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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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Hatchery fish are not wild

This is part two in a three part series on Alaskan salmon ranching. Click link to view part 1: Alaska’s Little White Lie.

Salmon aquaculture in Alaska can be described multiple ways: salmon ranching, salmon enhancement and salmon hatcheries. Because they don’t grow the fish to full size for market and because of the stigma they and others have attached to salmon farming, Alaska works hard to distance itself from any association with the aquaculture industry by claiming that 100% of its fish is wild.

The Pacific Ocean, like all the other oceans in the world, has been heavily fished for centuries. In the past century, all the world’s oceans have been fished nearly to the limit thanks to the advent of highly industrialized fisheries. In the ‘70s this was clearly felt by both the U.S. and Canada and both countries expanded their hatchery programs to make up for some of the lost fish.

Over time the two countries went in different directions. Alaska focused on industrial scale hatcheries to supplement the commercial fishing industry. B.C. focused on a mix of smaller, government funded, hatcheries to enhance specific wild stocks and to supplement commercial fisheries, and also allowed private salmon farming companies.

Hatcheries have played an important role in conservation. They have contributed to the conservation of salmon populations and also to the conservation and restoration of watersheds crucial for salmon habitat.  They have also contributed to the increase in knowledge about the salmon life cycle and how human impact on the land affects salmon populations. Without hatcheries, our wild salmon would be in a far worse state.

However they were not enough to stop the general decline in wild salmon productivity which was inevitable once we started catching up to 80 per cent of them, every year.

That is why people started trying to farm salmon instead of catch them.

As salmon from salmon farms started making waves in the market, Alaska started its campaign against B.C. farmed salmon. The history of hatcheries is closely tied to economics. However, for this article I am focusing on the risks and benefits of hatchery production. I will take a closer look at the money trail behind hatcheries and the wild vs. farmed debate another time.

Here is an overview of the history of hatcheries:

“The artificial propagation of fish has been around a very long time, but the use of hatcheries to increase the abundance of salmon on a large scale is relatively new, within the last 160 years. Modern hatchery programs for salmon have their roots in a discovery made by two French fishermen in 1841. The fishermen, Messieurs Gehin and Remy, observed salmon spawning for several nights, then developed a procedure for stripping eggs from female salmon and fertilizing them. They also devised apparatus for incubating and hatching the eggs. In the late 19th century, the belief that humans should control the reproduction of economically important fishes and, that in doing so they would increase the abundance of salmon had strong intuitive appeal. The basis for that belief was found in agriculture.

Early proponents of artificial propagation of fishes compared hatcheries to farms. The comparison with farms gave hatcheries instant success by analogy. Agriculture had increased the production of important human foods so it was natural to conclude that fish farms (hatcheries) would increase the production of fishes. This success through association with agriculture was unfortunate because it removed the incentive to actually determine the performance of hatcheries. Thirty-five years after the two French fishermen made their discovery, hatcheries were propagating Pacific salmon and the U. S. Fish Commission was proclaiming that artificial propagation would make salmon so abundant that there would be no need to regulate harvest or protect habitat. Such hyperbole had no basis in science, but those who wanted to maintain high harvest rates or alter the habitat in salmon rivers accepted it as fact.

As a consequence, hatcheries were constructed and used as a substitute for habitat protection and harvest regulation. It is now generally recognized that accepting hatcheries in lieu of habitat and rational harvest was not an effective tradeoff. Artificial propagation was not able to maintain the abundance of salmon. However, as wild populations declined with the loss of habitat and under the pressure of excessive harvest, the small number of adults that hatcheries were able to produce became a larger and larger part of the total run. Salmon of hatchery origin are now the dominant type of fish in many watersheds [in the Pacific Northwest].

…Hatcheries are here to stay. Whether or not the original goal of hatcheries was valid, we did trade habitat for artificial propagation and in many rivers that habitat will not be restored to even a fraction of its original productivity. In many of those systems, natural salmon production will need to be augmented with hatcheries.”

Risks

Sockeye salmon at a Columbia River hatchery

For years the debate over hatcheries has raged. Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Those who are cautious about hatcheries generally agree about the risks involved.

In May 2012 the Wild Salmon Center’s program State of the Salmon: Knowledge across Borders uploaded a collection of more than 20 studies by leading university scientists and government fishery researchers in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Russia and Japan. The collective evidence from these studies suggests that salmon raised in man-made hatcheries can harm wild salmon through competition for food and habitat. The research volume was published in the May issue of Environmental Biology of Fishes.

From their press release:

“The genetic effects of mixing hatchery fish with wild population have been well-documented,” says journal editor David Noakes from Oregon State University. “But until now the ecological effects were largely hypothetical. Now we know the problems are real and warrant more attention from fisheries managers.”

…says Pete Rand, “…What we’re seeing here in example after example is growing scientific evidence that hatchery fish can actually edge out wild populations.”

Losing wild fish would mean losing the genetic diversity that has allowed salmon to survive for centuries. Unlike hatchery fish, wild salmon population have a range of highly specialized adaptation to the natural environment. These adaptations not only help them return to their home streams to spawn, but also increase their ability to withstand environmental changes like increase in ocean temperature and extreme variations in stream flows. Hatchery fish, as the name implies, are hatched from eggs fertilized in a controlled environment and raised in captivity until they are big enough to release into the natural environment. They lack the genetic diversity of wild fish that provides insurance against fisheries collapse.

