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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.

blinders1

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.

blinders3

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.

blinders2

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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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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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!

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Opinion, 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.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on April 26, 2012 in Opinion

 

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Closed Containment is not a Panacea

Closed containment fish farming is considered by anti-fish farm activists to be the panacea to all aquaculture problems.

However, problems such as land use, energy use, water use and waste removal are mostly ignored because the idea of separating farmed fish from wild sounds so easy without all the messy details.

Even wild fish hatcheries have an impact through land use, energy use and fish feed.

 

In September 2010 DFO did a financial analysis of 10 closed containment technologies. (emphasis added)

Closed-containment includes a range of technologies and operating environments, from ocean- to land-based production systems, with varying degrees of isolation and environmental interaction. Typically, the more closed a system is, the more complex it becomes, since its energy requirements are often greater and waste can be more of an issue.

… This analysis is a two-step process, involving 1) an overview of existing and developing technologies, along with a complete evaluation of the technical aspects and external risks of the most promising technologies; and 2) a financial assessment of the most promising technologies identified in the first stage.

The findings of this paper showed that closed containment is not an economically viable option for raising salmon to market size.

Closed containment salmon farming unlikely to be viable

Canada: A new report from the Canadian government suggests that only a full recirculation system on land could be the only type of closed containment that could have a hope of making a small return on investment

The new DFO report focused on a more detailed financial evaluation of the various systems, and “To begin the study, DFO conducted a preliminary financial assessment of all technology types identified by CSAS. The results indicated that only two of them—net pen and recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS)—were likely to show positive returns”. The RAS system showed a marginal return after three years of operation of 4% on an investment of some CAD$ 22.6 million- even after being given a favourable and perhaps unrealistic Biological Feed Conversion Rate (FCR) of 1.05 and twice the density of a typical net pen farm. In comparison, a conventional net pen operation with an initial investment of CAD 5 million would show a return of 52%, with a FCR of 1.27.

Anti-net pen aquaculture groups who rally behind the idea that closed containment is the only answer saw the report in a different light.

DFO study affirms viability of closed containment technology for salmon aquaculture

The Feasibility Study of Closed-Containment Options for the British Columbia Aquaculture Industry recognizes that land-based recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) are likely to show positive returns and that once the technology becomes more widely adopted within the sector, capital and operating costs may continue to go down.

“This new study shows that closed containment salmon farming is economically viable, something we have said for years,” says David Lane of T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation and CAAR. “In fact, numerous companies are moving ahead with plans for closed containment in B.C., creating a potential multi-million dollar sustainable salmon farming industry, with new jobs and an economic boost for coastal communities.”

This is a very optimistic reading of the DFO report. If this idea were brought to the dragons den with only a 4% return after three years it would be immediately turned down by all the panelists.

Closed containment is already used by all the salmon aquaculture companies to raise their eggs to the size needed before placing them in net-pen to grow to market size. RAS technology is currently being used at their hatcheries and further research into this technology is important to these companies.

Marine Harvest Canada had a need to enhance the management of its hatcheries and turned to the innovative use of the recirculating aquaculture system (RAS) where freshwater is filtered and reused. Today Marine Harvest operates nine RAS systems in its British Columbia hatcheries thereby enhancing the growth and health of young fish and reducing water requirements by 90%-97%.

The success of its RAS hatcheries has led Marine Harvest to consider the possibility of growing fish to market using land-based RAS. If this technological innovation proves viable technically and economically its use may address environmental and fish husbandry challenges that are of concern to the company and to society – but it may introduce additional challenges. At present it’s not at all clear that RAS closed containment is a viable option, but the company wants to find out.

Mainstream Canada’s parent company Cermaq is also interested in the development of these technologies.

CERMAQ´S POSITION

• Cermaq believes that present technologies for open net pens allow for sustainable aquaculture, and we aim to demonstrate this in our operations.

• Closed-containment technology does not currently represent a viable alternative, due in particular to its higher energy consumption and remaining risk of escapes.

• Cermaq will be following the development of closed containment aquaculture, and will consider testing of new concepts and explore the possibilities of closed-containment fish farming if suitable projects are presented.

The energy cost in a closed system will be significantly higher compared to the free energy given by the hydrodynamic forces in the sea. Although closed-containment systems are currently being described and promoted as environmentally-friendly alternatives to net-pen farming, there is an environmental cost associated with employing this technology which should be considered in any further evaluation of their environmental performance.

OUR INITIATIVES & ACHIEVEMENTS

• Cermaq is demonstrating that net-based salmon aquaculture is a highly sustainable way to produce salmon.

• Cermaq does not develop technology or technical equipment for fish farming, but is following technology developments closely, including the development of closed containment aquaculture.

