: Hatchery Fish Are Not Wild.

Fishermen don’t catch fish out of the goodness of their hearts. They do not gently whisper to each fish, “you’re sustainable,” as they yard them into their holds. They endure long unpleasant days at sea and hard work for the paycheque that comes at the docks. That has not changed since people started catching fish, and the history of fishing in the Pacific Ocean is no different.

And not surprisingly, the roots of the wild versus farmed salmon dichotomy are firmly and deeply financial. To understand it, we need to look at the history.

Alaska: Turning point 1972

Commercial fishing in Alaska began in earnest at the end of the 19th century. Catches grew rapidly with the expansion of cannery capacity through 1920. This intensity led to overfishing. Low stocks led President Eisenhower to declare Alaska a federal disaster area in 1953. This state of emergency, labeled a severe hardship to salmon industry, was declared for 3 consecutive years.

View of men unloading salmon from fishing boat at cannery in Bristol Bay, Alaska. 1950’s

Alaska achieved statehood in 1959. Written into the state constitution is a policy of sustainable yield which applies to the use of all replenishable resources. The new constitution, as well as a new federal interest in financially supporting commercial fishing in the north, led to a recovery in the stocks and a decade of productive harvests.

But in the 60’s, B.C. and Alaska fishermen were competing with fishing boats from the USSR, Japan and even Poland. The development of new fishing technologies and the foreign fishing fleets competing for fish in the North Pacific led to overfishing and a record low catch in 1972 in Alaska and low catches elsewhere in the world.

Since the 1970s, the situation has improved. Stricter permits, the creation of the 200 mile economic exclusion zone and the creation of private non profit hatcheries (salmon ranching) has led to the extremely high salmon catches experienced today in Alaska.

But high salmon catches do not mean people are acting to protect salmon stocks for the environment’s sake. Fisheries, like all industries, are concerned with profits. The state of emergency in the 50’s was not a call to protect the environment; protecting the jobs of fishermen was more important. The same is true for the decline in the 70’s. In Alaska, the only desire to replenish the salmon stocks using large scale hatcheries was so that there were more available to catch, can and sell.

“It [The hatchery program] was intended to supplement, not supplant, wild stock production.”

The problems with hatcheries, such as loss of genetic diversity, were a concern to some in the 70’s but the priority was jobs, not the environment.

“Governor, I’m sure the proper ‘genetics’ of salmon are important. However, I’ll wager that if our fishermen have to make a choice between salmon with the wrong ‘genetics’ or no salmon at all they’ll not worry that much about the salmon’s parents or where he came from,” state Rep. Oral Freeman of Ketchikan wrote to Gov. Jay Hammond in 1975.”

It was around this time that the largest oil field in North America was found in northern Alaska and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was built.This meant that Alaska had more government money to fund projects such as hatcheries which were government-run at first and only later were run as public non profit enterprises.

Commercial fishermen in areas with large hatchery programs have benefited greatly, however, fishermen from other areas of Alaska may have been harmed due to the depressed prices from the larger volumes of fish that are available.

“Many hatcheries are not viable without continuing state subsidies.The Alaska salmon hatchery programme is neither obviously an economic success nor obviously an economic failure.

B.C.: Aquaculture becomes attractive

From California to B.C. salmon harvests were nowhere near as high as in Alaska and hatcheries were having a limited effect. In the 1970s, inspired by the success in other parts of the world, people started looking at aquaculture to provide coastal communities with other options to replace the slowly, but surely, declining commercial fisheries.Salmonids (Rainbow trout, Salmo gairdneri, and Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar) were being cultured in seawater in Scandinavia, the British Isles and Japan as early as 1969.

“Losses of salmon stocks from damming, logging, pollution, etc., coupled with the rising demand for salmon as food, have led to extensive investment in artificial propagation to augment the natural runs. During the last 100 years, salmon hatcheries on the Pacific coast of the United States have evolved into expensive systems under constant economic scrutiny. In many areas rising capital costs and the limited fresh water will prevent much new construction or expansion of salmon hatcheries. Therefore, to expand the present levels of production we must seek new, economical methods of salmon culture.

Aquaculture on the west coast started in Washington but quickly expanded into B.C.

Alaska turns to marketing in 1981 after health scare

ASMI – Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

The desire to create a wholesome image and worldwide markets for Alaska’s seafood products spawned the creation of ASMI in 1981.

