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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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Take the blinders off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Opinion

 

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Bullying – Not just for teenagers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This contempt was noted by Judge Adair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in News, Opinion

 

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Not a threat

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

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

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

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

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

I will let Marty have the last word:

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

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Opinion

 

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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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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!

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Opinion, Series

 

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