• EWOS Innovation is testing closed containment equipment to build knowledge and network on such technologies.

These companies have invested a lot in their hatcheries and they know a lot about closed containment technologies. Salmon aquaculture companies are very interested in closed containment technology improvements, but they are realistic about the fact that, right now, closed containment is not the best choice for the entire life cycle of the fish.

Some small groups have built land based and ocean based closed containment facilities but they are proving to not be very profitable.

Farming salmon on land is a risky proposition only suitable for niche markets

Land-based salmon farming workshop brings farmers together
Campbell River Mirror, September 29, 2011 2:00 PM

Thue Holm, the CEO of Atlantic Sapphire AS, is currently working on developing a facility in Denmark capable of farming 1,000 metric tonnes of salmon on land. However, he offered some words of caution.

“It’s a niche product,” he said, pointing out that a small-scale facility such as his can’t compete directly with the main farmed salmon market.

Finding a specialized market for his product, as well as selling it at premium pricing, is important, he said.

Location is also crucial, said Steven Summerfelt, director of aquaculture systems research for the Freshwater Institute in West Virginia. Summerfelt spoke at the workshop about several projects he is involved with, including a planned land farm site in Washington State which can buy electricity for only two or three cents per kilowatt-hour (BC Hydro’s business rates are closer to 9 cents per kilowatt-hour).

Summerfelt said farming Atlantic salmon on land has potential “if you can pick sites with cheap power right next to the market.”

In order for land-based salmon farms to be profitable, he said, they have to farm fish at much higher densities than ocean net pens. Conventional net pen systems farm fish at a density of about 15 kilograms of fish per cubic metre at their peak size. In order for a land-based farm to be profitable, it would have to farm fish at densities close to 80 kilograms per cubic metre or even higher, he said.

There are other closed-containment pioneers.

Closed-containment fish farming initiative launched
Glen Korstrom, Business in Vancouver, February 15, 2011

Swift Aquaculture co-owner Bruce Swift farms a small amount of salmon in land-based closed-containment tanks in Agassiz and sells most of those fish to restaurants such as C, Nu and the Raincity Grill.

He supplements fish-farming revenue by growing wasabi, watercress and other crops, which are fertilized with fish farm waste.

Swift’s production is small, however. Overwaitea Food Group therefore sources supplies of closed-containment salmon from Washington state-based SweetSpring.

But SweetSpring owner Per Heggelund earns less than half of his revenue from selling fish to Overwaitea.

The balance is generated by providing training programs for saving endangered fish species in the U.S. and selling fish eggs.

This article also refers to the in-ocean floating solid-wall pen system near Campbell River.

Walker added that, more than simply being a sustainable option, farming salmon in closed tanks in the water instead of open-net pens is also good business.

“It makes sense to control your rearing environment. There’s an old saying, ‘You can’t manage what you can’t control.’”

Walker added that algae blooms wipe out millions of fish each year. But water for AgriMarine’s fibreglass and metal tanks is drawn from depths that reduce the likelihood of such blooms.

“We control the internal rearing environment so we supplement with oxygen as well so if there’s low dissolved oxygen then we don’t suffer from that,” he said.

AgriMarine lost $2.1 million in the six months that ended September 30, when it had a $14.6 million accumulated deficit.

It’s unclear how far the company is from achieving profitability. However, Walker told BIV that, unlike other companies’ past closed-containment experiments, which were done on land, AgriMarine’s water-based operation is scalable. That’s an important consideration in a sector where economies of scale often dictate profit.

“Land-based systems will be quite a bit more expensive – by orders of magnitude,” he said. “It’s a completely different technology. When a lot of people say closed containment is too expensive, they’re referring to land-based closed containment.”

But floating tanks in the ocean aren’t cheap either, and the DFO report on all the different technologies found that they would not be profitable at a large scale.

Odd Grydeland, fishfarmingXpert, November 26, 2010

The [DFO] report suggested that a system using rigid, floating ocean tanks to produce the 2,500 tonnes per cycle of Atlantic salmon would show a negative return of between -2 and -10%. This doesn’t bode well for the newly delivered tank for AgriMarine, Inc., which is installing such a system north of Campbell River these days, although they are using a larger tank and Pacific salmon.

One of the major financial backers for AgriMarine is a coalition of anti-fish farm groups. The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform has a very specific interest in closed containment projects. CAAR states on its site  that it “is a coalition of four leading environmental organizations working to transition the open net-cage salmon farming industry to more sustainable production methods. The groups involved are the David Suzuki Foundation, the Georgia Strait Alliance, the Living Oceans Society ,  and the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation.”