“…These studies suggest that even more caution is needed to make sure hatchery programs keep wild salmon safe, and don’t inadvertently hurt the long term potential of salmon runs,” says Rand.

… The increasing global demand for salmon has resulted in calls to further expand hatchery production, especially in Russia and Alaska. In a 2010 open letter to Alaska hatcheries, seafood processors proposed increasing pink salmon hatchery returns by 25%-115% over the next five years. Similarly, Russian hatchery managers stated in 2010 that Russia is planning to build 23 new hatcheries that would increase the country’s hatchery production by 66% or 680 million fish.

…says Rand “…The prospect of additional increase in hatchery production is worrisome for the long-term survival of wild salmon.”

The press release also notes that one of the new studies indicates that chum salmon from Asian hatcheries,  mostly from Japan, have caused declines in wild chum salmon populations in Alaska. Genetic data is showing that the fish share the same feeding ground in the open waters of the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean. The abundance of adult chum salmon from hatcheries is now much greater than wild chum salmon so the authors are not surprised to see evidence of completion in the North Pacific.

It is also noted that competition will get tougher as ocean conditions change. The current patterns are able to support large populations of salmon but as these patterns shift, food availability for salmon could drop making it even harder for wild salmon populations to survive.

These recent findings echo older sources. Other risks are also worth noting:

Oregon business council:

Catastrophic Loss. Because hatcheries raise fish in large numbers that are restricted to relatively small space they are vulnerable to catastrophic losses of biological (e.g. disease) or mechanical (e.g. pump failure) origin.

Loss of Diversity. To reduce cost hatcheries, like factories, employ economies of scale. This leads to reliance on a few large stocks instead of a diversity of stocks of various sizes. This is equivalent to “placing all our eggs in one basket” and increases the risk of major disruptions in production during adverse environmental conditions.

Cost. The economic cost of replacing most or all natural salmon production with hatcheries would be prohibitive.

Loss of Genetic Diversity. In agriculture, where we do have a reliance on artificial production of crops, we maintain at great expense seed banks that attempt to collect and preserve the genetic diversity of important food crops. Those seed banks have proven to be absolutely necessary to maintain production. There is no equivalent seed banks for salmon genetic diversity except in the thousands of populations that still inhabit rivers across the landscape. Heavy reliance on hatcheries could erode the genetic diversity of salmon and threaten their long term productivity.

Evaluating Alaska’s Ocean-Ranching Salmon Hatcheries:

Hatchery fish are different than wild fish:

“Given the controlled environmental conditions in a hatchery, it is not surprising that fish reared under these conditions are markedly different than their wild counterparts in behavior, morphology, survival, and reproductive ability.

…Many studies have indicated that the hatchery-rearing environment can influence the behavior of salmon. Levels of aggression and antagonistic behavior appear to differ between domesticated and wild populations.

…Hatchery strains are typically more surface oriented than are wild fish. Most of the innate surface orientation of hatchery fish is likely an adaptive response to the practice of introducing food at the surface of the water (Flagg et al. 2000).

…Either inadvertently or intentionally, hatcheries often develop strains that spawn at different times than their ancestral stock. The most common practice is to select for early run timing by spawning a disproportionate higher percentage of the early returning fish. An advantage of a temporal separation from a management perspective is to separate stocks in a fishery and minimize interbreeding. A disadvantage is that if interbreeding does take place, the progeny of domestic strains and wild-domestic crosses may emerge prior to peak abundance of natural aquatic food sources and thus suffer higher mortality rates.

…Competition for resources between hatchery and wild salmon stocks has become a significant concern.

…Based on a review of the literature and discussions with biologists, geneticists, and fishery managers, it is widely believed that extensive ocean ranching may pose a threat to the ocean’s carrying capacity and the protection of salmon biodiversity.”

Do Salmon Hatchery ‘Sources’ Lead to In-River ‘Sinks’ in Conservation?:

“The cross breeding of wild and hatchery fish may diminish fitness in the wild. This creates a challenge in managing the stocks – the hatchery may be functioning as a critical conservation tool that itself may erode the natural population.”

The Great Salmon Run:

“Some critics question whether the Alaska salmon hatchery program may adversely affect Alaska’s natural wild salmon runs. One concern relates to the potential for competition for food between hatchery salmon and natural wild salmon, both for juvenile fish in near shore waters as well as in the open ocean. Another set of issues relate to the management of commercial fisheries in which fishermen are catching mixed stocks of hatchery and natural wild salmon. If large returns of hatchery fish are mixed with depleted runs of natural wild fish, there is the likelihood for over-harvests of natural wild fish runs. Finally, an issue which may grow in importance over time is the effect of Alaska’s salmon hatchery program on the “wild” image of Alaska salmon fisheries.

…In British Columbia, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans launched a Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP) in 1977… A 2000 review concluded that it was difficult to say whether the SEP had produced any net gain of salmon, and that there was evidence to suggest that it had contributed to a net loss of wild salmon abundance, partly because of competition of juvenile hatchery fish with wild juvenile fish, and partly because of unsustainably high harvest rates on co-migrating wild salmon (Pacific Fisheries Research Council 2000).