This wholesome image was needed after problems arose in 1980 and 1981 when there were reported cases of botulism infection and one death due to botulism in Belgium. The source of the spores was linked to Alaskan canned salmon. At this time canning salmon was the best way to ship the product worldwide. Flattened cans were shipped to the cannery and were reformed in a machine before the salmon was placed inside and sealed. It is believed that a defect may have been caused in the plant by the can reforming equipment. This may have caused tears in the edges of the can which allowed botulism spores to enter the can. There was a large recall of the product and there were many economic repercussions from this incident.

ASMI started its career when it launched a canned salmon recovery program. Since that time ASMI has evolved into a very powerful marketing group.

“The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is a marketing organization with the mission of increasing the economic value of the Alaska seafood resource… ASMI is playing a key role in the repositioning of Alaska’s seafood industry as a competitive market-driven food production industry. Its work to boost the value of Alaska’s seafood product portfolio is accomplished through partnerships with retail grocers, foodservice distributors, restaurant chains, foodservice operators, universities, culinary schools, and the media.”

Interestingly, the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association was established shortly afterwards in 1984.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association is a forum for communication and cooperation within the salmon farming sector, and the focal point for liaison between the industry and government. We also provide information to the public and stakeholders about salmon farming, and coordinate industry-wide activities such as a Code of Practice, research, and community events. Our members include both farmed salmon producers, and many of the companies who provide services and supplies to them.”

Here is a case-in-point in the farmed vs wild dichotomy. The BCSFA is painted with a negative brush because it represents “industry” yet the ASMI is applauded by some because it supposedly represents wild seafood interests. But the truth is, both groups represent industries and are equally concerned with the economics surrounding those industries.

90’s – Farmed Salmon makes a splash

Wild salmon dominated the market in the 80’s and experienced record high prices in 1988. At this point farmed salmon entered the market in large volumes.

Commercial salmon farming began in Norway, Washington, Scotland, and British Columbia in the 1970s, but  was not a factor in world markets until the mid-1980s, when production reached 50,000 tons. By 1990, farm production had quintupled to more than 250,000 tons. In 1999, world farm salmon production for the first time surpassed salmon fishery production.”

With the increase in production came a decrease in the market value of salmon, and an end to the “good old days” of the 1980s, when Alaskan fishermen received nearly 1.5 billion (in 2011 dollars) for their harvest.

Fresh salmon available year-round forces market changes

Once farmed salmon became a commodity available year-round to customers, people changed the way they purchase, store and eat salmon. In general, people gradually started eating more salmon year-round. This presented a challenge for fishermen, who have only a short window of time to catch, process and sell salmon.

Generalizations about effects of farmed salmon on “wild” salmon prices risk being overly simplistic and  misleading.

The most important factor driving change in world salmon prices has been rapid and sustained growth in world farmed salmon and salmon trout production. This has fundamentally transformed world salmon markets—not only because of the dramatic growth in total supply, but also because of the changes that it has represented in the kinds of salmon products which are available, the timing of production, market quality standards and organization of the industry.”

Some wild salmon products sell for lower prices than farmed salmon, while others command price premiums.

Many other factors besides farmed salmon have also affected wild salmon prices. These include:
• Increasing concentration in the retail and food service industries
• Increased world pink and chum salmon harvests
• Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emergence of Russian wild salmon as a significant competitor to North American wild salmon in the Japanese frozen market and world canned salmon and salmon roe markets
• Declining consumer demand for canned salmon
• The end of the Japanese “bubble” economy of the 1980s and a stubborn economic recession in Japan, historically the most valuable market for North American fresh and frozen wild salmon.”

“They [countries that support aquaculture] recognized significant market growth potential and that wild salmon fisheries could not adequately supply the market with uniform fresh salmon of consistently high quality year round. As a result, farmed salmon created a market in the United States and Europe that wild salmon could not supply.

As a fresh product, farmed salmon received a price premium compared to most frozen wild salmon.”

Turn of the new century

Alaska, where the economy is crucially dependent on fisheries, struggled to adapt to new market realities.

Salmon price changes have also severely impacted incomes in Alaska… At current levels of production, each 10 cent per pound decline in salmon prices translates to $66 million in lost income for Alaskan fishermen.”

2002 was a particularly bad year for the market price of salmon.

“Back in 2002, the government of Alaska requested that the BC government keep the moratorium on fish farms until the safety of Alaska’s own wild salmon stocks can be guaranteed. The request reads as follows:

FURTHER RESOLVED that the Alaska State Legislature requests the United States Department of State, while negotiating trade agreements with Canada and in the arena of the Pacific Salmon Commission negotiations on the Pacific Salmon Treaty, to consider the numerous negative effects that farmed salmon from British Columbia have on the economy, environment, and fishing industry of Alaska.”