CAAR threw their full support behind AgriMarine’s farm:

…We are writing to express our support for the Agrimarine Middle Bay Closed Containment salmon farm. …We believe the Middle Bay operation shows there are real, viable alternative methods to dealing with the proven environmental impacts of open net pen aquaculture and will be a valuable contribution towards demonstrating the effectiveness and economics of closed containment fish farming. …Predator interactions or kills will likely be completely avoided as will farmed salmon escapes.

Alexandra Morton supported AgriMarine but did have some reservations:

A long-time opponent of open-net fish farming has given the thumbs up to B.C.’s first-ever closed, floating salmon-farming tank.

…Morton said she only has one concern.

“I’d prefer that they were completely out of the water, because the ocean always breaks everything that’s in it eventually,” she said. “But really, my hat is off to them [AgriMarine] and all power to them. I mean, this is what needs to happen. This is the answer—closed containment. It could be a B.C. industry. Once you go into closed containment, you can grow a lot of exciting things, like algae, for example. People should really look into that—sunlight and water and you are making food.”

Even politicians were jumping on the AgriMarine bandwagon.

BC opposition party still insisting on closed containment salmon farming

Canada: New Democratic Party MLA’s heralding new farming model yet to hit the water.

With only three months until the May 12 provincial election in British Columbia, the two main political parties- The governing Liberal Party and the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) are starting to manouvre into positions that they think can garner some votes.

…In a recent interview with Kris Schumacher of The Prince Rupert Daily News, two NDP MLA’s endorsed new technology being developed by Agrimarine Industries in Campbell River, using a set of floating, solid-wall tanks with seawater pumped in and circulated through the tank holding the fish before being discharged back to the ocean. Both Skeena MLA and fisheries critic Robin Austin and North Coast MLA Gary Coons were members of the NDP-dominated Special Committee On Sustainable Aquaculture (Austin was the Chair) that delivered a report almost two years ago, recommending that all salmon farms should be transitioned into closed containment systems.

There were some others with reservations:

Odd Grydeland

When the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans wants a scientific opinion about a certain matter, it often relies on the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) which coordinates the peer review of scientific issues for the Department. CSAS also coordinates the communication of the results of the scientific review and advisory processes. Four years ago, CSAS undertook an in-depth review of various forms of “closed containment” technologies that could potentially be used in the salmon aquaculture industry. Its 2008 report; “Feasibility Study of Closed-Containment Options for the British Columbia Aquaculture Industry” found- among else- that “A review of over 40 closed-containment systems from around the world found that none was producing exclusively adult Atlantic salmon and that many previous attempts to do so had failed. Reasons for failure were numerous and were often interrelated. These reasons included but were not limited to mechanical breakdown, poor fish performance, management failure, declines in market price and inadequate financing”.

With respect to the technology that AgriMarine has been promoting as environmentally superior to conventional, floating net pens was found to require almost five times the capital investment, and the CSAS report stated that; “The engineering challenges associated with various designs of floating closed-containment systems were modeled. Those constructed of rigid material and anchored to the bottom represent a particular challenge in terms of the tidal currents and wave heights that are typical of exposed areas, which may mean that site selection for those types of structures may be limited by these two oceanographic factors”. DFO conducted a preliminary financial assessment of all technology types identified by CSAS, resulting in the findings that only conventional net pen and Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) were likely to provide a return on investment, although the latter just barely.

The conditions around Vancouver Island proved to be too much for the rigid wall containment system and in March of 2012, after a severe wind storm, the tank was damaged.

2,745 farmed Pacific salmon escaped from facility of “leader in floating solid-wall containment”

Canada’s Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) disclosed yesterday (April 18) that 2,745 farmed Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) escaped on March 12 from the Vancouver Island/British Columbia demonstration farm of the “leader in floating solid-wall containment technology and production for sustainable aquaculture”, AgriMarine Holdings Inc. “An extreme storm event caused damage to the containment structure at their facility in Middle Bay, allowing some fish, averaging 2.1 kg, to escape…,” DFO wrote. This regrettable incident is noteworthy because closed-containment technologies have been hailed by many salmon farming critics and eNGOs as being ‘the future’ of marine finfish aquaculture, notably because they made fish escapes supposedly impossible… In noticeable contrast, no other fish escapes were reported from other ‘conventional’ salmon farms in BC. On March 14th, AgriMarine had reported “some storm related losses”. On March 21, Robert Walker, President of AgriMarine Industries, had told SeafoodIntelligence: “… Until we completely empty the tank we won’t know the final number, but at this time it appears that we did not lose any fish.” The Toronto, OTCQX & Frankfurt stock-listed firm did not, yet, communicate on the escapes. One (including investors) would be in a position to expect the same transparency from AgriMarine as from other (listed or not) salmon farmers. And since when did AgriMarine know? The firm said itself it had filed a report with the feds on March 14. Yesterday, a top salmon farmer (Cermaq) stated in its 2011 Report that “Closed-containment technology does not currently represent a viable alternative, especially related to energy usage but also [fish] escapes remain a risk in closed containment farming.