…Overall, hatcheries add another dimension of complexity and ambiguity to the environmental, economic and social issues related to wild and farmed salmon. Once thought of as a way to restore and enhance natural wild salmon runs, hatchery salmon are now recognized as potentially harmful to natural wild salmon runs because of genetic interactions and competition for food and habitat in freshwater and marine environments. Particularly in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, there is an active debate among scientists, commercial fishermen and the public as to the appropriate role and scale of salmon hatcheries.”

Wild Salmon center:

  • Hatchery-bred salmon are inefficient in foraging, and more aggressive, yet they tend to congregate during migration, and approach (rather than flee) potential predators;
  • Hatchery-bred salmon have a higher number of eggs when reproducing, yet their breeding success is lower;
  • Hatchery-bred salmon are less variable in shape and size when juveniles, and duller in color;
  • Hatchery-bred salmon have higher survival rates during the egg-smolt stages, but lower survival from smolting to adulthood.

“On the basis of these distinctions, the Wild Salmon Center is concerned about the future genetic interactions between hatchery and wild salmon populations; especially the risk that the fitness of wild salmon populations will be degraded by long-term interbreeding between these populations.”

Benefits

Despite the risks involved in hatcheries there are benefits such as the restoration of lost populations. In Washington streams where the fish returns were extremely low (0-12 fish returning) a brood program was started in 1977. In 1999 it saw returns of 800 adults[1]. In B.C., on the Sunshine Coast, Chapman Creek had a record of 40-80 Coho returning before enhancement. In 1999 between 1500-2000 Coho returned to Chapman Creek; this provided an economic benefit to the Sunshine Coast through the recreational fishery[2].

School kids on a hatchery tour at Quatse River Hatchery near Port Hardy B.C.

Another benefit to hatcheries is their educational value. Elementary schools can visit hatcheries to learn about conservation and the salmon life cycle. Some schools even have small hatchery programs where eggs are brought to the school for class to study and are hatched in an aquarium for all the school to see. Those fish are then released (under guidance) into local streams or rivers.

Hatcheries also bring attention to habitat degradation and the importance of enhancement and restoration of spawning grounds. If there had been no major enhancement projects, other uses of water and watersheds would have had a much higher priority. There would have been a lower public awareness of habitat needs and without hatcheries there would have been a greater acceptance of the “writing off” of stocks. Awareness brought about by a focus on hatcheries allowed for governments to restrict development along rivers in order to protect fish. Development would have taken over the watersheds in the urban and developed areas in Washington  and B.C., such as the Georgia Basin area and the Fraser River, had the hatchery programs not been started.[3]

Hatchery salmon are not wild

Alaska has spent a lot of time and money promoting “wild” Alaskan salmon. In a brochure on the Alaskan government’s website the government defends the practices of their hatcheries by stating: “Alaska’s current hatchery program has enhanced and supplemented wild stock production for over 30 years, without detecting adverse impacts on wild salmon, which are at record levels of production.”

This statement assumes that hatchery fish are wild; wild salmon are at record levels of production; therefore hatchery programs have no adverse impacts on wild salmon.

But assuming hatchery fish are wild is a big mistake.

While the paper Evaluating Alaska’s Ocean-Ranching Salmon Hatcheries states many of the risks with hatcheries, it does point out that:

“It may be easy to identify risks that hatcheries pose for natural populations; it is not so easy to predict whether deleterious effects have occurred or, if they have, how serious the consequences will be.

Not all hatchery fish are identified by fin clipping because it would be too time-consuming and expensive. This makes it very difficult to observe a returning population and truly understand the effects hatchery fish have had on the wild population. We just don’t know which returning fish are from a hatchery, and which are truly wild. Hatchery fish are not monitored after they leave the river systems so it is also hard to know exactly what interactions and competition happen in the ocean.

Some of the studies published in the May edition of Environmental Biology of Fishes would agree to some extent that impacts are not easy to see but they are cautious because genetic changes have been proven and the evidence is mounting to support the other risk factors.

From the Heard 2011 abstract:

“Although some interactions between hatchery salmon and wild salmon are unavoidable including increasing concerns over straying of hatchery fish into wild salmon streams, obvious adverse impacts from hatcheries on production of wild salmon populations in this region are not readily evident.”

From the Grant 2011 abstract:

“However, virtually nothing is known about the effects of hatchery fish on wild populations in Alaska.

… Possible effects of these interactions can be inferred from studies of salmonids in other areas, from studies of other animals, and from theory. Numerous studies show a complex relationship between the genetic architecture of a population and its environment.

… Studies of salmonids in other areas show that hatchery practices can lead to the loss of genetic diversity, to shifts in adult run timing and earlier maturity, to increases in parasite load, to increases in straying, to altered levels of boldness and dominance, to shifts in juvenile out-migration timing, and to changes in growth. Controlled experiments across generations show, and theory predicts, that the loss of adaptive fitness in hatchery salmon, relative to fitness in wild salmon, can occur on a remarkably short time scale.”

From the Environmental Biology of Fishes introduction:

“Unintended effects of hatcheries are much more difficult and costly to assess than evaluating the benefits of hatchery production to provide harvest opportunities.”

Science is never “done”

It is apparent that more study needs to be done with regard to the direct effect hatchery salmon have on wild populations. However the risks that have been stated are real and are worth considering when looking at the fitness of wild populations.