Notice that “economy” comes before “environment” in this official request. Profits are important for any industry, whether that be wild salmon fisheries or salmon aquaculture. In both cases ignoring the environmental impacts would be detrimental to their products and their bottom lines. The truth is that “wild” salmon coming from “pristine” Alaskan waters are part of a billion dollar a year industry that has a vested interest in the market as much as any multinational corporation.

Large profit losses were felt in Alaska due to the decline in the value of salmon. This directly affected coastal communities and those employed in the fishing industry. It is understandable that there are some bad feelings from Alaska toward salmon farming. In 2002 one angry fisherman wrote an email to the ASMI stating his grievances. The email he wrote is not available but the response letter from the ASMI Director Ray Riutta does comment on the question of “Why ASMI Doesn’t Bash Farmed Fish?”:

“As to attacking farm salmon directly, there is more to the issue than
you may realize.  And ASMI does a lot more behind the scenes then you
are probably aware of.  Why don’t we come out and conduct a frontal
assault on farmed?  Well, it is pretty simple.  Two reasons: the first
is the most practical and it is that most of the large retail food
chains that sell our salmon also sell farmed salmon. It would be nice if
all they sold was our fish, but that is not the way it is so we have to
deal with the reality of the market place. In order for them to sell
“fresh” salmon fillets year round they have little choice.  In many
cases farmed is by far the larger of the two product lines they sell in
terms of volume and profit margin.  They do not expect their wholesaler
(that’s us) to be openly attacking other products they sell.  If we do
we face loosing the accounts which are worth literally millions of
dollars to our industry and would further depress the already low price
you receive for you fish.

The second is a fundamental marketing rule and that is direct attack ads
by people with similar products generally do not work.  They only
confuse the public and end up with both sides loosing market share.
They are seen as self-serving and lack credibility with the general
public.  In our case, it is far more credible to leave the attack to
third parties, such as environmental groups and newspaper columnists,
then it is for us to come out and do it ourselves. We can then leverage
that information with a marketing campaign pointing out the positive
aspects of our fish using the bad things about farmed fish as our points
of difference.  And that is exactly what we are doing.  In addition, we
are helping the people that sell our products or use them in restaurants
understand the differences in wild and farmed fish, which includes
showing them the material that is being generated by the
environmentalists and the media. We also have been working with a number
of environmental groups and media for several years now pointing out the
purity and sustainability of our salmon, which helps them make their
points about the difference in wild verses farmed fish.

We do intend to be aggressive in taking advantage of the current trend
against farmed and in favor of wild salmon at every opportunity, but we
are going to do it in a positive way.  By that I mean we will emphasize
the many good things (purity, health benefits, environmentally friendly,
sustainable runs, small family businesses) about our fish and leave it
to others to emphasize the bad things about farmed fish.  This is a
position that is strongly endorsed by our board, half of whom are
harvesters, like you, and is constantly reviewed to be sure it is the
best way to conduct our business.”

Most of the “bad things ” about farmed fish have been given wide attention through exaggerations and lies told by environmentalists (often through the media) included levels of PCB’s in farmed salmon, sea lice issues, and most recently disease issues.

And Alaskan seafood companies have repeated these claims verbatim, bashing farmed salmon in their promotional material. Because if environmentalists say it, it must be true, right?

Alaskan seafood companies have also been aggressive in passing this information along to media and other sources, “working behind the scenes” to ensure farmed salmon is associated with “bad things” in people’s minds.

For an example, take a look at the comprehensive study of the money trail and the lies behind the 2004 Hites study about PCBs. Read Research on Contaminants in Farmed Salmon:Science or Marketing? by Vivian Krause. For papers regarding sea lice and other issues related to salmon farming visit the BC Salmon Farmers Association. For an in depth look at the recent salmon disease stories being told by environmentalists visit Salmon Farm Science.

Everybody loses

What marketers bashing farmed salmon need to remember is that when farmed salmon are portrayed negatively in the media the value of all salmon diminishes.

“The salmon industry was hurt by negative publicity following publication in the scientific press earlier this year of studies alleging certain health risks associated with farmed salmon. This general perception affected both our retail and food service salmon sales, even though the majority of salmon sold by High Liner is wild pacific salmon.”

It is important to realize that the competition is not fresh Alaskan vs. fresh farmed salmon. It is frozen and canned versus fresh.

Alaskan salmon is still mostly sold canned or frozen or in some other value-added product such as salmon burgers. Fresh farmed salmon is a great product for restaurants and supermarkets. Niche markets for wild salmon and frozen and value-added markets (where wild salmon can compete on lower cost production) is where Alaska will profit the most in the growing diversified market place.