AgriMarine did put out a press release about the event but it leaves more questions than answers.

As previously reported by FishfarmingXpert, a couple of weeks ago AgriMarine reported that its floating, 3,000m³ tank had suffered some damage, and today it confirms that most of the Chinook salmon grown in the tank have been sent to a processing plant at about half of the projected harvest size- approximately four pounds (~1.8 Kg) dressed weight. The company plans to repair the tank and continue with the deployment of additional, re-designed tanks.

…As expected, AgriMarine is trying to put a positive spin on this catastrophic event, but some of its statements warrant some scrutiny;

  • AgriMarine is pleased to report the first commercial harvest at its Canadian demonstration site at Middle Bay in Vancouver Island, British Columbia
    • Comment: How can a company be pleased by having to harvest its crop at half the planned size due to the failure of its technology- advertised as superior to net pens?
  • Management feels that harvest results prove the commercial value of AgriMarine’s unique technology for sustainable aquaculture
    • Comment: How can AgriMarine suggest that this event proves anything regarding commercial validity without providing any cost figures?
  • The fish reached a harvestable size in 13 months, thus demonstrating excellent growth rates achievable in the AgriMarine System
    • Comment: How do these growth rates compare with Chinook salmon grown in traditional net pens?
  • It appears that there was no loss of inventory, and although final harvest numbers are not complete, we have so far harvested and sold over 95% of the original stocking numbers
    • Comment: This is obviously a premature statement. And this is also a surprising statement in as much as the inventory of the tank on September 15, 2011 was stated as 52,954. With some AgriMarine reports suggesting that the tank was originally stocked with some 56,000 fish, this would mean that less than 95% of the fish stocked had survived up to a time over six months ago
  • Only 3 sea lice were found in the entire crop of salmon, proving that the AgriMarine System effectively controls sea lice infestations
    • Comment: Sea lice is also typically at very low numbers on Chinook salmon produced in conventional net pens, making producers of these fish exempt from most of the routine monitoring that Atlantic salmon farmers must go through
  • The processing yield was 91%
    • Comment: This is surprising, as the gills of Chinook salmon are routinely removed during processing due to their rapid deterioration. The gills represent about 3% of the round weight of the fish, while blood and viscera usually add up to over 10%

Even the fish farm protesters can't agree about growing salmon for profit.
(There were no escapes from net pens during the storm and there is no evidence of stomach cancer in B.C. farmed salmon.)

Is closed containment the answer to all the woes perceived by anti-fish farming activists? To put it bluntly, no. The truth is that even if the aquaculture industry moved on to land the anti-fish farm activists would still send up a hue and cry about the negative impacts that are worse when farming fish on land as opposed to in the ocean.

To have a land based system that matches the volume of fish currently harvested from farms in B.C. would require a huge amount of land that would be better suited to other uses. The anti-fish farm activists would complain about how much land is being used for industrial purposes. The energy requirements for the land based systems would be extensive and would require an energy source such as coal or hydro dams. One choice is bad for air quality and one choice destroys fish habitat. Neither are better for the wild salmon than what is happening right now. There is also very little if any profit to current closed containment technologies. Even the current “successful” projects have to rely on a second form of income, or generous grants from governments and philanthropic foundations, to stay open. Water based closed containment is expensive and the risk of escapes are very possible.

This is an example of land used for a fish farm hatchery by one of the major salmon farming companies. You can see the company's latest investment in closed-containment technology, a multi-million dollar RAS system, being constructed at the top of the photo. To raise salmon to full size at current volumes would require many times more land.

No one in the aquaculture industry is turning their back on closed containment. It is a vital part of the hatchery process and any improvements to the technologies benefit the industry.

The reality is that calling for the end to net-pen aquaculture is not the answer. Continued improvements in all the technologies related to aquaculture benefit the farms and the ocean.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in News

 

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Hypocrites

Monterey Bay Aquarium, creators of the Seafood Watch program are proving themselves to be hypocrites. This is the program that has attempted to simplify how consumers choose seafood that doesn’t harm the environment. The problem is that the aquarium its self buys and serves red listed seafood to the aquarium residents. They also have an “open” system where the waste water from the aquarium is flushed, unfiltered, into the Monterey Bay. Diseases and medications get washed out to sea with all the other effluence.

Instead of finding ways to clean up their act they are asking for an exemption to the Ocean Plan prohibition against waste discharge.

The Seafood Watch program is the basis for most of the seafood buying guides in North America. If this is how they treat their local marine environment this is one more reason to be critical about their seafood guide.