To sum up

All human actions impact the environment, including hatcheries. Hatchery programs have important benefits, but they also carry risks of impacting truly wild stocks. Calling hatchery fish wild is dishonest and misleading, and their risks as well as benefits need to be considered, not cloaked in marketing and conveniently ignored.

The Great Salmon Run summarizes the issue of hatchery vs. wild vs. farmed salmon quite well:

Recognize that the choices are not between wild and farmed salmon. It is essential to move away from the simplistic perspective that policy makers and consumers face a choice between wild salmon and farmed salmon. Salmon farming is a major world industry which is here to stay. Wild salmon is incapable of supplying the much larger domestic and world salmon market which has been created by farmed salmon. Natural wild salmon, hatchery salmon, and salmon farming all offer potential economic opportunities and benefits to consumers. All also have inherent risks. The real issues are how to take responsible advantage of the potential economic opportunities and benefits to consumers from both wild and farmed salmon.”


[1] http://www.sfu.ca/cstudies/science/resources/1273782663.pdf An Overview of Washington Hatcheries. Lee Blankenship, Hatchery Review Group, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

[2] http://www.sfu.ca/cstudies/science/resources/1273782663.pdf A Brief History of Chapman Creek Hatchery: Bob Anstead, Chapman Creek Hatchery, Sunshine Coast Salmonid Enhancement Society

[3] http://www.sfu.ca/cstudies/science/resources/1273782663.pdf Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP) in British Columbia: Al Wood, Allen Wood Consulting

Part 3: Profits First!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Opinion, Series

 

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Mean girls (and boys)

Mean girls

Anti-salmon farming fanatics’ bullying and shaming tactics are like a trip back to middle school.

While North American democracy has its flaws it does have one enduring quality: freedom of expression/speech. The U.S.A. and Canada have different ways of expressing rights and freedoms but the intention is the same in each case.

USA: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Canada: Section 2(b) of the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] states that “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: … freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of a functioning democracy. Freedom of expression promotes certain societal values, as noted by Professor Emerson in 1963: “Maintenance of a system of free expression is necessary (1) as assuring individual self-fulfillment, (2) as a means of attaining the truth, (3) as a method of securing participation by the members of the society in social, including political, decision-making, and (4) as maintaining the balance between stability and change in society.”

Protesting plays an important part in our society. The ability to express your opinion with the hope of being heard by other parties and causing change is the motivation behind acts of protest. The problem arises when expressing your opinion is done in a way that breaks the law (causing possible harm to people or property) or when bullying is used to ostracize a person, government party, religion, company or industry.

There are many groups who have shown their disapproval of salmon farming in B.C. (and other industries such as logging and mining) with a very loud voice to a very big audience (i.e. David Suzuki Foundation, Green Peace etc.). They often share false or twisted facts and sometimes used questionable means of expression but they at least have some accountability for their actions.

The same cannot be said for the group Salmon are Sacred (SAS). While technically leaderless, the organization of the group is handled by 2 people (as listed on their website): Alexandra Morton and Anissa Reed. This organization has a very active public Facebook page (it can be read by anyone but you have to be accepted in order to comment) and Morton has her own blog that SAS shares openly. By claiming to be “leaderless” SAS does not have to be accountable for the actions of its members. Each person acts “independently” and others can choose to join those actions or not.  But the truth is that Reed and Morton are the organizers, they are the “popular” girls in the clique that the other kids aspire to and want to impress. As with many popular girls in middle and high school, their popularity is amplified by bullying tactics.

“According to research done by Lagerspetz, Bjorqvist and Peltonen at the University of Miami, when girls bully they use things like alienation, ostracism, deliberate and calculated random exclusions, and spreading of rumors to harass their peers.[1]

There is no question that SAS and its close associates ostracize salmon farmers. Their only goal is to shut down salmon farming all together. Some claim that they want to see closed containment aquaculture but many don’t want to see any form of salmon aquaculture at all.

The bullying is not just against salmon farmers around the world but also toward this group’s “peers.” Who are their peers? People who are concerned about the environment and would like to feel they are part of a group who is actively engaged in something. How are they bullied? In subtle ways.

“Girls get other kids to gang up on one or more peers as a way of exerting control. Sometimes they incite other children to act out aggressively and sit back to watch the show… They form alliances with other social groups in an effort to jockey for popularity and positions of power among peers. All too often the bullying tactics used by girls are brushed off as cruel but normal social interactions.

While it is normal for girls and boys to form social groups and close bonds with certain people at the exclusion of others it becomes bullying when those groups make power plays over other groups or individuals. Having friends is one thing; having friends who work to make others feel that they are not good enough to be included is another. Playing the popularity game in a way that causes fear or inadequacy in others is a form of bullying and it is a common tactic used by girls.”[1]

One recent example of the emotional manipulation, rumor milling and fact falsifying is a petition posted by Morton on change.org.

“Recently, I received lab results showing that large supermarket chains are selling farmed salmon that are testing positive for salmon flu virus and the salmon heart virus. I am horrified to think that my friends are feeding their children infected fish.”

This is the misinformation Morton and her friends try to use to manipulate people into feeling that her opinions are right and everyone who disagrees with her is wrong (even if they have scientific data to back them up.) If you want to be her friend, you must believe what she says and do what she says and in this case don’t feed your children “infected fish.”