ASMI has been very successful promoting their frozen product with the “Cook It Frozen!” campaign. Marketing such as this and value added products are how Alaska can continue to profit from wild salmon harvests instead of encouraging a negative campaign through environmental groups.

Like many industries, in order to save money and increase profits, Alaskan salmon is being shipped to China to be processed before being returned to the US and sold as a “made in the USA” product. For a closer look at this topic see our post Alaskan salmon: Product of China.

The Future: SUV of the seafood aisle

An excerpt from “Why farm salmon outcompete fishery salmon” written by academics from Stanford University in California makes an interesting point about the place of wild (fishery) salmon in the market.

“Just as US automakers may never be able to outcompete Japanese manufacturers in the small car sector, fishery salmon will probably never be able to outcompete farm salmon on consistency and availability. However, fishery salmon should be able to thrive as the sport utility vehicle of the seafood aisle: a different, though more expensive and slightly less reliable product.

In the document Alaska Seafood Market Changes and Challenges Gunnar Knapp makes some interesting points about the implications aquaculture have for wild seafood markets and he has some great advice about how the two industries should work together.

Aquaculture has far-reaching implications for wild seafood markets.
• Aquaculture competes with wild production
– Aquaculture expands supply which tends to lower prices
– Aquaculture creates new standards for quality, consistency and availability
• Aquaculture expands demand for fish
– Aquaculture makes fish more widely available
– Aquaculture introduces consumers to fish species
– Aquaculture creates new products
– Aquaculture invests in marketing
– By expanding total demand, aquaculture can expand demand for wild fish as
a “natural” alternative to farmed fish—if wild fish is marketed effectively.
• Aquaculture changes seafood market dynamics
– As wild production becomes a smaller part of total supply, prices don’t
increase as much when wild catches fall
– Aquaculture creates price cycles similar to those for meat and poultry
– Over time, fish prices trend downwards as farming costs fall allowing farmed
production to expand.
– Large scale aquaculture production creates new distribution channels for
seafood
– Aquaculture changes the balance of economic and political power in the
seafood Industry

“Part of the opportunity to increase demand for Alaska salmon is to get more consumers to eat SALMON.
• The more salmon consumers there are, the more wild salmon consumers there will be.
• We should be seriously considering working together with salmon farmers for generic promotion of all salmon.”

Sadly this advice was given in 2003 and to date has not been followed. These two industries are spread between many different countries; it is unlikely that we can expect cooperation in the future.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2012 in Opinion, Series

 

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Going Green Good for Pattison’s Pocket Book

A common protest against salmon farms is that they are owned by multinational corporations. It seems that to these protesters big industry = bad. But when a large industry matches your world view it is ok and it doesn’t matter how much money they make or how many nations they are involved in because they agree with your beliefs. Two examples of this: the “wild” Alaskan fishery (marketing coordinated by ASMI) and Jim Pattison Group (which owns companies across Canada and the US). I have talked at length about the billion dollar Alaskan industry but what is going on with Jim Pattison Group (JPG)?

June 28, 2012: Overwaitea Food Group, which is owned by JPG,  achieved a “green” ranking in Greenpeace‘s seafood sustainability report by discontinuing “red-listed” items such as net-pen farmed salmon. Carmen Churcott, vice-president, OFG, stated in the OFG press release: “At the end of the day, we want people to feel confident that we’re doing everything we can to provide seafood today that also ensures that seafood will be available for future generations.”

That sounds like a nice sentiment. A question arises though… where will that seafood come from? They point out that they are sourcing land-raised coho and are able to sell it at all their stores. That is great for fresh salmon but what about frozen and canned salmon? They will sell Canfisco products of course!

In 1984 JPG acquired the Canadian Fishing Company which is also known as Gold Seal.

Is the elimination of net-pen raised salmon a choice for the sustainability of the environment or the sustainability of a multinational corporation who has a huge stake in the diminishing returns of the Alaskan “wild” fishery?

Not all grocery stores are jumping on the Greenpeace band wagon. Sobeys disagrees with Greenpeace. David Smith, Sobeys’ vice-president of sustainability, has said  “We don’t follow the herd.” Sobeys and its parent company Empire Company do not have any direct links to seafood production and seem to be able to make a more informed decision than the JPG.

Thankfully not all supermarkets give in to pressure from protest groups or take the easy way out of competition between seafood products. There are many stores across Canada that offer Canadians the ability to choose what they think is best for their families.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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