For a better understanding about this hypocrisy read the full story on Alaska salmon’s Blog

Monterey Bay Aquarium applying for waste impact exception

To learn more about seafood guides read our previous posting The Gospel of Seafood.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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Fear mongering

Alexandra Morton got more press time today and yesterday after putting out a press release to promote her latest home made science experiment.

Fear mongering (or scaremongering or scare tactics) is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic, sometimes in the form of a vicious circle.

This is the tactic used by Alexandra Morton and the supporters of the group Salmon are Sacred. They try to make people believe that fish farms are evil and should be feared, . They use repetition until people finally believe that sea lice will be the death of all wild salmon and fish farms are to blame. This despite the fact that research done by Morton herself has shown this to not be the case.

The survival of the pink salmon cohort was not statistically
different from a reference region without salmon farms.

At least here we have a scientific paper that can be referenced and reviewed. However, Morton’s newest favourite topic is disease transfer. If there is a disease on a salmon farm, there is a risk of it spreading to wild stocks. Even if in reality the risk of transfer is miniscule, Morton tries to get people to believe that any risk, even tiny, is unacceptable.

Even if there is no disease on a farm the wild stocks may still get sick and Morton and her friends will make sure that it will be the farms who are blamed. We has seen this with Morton twisting the genomic research of Kristi Miller to make it sound like farm viruses are killing salmon (even though Miller herself has made no such link and has stated it is probably NOT linked to salmon farms),

Of course this makes no sense and is bad scientific procedure. But for Morton the approach is to say “let’s find a disease, any disease, assume it’s from fish farms and find evidence to support this.” She used to be a respected scientist but I think her last few attempts at fear mongering seem more like grasping at straws.

Sea lice does not cause a higher morality rate and ISA is not proven to be in B.C. waters (if it were farms would be devastatingly affected). Those straws didn’t work, let’s try…. HSMI. It sounds scary. Most people in B.C. have not heard about it. Great choice to instill fear, yet again. But her science in this case is without merit.

B.C.’s salmon farmers, however, don’t believe the fish tested positive for the virus.”We are not seeing any indication of a virus with the impacts that she has described in the release,” said Mary Ellen Wallin with the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.”I think that it is probably quite unscientific to test samples from a supermarket. There is no research design, the fish have no internal organs to sample and there is a lot of opportunity for cross-contamination.”

In the same article it is shown that Morton can’t seem to read and understand an abstract that she herself links to in her blog article:

Morton says the virus can spread easily from salmon farms to wild fish nearby. She says farmed salmon can recover from the virus but it can be lethal to wild salmon.

The study cited is: Longitudinal study of a natural outbreak of heart and skeletal muscle inflammation in Atlantic: salmon, Salmo salar L. “In conclusion, HSMI appears to be a severe disease with elevated mortality, morbidity close to 100% and prolonged duration.”

I don’t have a bachelors in science, like Ms. Morton, but I don’t see where it says that Atlantic salmon can recover from this disease. Morbidity close to 100% is extremely serious, like an outbreak of ebola would be for humans.

What is amazing is how many news groups and blogs are accepting her word without question. What ever happened to investigative reporting? Since the news media won’t ask the questions make sure you do before you get suckered by the age old tactic of fear mongering.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on April 14, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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The Language of Protest Pt. 4 of 4

Organic vs. inorganic or nonorganic, terrorism vs. freedom and democracy, dirty oil vs clean, free range vs. feedlot, farmed salmon vs. wild.

These arguments seem so clear, so black and white, right and wrong, but there is one more that could be added to the list: pirate vs. privateer. If you were Spanish Francis Drake was a pirate (read evil) and if you were English he was a privateer, a man fighting to keep your country safe from the evil Spaniards.

Your perception of the issue will be different depending on what you think you already know about it. The language used to describe that issue will definitely play a part in how you perceive it, whether you know it or not. In this four-part series, I will take a look at some of these dichotomies of language that protesters, governments and industries use to sway public opinion.

To read Part 1 go here.

Part 4 of 4 – Wild Salmon vs. Farmed Salmon

The idea of saving a wild animal pulls at the heart strings of humans. Saying “save the wild salmon” sounds like a great idea! But first you have to ask, are salmon in danger, and do they need saving? If so, from what?

As with everything on the planet, humans are having a negative effect on wild salmon. Is it any action in particular or is it a variety of issues? Logging, habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing, and fish farms all have effects. Is one more to blame than the others?

Logging, hydro dams and pollution

Every human action has environmental consequences.

Logging has come under stricter regulations over the last 30 years or more and everyone seems to understand the importance of leaving trees around streams and rivers. Everyone one also knows that dumping industrial waste into rivers does not benefit anyone. Many hydro dams provide salmon ladders so that spawning salmon can return to their homes.