But someone with a science degree should know that every fish, every animal, every plant, the air you breath and the water you drink all contain viruses. Farmed salmon are no exception, and neither are wild salmon. As wild salmon grow in fresh and salt water they pass viruses and diseases back and forth with other wild fish, freshly hatched and returning to spawn. When they head out into salt water, they are carrying viruses when they pass salmon farms, possibly infecting the farmed fish (which are entered into the ocean virus-free). And what’s even more of a factor, the ocean is naturally full of viruses everywhere. Viruses are the most abundant form of life on this planet, including in the ocean. That means that the wild fish you just bought for dinner is full of viruses!

The emotional manipulation of “I am horrified to think that my friends are feeding their children infected fish” is just plain ridiculous. The language in these scare tactics is outrageous:

 “I am trying to protect our children from industrial viruses in our food that are being kept secret… Although we are told these viruses cannot reproduce in human body temperatures, we also know that flu viruses mutate in feedlots and have a history of becoming dangerous, so we want to know when we are taking that risk…. No one knows what these powerful Atlantic salmon viruses will do to the wild salmon of the Pacific; they are unpredictable. In Chile, ISA virus became more virulent and spread faster than was known possible.”

She is implying that if you feed your kids farmed Atlantic salmon you are a bad parent because of what you are exposing them to. This is a logical fallacy much like the loaded question “when did you stop beating your wife” intended to bully someone into accepting your point of view.

The CFIA tests food all across Canada. They have the final word on farmed animal health, yet Morton suggests they are liars. If you are not willing to accept when the CFIA says farmed salmon is safe to eat than you can’t believe anything the agency says about the safety of the food you buy.  If you are willing to trust that the burgers you grill on the BBQ this summer are safe for your family then you can trust that the salmon you just bought is also safe for your family.

Morton also uses the term “powerful Atlantic salmon viruses” but doesn’t explain what she means. Powerful how? She uses emotion to create fear and doubt and imply that there is some kind of conspiracy or cover-up and only she has the truth. It is a power play to get everyone to listen to her and follow her.

“Girls bully by using emotional violence. They do things that make others feel alienated and alone. Some of the tactics used by girls who bully include:

  • anonymous prank phone calls or harassing emails from dummy accounts

[or petitions full of false information, letters to government representatives, also with false information…]

  • playing jokes or tricks designed to embarrass and humiliate
  • deliberate exclusion of other kids for no real reason
  • whispering in front of other kids with the intent to make them feel left out

[writing blogs attacking people but not publishing comments that disagree with your point of view]

Yelling at someone to go home before they have had a chance to share their point of view does not encourage open communication.

  • name calling, rumor spreading and other malicious verbal interactions

[Facebook, protest signs, blogs]

  • being friends one week and then turning against a peer the next week with no incident or reason for the alienation

[claiming to want to help the industry change but being unwilling to have an open dialog that doesn’t include shutting the industry down]

  • encouraging other kids to ignore or pick on a specific child

Encouraging others to post the petition full of false and inflammatory information on every Facebook page imaginable…

  • inciting others to act out violently or aggressively” [1]

Carrying signs with anti-Norwegian slogans and blocking a bus full of Norwegians who are trying to attend a meeting on salmon farming in B.C. – not an act of peaceful protest.

“Girls will choose a victim and identify what is most important to that child. They will then focus on ways to damage, sabotage, or disrupt what is important to the child. The goal of this activity is to gain power over the victim through isolation, humiliation, and control of her interactions with others.” [2]

This sounds really familiar… replace child with industry and it sounds like behaviour seen recently. Entering bio-security areas to take video and protest a farm with an identified virus, interfering with staff who are trying to off-load fish under quarantine situations, filling the media and internet with more fallacies and fear, all in an attempt to have fish farms shut down forever.

“This is often accomplished by encouraging other children not to be friends with the child, spreading rumors, cyber-bullying, and bullying by text. Some girls will even encourage other children to join in with the bullying. Girl bullies can wield this type of power because they can be quite charming and popular on the surface. Others are naturally attracted to that charisma and want to be friends. The girl bullies then manipulate people in those relationships. The bully’s accomplices are sometimes unaware of what they are being drawn into until they are socially entrapped. They carry out the bully’s instructions and mimic her behaviors because they do not want to become victims themselves.” [2]

“I am so sorry, please don’t hate me, really I am on your team, it was just a mistake, I would never speak out against you…” Feeling the peer pressure?

Sadly there are many people who have bought into SAS and Morton’s emotional and fear-mongering appeals and will blindly talk about sea-lice and disease transfer as major problems and examples of why fish farms should be removed from B.C. waters — yet never bother to research any information contrary to what Morton says. If they tried to think for themselves, they would find out that sea lice is naturally occurring in wild salmon and that there is no evidence of higher mortalities of salmon related to sea lice. They would also learn about how diseases are transferred and that there is no evidence of “amplification” or “mutation” of diseases from fish farms threatening wild fish (who naturally carry viruses and diseases and migrate and spawn in the millions in river systems while fingerling salmon are still growing).

These are not the words of a peaceful protester convincing me with logical arguments that her opinion is worth listening to.

Here are some more tactics used by girl bullies that sound similar to actions taken over the years by Morton and other supporters of Salmon Are Sacred.