However, not all hydro dams have had their effects mitigated. In the United States, US Army Engineers spend millions of dollars each year to move salmon past the series of dams on the Columbia River in trucks. Does it help? We don’t know for sure.

Despite being called a source of “clean energy”, the debate over hydro dams continues and many believe dams in the Western US are largely responsible for the decline of salmon in Washington and Oregon. It is highly emotional, much like the debate over fish farms, and like that debate, while the language used is black and white, the actual causes and effects are not so clear.

Net pen salmon aquaculture

Alexandra Morton and the group Salmon Are Sacred certainly believe that fish farms are the cause of all the ills in the ocean. Working from the premise that cattle feedlots are bad for the environment and knowing that the term creates a mostly negative image in peoples minds, she coined the phrase “salmon feedlots” and that term is now widely used by B.C. media.

In 2009 she started a blog and commented on what she felt was a similarity between salmon farming and agricultural feedlots.

“The Norwegian salmon farming companies that operate in BC waters are perhaps the only farmers who never shovel their manure. It flows unimpeded into our ocean and with it the bacteria, viruses and parasites that brew under all feedlot conditions.”

In 2010 her use of the term feedlot becomes more focused until eventually, instead of being like feedlots, salmon farms are labelled as feedlots.

“We the undersigned stand against the biological threat and commerce of industrial net-pen feedlots using our global oceans.”

Prior to the use of the term feedlot the description for the salmon farming that happens off the coast of BC was “net pen salmon aquaculture.” But, let’s face it, feedlot is a lot easier to fit into a headline.

The problem is the negative connotation built into the term feedlot (for more on this discussion see part 3 of this series).

“She [Alexandra Morton] calls salmon farms “industrial salmon feedlots”. Ewwww…conjures up images of chickens stuffed in cages and pigs rolling in their own poo. Ewwww. (no offence to the hard working poultry and pork farmers of this world).”

Morton can’t seem to get her opinion out strong enough with “feedlot” so she adds “industrial” to the front to make it even more “evil” (because, as we know, industry is out to destroy the world).

As discussed in the other parts of this series, if animals (or fish) are kept in unsanitary or stressful situations they will not grow. If they don’t grow, farmers don’t profit. There is no profit in harming your own stock.

Is feedlot a valid description of net pen aquaculture?

One image the term feedlots brings to mind is a large number of animals (or fish) crammed into a small enclosure. This paper takes a fair look at aquaculture and has some interesting points to make about stocking density.

CLOSED WATERS: THE WELFARE OF FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON, RAINBOW TROUT, ATLANTIC COD &  ATLANTIC HALIBUT

Written by Compassion in World Farming and the World Society for the Protection of Animals in 2007

Maximum stocking density

It is important not to stock up to a theoretical maximum but instead to provide a safety margin so as to ensure that, even when problems arise, fish continue to have good water quality and sufficient space for swimming. Farmers are not in control of all the factors – such as water quality and bad weather – that can adversely affect the fish. A safety margin is important to allow for harmful developments.

Recent research shows that above 22kg/m3, increasing density is associated with lower welfare for caged Atlantic salmon. However, in order to provide a safety margin, CIWF and WSPA believe that the maximum stocking density for Atlantic salmon in sea cages should ideally be 10kg/m3, with farmers who achieve a high welfare status and in particular low levels of injuries, disease, parasitic attack and mortality being permitted to stock up to a maximum of 15kg/m3.

Net pens in BC farm at a density that is between 15kg/m3 and 20kg/m3, and try to keep it as low as possible, which, as this study suggests, is optimal. In fact, for each net pen, only 3% of volume of pen is taken up with fish. This is far from the image of feedlots and battery chickens that Ms. Morton and her ilk try to portray.

Ms. Morton and others claim that closed containment is the only choice for the future of salmon farming, while ignoring the fact that farming fish on land on a large scale would be more “industrial” than farming them in the ocean. They seem to blissfully ignore the environmental costs of using agricultural or forest land for industrial purposes, as well as the amount of fresh water that would be required, the energy usage or the environmental cost of trucking and disposing of fecal matter.

When the word industry is Googled under images you see hundreds of photos of smoke stacks and factories. Which seems more “industrial:” a net pen floating in the ocean with a 3% volume of population per net or a land-based factory requiring hundreds of acres of developed land?

Plans for a 2,500 metric tonne land-based fish farm

Plans for a 2,500 metric tonne fish farm show it would take at least five acres of land for the tanks alone.

Current closed containment projects are being held up as examples for the future of the industry but every discussion about taking the industry out of the ocean completely ignores the land use problems. Current successful land based farms grow 100 tonnes of fish. One net pen site in the ocean grows 3000 tonnes. Take one of these land sites and increase them 30 times and you will get one net pen farm. There are many farms currently in the ocean and they do not have anywhere near the impact that land-based sites of equivalent capacity would have.

It is also seldom noted by opponents of net pen farming that the salmon spend the first third of their lifetime in a land-based facility. No one knows better than the fish farming companies about closed containment technologies, and the limitations of the technology, than the industry because they have been using it since the beginning.

Everything humans do affects the environment. Salmon farms are no exception. However, when all the human factors are looked at, it seems highly unlikely that salmon farms caused the decline of salmon runs on the west coast. An unhealthy ocean would mean an unhealthy farm. An ocean without wild salmon would be an unhealthy ocean and this is not something salmon farmers want to see happen.

Commercial fishing

Before I learned about salmon farming I learned about the collapse of the commercial cod fishing industry on the east coast. Overfishing removed fish from the ocean so there were fewer left to spawn and fewer that would be there for next year’s catch. Farmed fish (salmon being my favorite) seems a good solution.

It should be noted that fish meal and fish oil are used in fish feed. It is obtained from “forage fish… [which] are fast-growing and short-lived fish not generally used for human consumption.”

“Ocean-farmed salmon feed comprises about 30% fishmeal, a name for the otherwise unused forage fish that is converted to food. Salmon feed represents nine percent of the world’s fishmeal consumption, otherwise used for fertilizer or livestock and poultry feed…The Food & Agricultural Organization of the United Nations confirms that forage fish are not over-fished or depleted.”

This is a concern, but I also learned that salmon farmers, and farmers of other types of fish, are working very hard to reduce the amount of fish meal and oil in fish feed. And the amount of small fish harvested to use in fish feed, poultry and hog feed, and health supplements has not changed in decades, despite a growth in aquaculture around the world.

This is a good use of resources because salmon are incredibly efficient eaters.

Ratio of feed required to edible food produced (pounds)
Wild Salmon 10 : 1 or 15 : 1*
Beef 10 : 1
Pork 5 : 1
Chicken 2 : 1
Ocean-Farmed Salmon 1.5 : 1
*Varies depending on mortality rates and feeding

Many groups feel that one way to save the oceans is to not buy farmed salmon for dinner but buy wild salmon instead. Hold on a minute, to save the wild salmon we need to kill and eat them, thus preventing their ability to spawn and removing them from the gene pool? This is cognitive dissonance if ever I saw it.

For most people commercial fishing is their source for wild salmon.  If terms such as “industrial” or “factory” are considered negative when discussing farming why not when discussing fishing?

Factory ship

A fishing "mothership."

A fishing "mothership."

Contemporary factory ships have their origins in the early whalers. These vessels sailed into remote waters and processed the whale oil on board, discarding the carcass. Later whalers converted the entire whale into usable products. The efficiency of these ships and the predation they carried out on whales contributed greatly to the animal’s precipitous decline.

Contemporary factory ships are automated and enlarged versions of these earlier whalers. Their use for fishing has grown dramatically. For a while, Russia, Japan and Korea operated huge fishing fleets centred on factory ships, though in recent times this use has been declining. On the other hand, the use of factory ships by the United States has increased.

Some factory ships can also function as mother ships. The basic idea of a mother ship is that it can carry small fishing boats that return to the mother ship with their catch. But the idea extends to include factory trawlers supporting a fleet of smaller catching vessels that are not carried on board. They serve as the main ship in a fleet operating in waters a great distance from their home ports.

Greenpeace uses some very descriptive language to explain factory fishing.

“Beneath the serene beauty of our ocean waters lurks a nightmare worse than any Jaws movie. You could compare it to alien abduction – massive numbers of fish are being snatched out of the water by high-tech factory fishing trawlers. This nightmare scenario is real, and the impacts on our ocean’s ecosystems are extensive. Entire populations of fish are being targeted and destroyed, disrupting the food chain from top to bottom.”

Commercial whaling caused the decline of whales, these types of ships are now used for fishing. Would it not make sense that they will also cause the decline of wild fish stocks?

Sea Choice is a sustainable seafood program that supports Alaskan fishing over over B.C. fishing and salmon farms.

“Salmon (Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, Sockeye) From: U.S. – AK  Method: Wild, drift gillnet, purse seine, troll

Pacific salmon in Alaska is among the most intensively managed species in the world, with excellent monitoring of both the fish populations and the fishery. Alaskan salmon dominates the West Coast salmon market. Over the past 20 years, Alaska has landed roughly 10 times as much salmon as California, Oregon and Washington combined.”

How is catching 10 times more salmon better for the environment? How is catching that many salmon sustainable?

Alaska has a hatchery program that is very different from what we are used to in B.C. Here smolts are released into a river or stream with the hope that they will grow to maturity and return to spawn. In Alaska there is a process called salmon ranching, which is also referred to as salmon enhancement. The problem with this enhancement is that it is not for the purpose of saving the wild stocks and growing the population, instead it enhances the commercial fishery and allows for the 10 times greater catch.