  • Becoming friends with the intended victim to gain access to information about them that can later be used to hurt them.
  • Encouraging others to not be friends with the victim.
  • Encouraging others to bully the victim by calling her names or taking part in elaborate schemes that will result in the child being publicly humiliated or punished.
  • Making others ignore the child.
  • Spreading rumors.
  • Breaking up any friendships the child victim attempts to form.
  • Gossiping about the child or the child’s friends or family. [2]

On the Salmon are Sacred website they have posted a code of conduct for their supporters. These are great things to strive for and if they really did follow this code online and in the real world this blog would not be necessary.

Peaceful Direct Action Code

  1. Our attitude is one of openness, friendliness and respect towards all beings we encounter.
  2. We will use no violence, verbal or physical, toward any being.
  3. We will not damage any property and will discourage others from doing so.
  4. We will strive for an atmosphere of calm and dignity.
  5. We will carry no weapons.
  6. We will not bring or use alcohol or drugs.

Looking at the comments on their Facebook page in the last few days shows that they do not apply or enforce either #1 or #4.

Around the same time Morton posted her petition, Annie Paddle posted a petition against Morton’s conduct with regards to herfalse and misleading statements about the industry” and her violations of bio security that were put in place to deal with the IHN virus.

SAS followers are claiming this petition is a personal attack against Morton and (ironically) an act of bullying. The problem with their assertions are that Morton has isolated herself as an activist willing to go to extremes to get public attention and get her point across. She is not being picked on because she is an easy target but she is being focused on because she goes to great lengths to be the most well known anti-fish farm activist in B.C. and while claiming to want the best for the wild salmon she more interested in pointing blame.

For people who say they want free speech they are sure not being generous to opposing points of view.

Which petition has the false information?

Here is another shining example of how some people think freedom of speech is only for people whose opinions you agree with:

Criminals? What law is being broken? Just because people disagree with you doesn’t make them criminals.

Salmon Are Sacred do not shy away from isolating people from the crowd and calling them names, poking fun at clothing, gloating like Grade 9s over spelling mistakes, or plainly and simply saying that those peoples’ opinions do not have any merit. Two people who have been singled out this time are Laurie Jansen and Hereditary clan Chief Harold Sewid. I have screen captures of some of the comments made on the SAS Facebook page but they are so malicious that I don’t want to share them here. It reads like a group of teenage girls huddled around talking about another girl. Kind of like this:

“Baby Got Back”

[Intro]
Oh, my, god. Becky, look at her butt.
It is so big. [scoff] She looks like,
one of those rap guys’ girlfriends.
But, you know, who understands those rap guys? *scoff*
They only talk to her, because,
she looks like a total prostitute, ‘kay?
I mean, her butt, is just so big.
I can’t believe it’s just so round, it’s like,
out there, I mean – gross. Look!
She’s just so … black!

These types of comments are not reserved for Facebook either. Paddle’s petition itself has had many nasty comments by people who agreed to the petition solely so that they could comment against it.

It is clear that Salmon are Sacred is a group of hypocrites. They are against salmon farms because they believe they harm the wild fish but they are willing to violate bio security measures, risking spreading virus to the wild fish they claim must be protected from any and all risks, in order to get their story. They claim an attitude of openness, friendliness and respect towards all beings they encounter but shriek at and abuse anyone who disagrees with them. They say they want free speech but when the pro-fish farming people speak up they are told to shut up and go home. These fanatics need to see that their actions are not acts of peaceful protest but are open and aggressive acts of bullying.

 
31 Comments

Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Opinion

 

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Alaska’s little white lie

The dichotomy in action.

The state of Alaska, through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), claims that all the salmon caught by fishermen in Alaska are wild. Sustainable seafood ecolabels such as MSC and guides such as Seachoice perpetuate this claim and further claim that current fishing methods are sustainable.

Is the salmon in our supermarkets as wild as we are led to believe, or is Alaska telling a little white lie to encourage the farmed vs. wild dichotomy?

Looking around the internet at sites that protest salmon farming you are often confronted with the recommendation to “eat wild.” Where am I supposed to get this wild salmon? For most people in B.C., local salmon is not that easy to obtain, except for a month or two in summer. During the rest of the year, most of the salmon sold in large B.C. supermarkets is from Alaska. Most salmon with a Seachoice or MSC label is from Alaska. MSC recently certified B.C. pink and sockeye fisheries, and will certify chum fisheries this year,  but the Seachoice guide still lists B.C. salmon as having “some concerns” while Alaska salmon are green lights all the way.

Chum Opening at Hidden Falls Hatchery – An example of Alaska’s so called “sustainable” fisheries.

Alaska hauls in huge amounts of fish every year. How are they able to sustain such large catches year after year? “Careful management” is the reason given on the MSC website and the Seachoice website. Depending on how you look at it, “Careful management” has three parts: 1. Hatchery programs, 2. catch limits, 3. a prohibition on finfish farming.

Salmon aquaculture protesters hold Alaska in high esteem for their aquaculture policies (prohibitions) and ASMI use this to their advantage when talking about this legislation.

Alaska salmon are wild; there are no salmon farms in Alaska. In order to protect Alaska’s wild fisheries from potential problems, salmon farming was prohibited by the Alaska legislature in 1990 (Alaska Statute 16.40.210).