Simply put, salmon ranching refers to a process by which indigenous salmon are initially caught and stripped of eggs and milt. The fertilized eggs are then cultured in a hatchery where they will hatch and begin feeding on a feed powder. Mimicking the natural life cycle of a wild salmon, these salmon are then transported from freshwater hatcheries to saltwater fish farms. The juvenile salmon continued to be cultured in saltwater fish farms using net pens to contain the salmon. While in net pens, salmon are fed feed pellets to gain size and strength. Also, by remaining captive in an area suitable for a future commercial fishery, the salmon are “imprinted” to the area where they are temporarily farmed. Imprinting ensures that these cultured salmon return to the same place where they were “born” – similar to natural, wild salmon. Once large enough to successfully compete with wild salmon for food and space, these cultured salmon are released into the ocean to forage for food (referred to as “ranching”). Depending on the species of salmon (Pink, Chum, Coho, Chinook or Sockeye), they will return to their birthplace in two to four years. Upon return, a mixture of wild and ranched salmon are caught by commercial and sports salmon fisherman. Selected salmon are also retained by the source hatchery to be used again for eggs and milt – thus repeating the process.

See a video of this process here.

The beginning two thirds (or so) of life for these ranched fish is exactly the same as farmed fish. How is releasing them for the last year of their life more sustainable?

There are some opponents of this practice but not nearly as many as oppose BC fish farms. As mentioned in the posting Transparency some of the money that goes into these campaigns against fish farms in BC (such as the David Suzuki Foundation) comes from groups who support the Alaskan commercial fishery and it’s ranches. To try and say they have the best interests of the environment at heart is a double standard.

Here is one article talking about the drawbacks of this kind of salmon rearing written in Oct. 2010:

“We hear so much about missing wild salmon and recently a record run. But Simon Fraser University scientists say a population explosion of hatchery and wild salmon in the North Pacific Ocean is leading hatchery fish to beat out their wild cousins for food…“Higher levels of hatchery fish straying onto spawning grounds, combined with low numbers of wild fish, could further erode wild salmon diversity, which helps stabilize their abundances,” explains Peterman. “Many salmon from both sides of the Pacific intermingle in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and/or south of there. Together, these factors create the perfect storm for reducing wild salmon over the long term.”

Here is another, also written in Oct. 2010:

“We’ve been down this road before, in salmon country further south. I watched Oregon’s salmon economy crash after a failed reliance on hatchery-produced salmon. Oregon and Washington are now busy reforming salmon hatcheries, after learning the hard way that a salmon economy built on hatchery fish is a house of cards.”

If the practice of salmon ranching were stopped in Alaska, the Alaskan fishery would collapse and people would be shocked about how few salmon are left.

Alternatively, the Sea Choice guide says:

“Freshwater habitats in Alaska have remained relatively pristine, and salmon originating in Alaska does not face the same damming, deforestation and development challenges as those in California and the Pacific Northwest. The current abundance of Alaska salmon and its habitat reflects the success of the state’s management practices. For these reasons, wild-caught salmon from Alaska is ranked as a “Best Choice.”

B.C. does face the development challenges mentioned and because of this Sea Choice does not recommend salmon caught in B.C. waters. It doesn’t seem to me that the abundance in Alaska has as much to do with the state’s management practices as it does with the abundance of salmon ranching in the state.

What Sea Choice does not point out is that the fish which spawn in B.C. rivers travel through international boundaries to the northern pacific, where they are taken from the ocean by American fishermen and sold as an American product.

What is sustainable seafood?

Is wild salmon the best choice for dinner? How was it caught? Where was it caught? How much fuel was used to catch it and deliver it? What percentage of the wild stock was directly destroyed by that catch?

Sustainable is a word used by people on both sides of these protests, but what does it mean? The Google dictionary explains it this way: 1. Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level. (esp. of development, exploitation, or agriculture), 2. Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources. Industry Canada explains it this way:

Sustainable development’s most common definition is “a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, from the United Nations study which first brought this issue to the world’s attention more than twenty years ago (Our Common Future, The World Commission on Environment and Development – Brundtland Commission, 1987). It is an approach to growth that considers the impacts of policies, programs and operations on economic prosperity, environmental quality and social well-being.

Which is more sustainable; an industry that directly kills a population by removing it from the ocean or an industry that strives to have as low an impact on the ocean as possible but is still able to provide a fresh product all year long?

For more information about the aquaculture industry in BC please visit: BC Salmon Facts, Positive Aquaculture Awareness and the blog Salmon Farm Science.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in News, Opinion, Series

 

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