All Alaska salmon live in their natural habitat in the cold, clean waters of the North Pacific Ocean. Here they grow to adulthood at their natural pace, eating only their natural foods like shrimp, herring, squid, zooplankton, and other marine life. They swim free on the high seas and then return to their natal streams on their own schedule. This is why Alaska’s salmon fisheries are seasonal, rather than year-round. Alaska salmon are wild; there are no salmon farms in Alaska. In order to protect Alaska’s wild fisheries from potential problems, salmon farming was prohibited by the Alaska legislature in 1990 (Alaska Statute 16.40.210).

Here is the statute:

Alaska Statutes – Section 16.40.210.: Finfish farming prohibited.

a) A person may not grow or cultivate finfish in captivity or under positive control for commercial purposes.
(b) This section does not restrict
(1) the fishery rehabilitation, enhancement, or development activities of the department;
(2) the ability of a nonprofit corporation that holds a salmon hatchery permit under AS 16.10.400 to sell salmon returning from the natural water of the state, as authorized under AS 16.10.450, or surplus salmon eggs, as authorized under AS 16.10.420 and 16.10.450;
(3) rearing and sale of ornamental finfish for aquariums or ornamental ponds provided that the fish are not reared in or released into water of the state.
(c) In this section “ornamental finfish” means fish commonly known as “tropical fish,” “aquarium fish,” or “goldfish,” that are imported, cultured, or sold in the state customarily for viewing in aquaria or for raising in artificial systems, and not customarily used for sport fishing or human consumption purposes.

For those not fluent in legalese here is an explanation from an FAQ on the government of Alaska’s site:

Can I raise fish?
No. Alaska statute 16.40.210 prohibits finfish farming. However, Alaska does allow nonprofit ocean ranching. Finfish farming is defined as growing or cultivating finfish in captivity. Ocean ranching, on the other hand, involves releasing young fish into public waters and being available for harvest by fishermen upon their return to Alaskan waters as adults.

So, as with most things in life, it comes down to money. As long as you are not making a profit from your finfish aquaculture facility you can grow fish.

Is there finfish aquaculture in Alaska? Yes. Eggs are harvested from wild fish and grown in closed containment hatcheries. When they hatch they are fed commercial fish feed, then, when they are too big for closed containment facilities, they are put into ocean or lake net pens where they are fed pellets, leave their excrement on the ocean floor, deal with sea lice and receive vaccinations to ensure that the spread of disease is very low. However, because the fish are released into the ocean to return when they are mature, these operations are labeled “hatcheries” or “salmon enhancement programs” instead of fish farms.

In Alaska the hatcheries are run by public non-profit (PNP) organizations paid for by fishermen and the government of Alaska. Because these fish are raised for a few years then released into the ocean to live out their last year or so, any fish caught by a fisherman (regardless of where it started its life) is considered a wild fish:

5 AAC 39.222(f)(43) Policy for the management of sustainable salmon fisheries. “wild salmon stock” means a stock of salmon that originates in a specific location under natural conditions; “wild salmon stock” may include an enhanced or rehabilitated stock if its productivity is augmented by supplemental means, such as lake fertilization or rehabilitative stocking; “wild salmon stock” does not include an introduced stock, except that some introduced salmon stocks may come to be considered “wild” if the stock is self-sustaining for a long period of time.

It cannot be said that Alaska has no finfish aquaculture, only that the fish are not harvested from a site for profit. They are instead released to be caught later by fishermen, who then sell them for a profit.

The Wally Noerenberg hatchery (above) on Esther Island in Prince William Sound is one of the largest such facilities in Alaska, releasing 175 million pink and chum salmon in 2006. The fish farm pens adjacent to the hatchery are used to hold the fish prior to release.

PNPs don’t deny the term aquaculture. In fact, many of them use the word aquaculture in their corporate titles: Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation, Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.

What is aquaculture? According to Wikipedia:

Aquaculture, also known as aquafarming, is the farming of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic plants.[1][2] Aquaculture involves cultivating freshwater and saltwater populations under controlled conditions, and can be contrasted with commercial fishing, which is the harvesting of wild fish.

The aquaculture of salmon is the farming and harvesting of salmon under controlled conditions. Farmed salmon can be contrasted with wild salmon captured using commercial fishing techniques. However, the concept of “wild” salmon as used by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute includes stock enhancement fish produced in hatcheries that have historically been considered ocean ranching. The percentage of the Alaska salmon harvest resulting from ocean ranching depends upon the species of salmon and location, [3] however it is all marketed as “wild Alaska salmon”.

Consumers are constantly being advised to “eat wild salmon” but how wild should the fish be? Is Alaska’s definition of any fish caught by a fisherman close enough or do we need to be more exacting in our definition and follow the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council’s definition?

“Salmon are considered “wild” if they have spent their entire life cycle in the wild and originate from parents that were also produced by natural spawning and continuously lived in the wild.”

Is it fair to market Alaskan salmon as truly wild? Many people say no:
The Truth about Alaskan Salmon  :The term ‘wild’ is false – up to 50% of ‘wild’ salmon in Alaska have been hatched in a plastic tray, fed pellets and then released from captivity to mix with real naturally wild salmon. Of course there’s plenty of salmon in Alaska – Alaska releases about two billion (yeah, billion-not to be confused with the word million) cultured salmon into Pacific waters every year. By cultured, we mean hatchery raised, pellet fed, vaccinated little salmon.  Heck, they probably have names!

Fair Questions: In its early years, the commercial fishing industry also made mistakes.  Back in the 1950s, over-fishing got so bad that the U.S. president declared Alaska a federal disaster area.  Since then, stocks have been re-built with hatchery fish. Today, about one third of Alaskan “wild” salmon is actually born in a bucket. It is sometimes said that Alaska banned salmon farming because of environmental concerns. While that may have been part of the reason, the fact is, its too cold for fish farming in most of Alaska.

blogfish: Alaska hates farmed salmon…until Alaska produces them and re-brands them “wild.” It’s a little-known fact that many of Alaska’s so-called “wild” salmon start their lives in a fish farm before being allowed to escape into the ocean. Do you think I’m kidding? Read this just released by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation:

Pink salmon in the Prince William Sound (Alaska) are a modern, man-made marvel. Hatcheries operated by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation and the Valdez Fisheries Development Association (VFDA) are responsible for virtually all of the pink salmon harvested in Prince William Sound.

A man-made marvel? These so-called “wild” Alaska salmon start their lives in fish farms before escaping into the ocean and being caught as “wild.”

Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation, Alaska

Salmon ranching is not unique to Alaska. Canada (B.C.), Japan and Russia all have “wild” salmon being reared in net pens but each country has different size programs.

Salmon farming in B.C. has been vilified by a handful of very vocal people who are good at getting their opinions into the media. Alaskan salmon ranching has some opponents, or at least people who would like the industry to be more transparent, but it does not face the same scrutiny and negative publicity directed at salmon farming.

As with most issues relating to the ocean, the source of salmon for our dinner plates is not a simple choice of wild or farmed. Wild Alaskan salmon is not all truly wild and farmed salmon is not the enemy of the ocean.

Alaskan salmon is plentiful and flavourful; the same is true for farmed salmon, which is available fresh and affordable all year round. Discounting one source of salmon because of marketing campaigns instead of doing careful research means that you could be missing out on a great product.

Many people have examined and protested the issues of salmon farming in B.C. and around the world but there seems to be some silence surrounding Alaska and it’s hatchery programs.  There is some controversy about how effective hatcheries are at helping wild populations of salmon and some of the potential negative impacts of hatcheries.

Part 2: Hatchery Fish are not Wild
Part 3: Profits First!

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2012 in Series

 

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What’s in a name?

As Juliet once said: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

How about the titles and descriptions by the media about protesters and activists?  Typically, in a newspaper article the person being interviewed or talked about is mentioned by their first and last name, then their title/job description. From then on, in the article, they are referred to by their last name only (though sometimes a title such as Dr. continues to be used).  In the last couple of weeks two names have been very prominent in B.C. news reporting and I found it interesting to look at articles and see how the sources that agreed with the point of view of the activist used very specific language when talking about these people.

David Suzuki has a PhD in zoology from the University of Chicago. He is referred to as Dr. Suzuki on the David Suzuki Foundation website but very seldom in the media.

Suzuki has been a prominent figure in Canada for decades particularly for his work with his foundation and for his popular tv show “The Nature of Things.” It is fair to call him an environmentalist because throughout his career he has looked at many of the problems affecting our environment and has educated many people about them.  Some titles such as “Canadian icon” are disputable as is “Canada’s patron saint of the environmental movement.” That is a very lofty title that certainly raises Suzuki above all other environmentalists in Canada.

More often than not the conventional “Suzuki” is used by the media.

In contrast, the media has a much more emotional connection with Alexandra Morton. She graduated with a BSc in the 70’s. She studied whales in the Pacific for many years. One term often used in articles to describe Morton is “biologist”  or “marine biologist.” There is some discussion about whether the term biologist is accurate and one article actually calls her “a self-trained biologist

In 2010 SFU conferred upon Morton the honorary degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa. Because of this honor Morton is sometimes referred to as Dr. Alexandra Morton. This title is questionable though because honorary degrees are only really meant to bestow an honour on someone, not recognize their scientific knowledge and abilities. Putting “Dr.” in front of your name leads people to believe that you have done at least seven years of specialized studies to earn that title.

Honorary doctorates are just that, honors. This year alone, SFU will be handing out nine honorary degrees, and it’s pretty unlikely that any of the people who are to be recognized are going to put “Dr.” on their business cards afterwards.

For example, former B.C. senator Pat Carney received an honourary doctorate on the same day as Ms. Morton. I have never seen Carney call herself “Dr. Carney” anywhere.

Some writers refer to Morton as a wild salmon activist. The term wild salmon advocate has also been used. The problem with these titles is that they imply working for something. The truth is that Morton is against salmon farming. She completely ignores any other possible causes for the problems she has seen in the ocean such as over fishing, climate change or habitat loss. If she were for wild salmon she would be active in fighting every obstacle in their way, not the one pet peeve she has set her sights on.

The most accurate descriptions for Morton and her work are in reference to her work against aquaculture: Opponent of open-net fish farming or anti-fish-farming activist.

What has she ever done that was actually “for” wild salmon?

Speaking against something doesn’t count. Words are cheap.

Salmon enhancement projects are not.

I have seen the salmon farming companies year after year support wild salmon enhancement projects with donations of cash, equipment and expertise. But from the lack of attention these donations get, you’d never know it even happens.

Does a rose still smell sweet if we call it by another name? Yes. Do activists become more credible because of fan-boys who hold them on a high pedestal and call them lovely names? No.

Call a spade a spade, a rose a rose and an activist nothing more than an activist.

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2012 in Opinion

 

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