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Opinion: Fish farming not a culprit of the declining salmon stocks

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This week, the federal government’s Cohen Commission of Inquiry into declining Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks has begun its focus on aquaculture, which is the farming of fish or shellfish in the marine environment. Salmon farming accounts for the largest production share of BC’s aquaculture industry.

However, the Cohen Commission is not an aquaculture inquiry. Many factors – such as habitat destruction, overfishing, pollution and changing ocean conditions – can affect the survival of wild salmon.

Despite the broad inquiry focus, BC salmon farmers are supporting this important process by providing extensive data, and offering perspectives from people who rely on a healthy marine environment to grow their product.

 

Meanwhile, a vocal group of media-savvy activists – whose mandate has long-been to oppose BC’s salmon farming sector – are doing their best to position the Cohen Commission as an inquiry into fish farms. Those activists were hopeful that DFO scientist Kristi Miller, who testified this week, would link fluctuations in wild salmon populations to salmon farms. Much to their disappointment, Miller’s research had no focus on salmon farms. The Canadian Press reported, in fact, that "Fish farms may not be the culprit in Fraser sockeye collapse."

Opposition to salmon farming in BC has been a ‘bread and butter’ campaign for activists. For years, those opposed to the industry said salmon farming would ‘decimate’ wild pink salmon. But historical data does not support that allegation. In fact, the largest spawning returns of wild pink salmon in the province occurred in 2000 and 2001 – more than a decade after the industry began in BC. In December 2010, the allegation was put to rest by a joint Canada-US study.

The pink salmon allegation didn’t stick, so activists moved on to a new theory: That salmon farms along the BC coast were affecting the survival of Fraser River sockeye. Again, there is no evidence to support this. And, as most British Columbians are aware, last year’s historical Fraser River sockeye return of approximately 30 million fish was among the highest in nearly 100 years. Further good news is that 2011 Fraser sockeye returns have been forecast at approximately 4 million, which exceeds earlier forecasts.

 

Looking at the national picture, people should know that regulations governing Canada’s aquaculture industry are among the world’s most stringent. In fact, our finfish and shellfish farming sectors are collectively governed by no fewer than 73 distinct rules and regulations.

Why do we need aquaculture in the first place? Because the global seafood consumption rate is at an all-time high, and shows no signs of slowing down. Along with the increasingly accepted health benefits of eating seafood, per capita consumption has nearly doubled over the past 50 years. That’s good news for human health, but it’s straining our world’s oceans, lakes and rivers. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 84 percent of global fisheries are either depleted, fully exploited or over-exploited.

Meanwhile, output from the world’s capture fisheries has been stagnant since the 1980s. By contrast, aquaculture is the world’s fastest-growing animal food-producing sector, and now accounts for half the seafood we eat.

 Related content:

Witnesses to testify on 'salmon diseases' and aquaculture

Alexandra Morton and the golden straitjacket

(21) Comments

Ken Henderson August 26th 2011 | 10:22 PM

Excellent report on the Cohen Commission and the games played by anti-salmon farming activists. Thanks!

LauraA August 27th 2011 | 2:14 PM

Check the 'media-savvy' aquaculture / fish farming lobby's media campaign targeting the 'youth' sector specifically - as full of misinformation as Ms Salmon's screed - what we've been trained to accept in advertising and, evidently, in journalism. Ms Salmon may have her facts in place relating to the global fishery but she has missed the point entirely of the so-called activists' position, either because she's firmly inside the fence with all the other farm raised salmon or because the facts do not support her own position. 

Claudette Bethune August 27th 2011 | 4:16 PM

I am grateful there is an inquiry, at least some disease information and the intense effort to not fund or provide samples from fish farms to understand Pacific wild salmon collapses. This week learned that: a single salmon farm with 1,000,000 fish can shed 60 billion viral particles per hour during a disease outbreak. Sockeye salmon travel through this area there would be no opportunity to avoid viral particles during a salmon farm disease outbreak. Salmon breathe by passing water over their gills, so the oxygen in the water comes into contact with their bloodstream. This means as a wild salmon passes through a salmon farmed region, salmon farm-origin pathogens leaving the farm fish’s bodies comes into contact with the bloodstream of the wild salmon.

Dr. Miller said Harrison sockeye, the one run not found in the Discovery Islands, had no evidence of the unidentified virus in 2008, 2009, 2010. However, Harrison sockeye not only avoid salmon farms, they leave the river before adult sockeye enter the river to spawn. They are unique in this way among sockeye, but they share this behaviour with both pink and chum salmon. While the sockeye, pink and chum salmon that went to sea in 2007 all collapsed, the pink and chum have not been on the same 18-year decline as most of the Fraser sockeye. Is this because they are not exposed to farm salmon pathogens carried into the river by the spawning generation? These are things we must learn about, and high profits from aquaculture should be used to study this.

Claudette Bethune August 27th 2011 | 4:16 PM

We also learned this week that: 

Wild coho and pink salmon die when young fish migrate through areas where there are sea lice outbreaks on fish farms, a new study concludes.

The paper, whose lead author is Martin Krkosek, a researcher at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings directly contradict a previous study that concluded there was no link.

"Our results show that sea lice abundance on farms is negatively associated with productivity of both pink and coho salmon in the Broughton Archipelago," it says.

"When lice numbers on farms are high, the numbers of wild stocks decline," Krkosek said in an interview.


Read more: http://www.canada.com/Wild+salmon+deaths+linked+lice+fish+farms+study/5295947/story.html#ixzz1WHC7WhNw
juechi August 27th 2011 | 5:17 PM

Just so everyone knows, we will be presenting the other side of the argument on this issue next week. Please stay tuned. 

 

Angela Koch August 27th 2011 | 6:18 PM

This article is soooo one sided it's pathetic....I've been sitting in on the commission and Dr. Kristi Miller had plenty to say about fish farms and how DFO wouldn't let her test farmed fish...and it seems everything with a negative connotation towards fish farms is being stricken from the commission as evidence....and the latest was that Dr. Miller has no more funding to test those farmed fish if and when they do decide to hand them over....yeah....apparently it's only a suggestion to the salmon farms that they hand over their fish....Dr. Miller needs $18, 700 to test the farmed salmon to see if they carry the same parvovirus as the wild fish....how can a commission come to a decision about fish farms without EVER TESTING THEIR SALMON??? A child gets that you can not ever, ever, ever contain disease once it's in open waters!

Gael Duchene August 27th 2011 | 9:21 PM

Sitting in the courtroom and listening carefully to what is happening, I am amazed at some of the media spin I read later that night. I don't think Ruth Salmon should be quoting a media report!
It was interesting to see a TV clip reporting on the Cohen Commission show MaryEllen Walling say that the fish farms don't have disease and that 96% of all farmed fish go to market! This was the same day that we found out at the commission that in 2008 THIRTY percent of farmed fish died...of disease!! 

Angela Koch August 28th 2011 | 12:00 AM

I'm not with any "group" or industry, and really...you'd hold what one person says against an entire group and a body of scientific evidence???...I'm just a pissed off girl....I have spent thousands, yes thousands of my own dollars that I work darn hard for to be an activist in educating people about dirty fish farms, and then in effect she says I'm only pretending to be concerned by playing the part of an environmentalist because it's my "bread and butter"...how dare she!!!..She spoke with no one that I know about to have made this her "opinion"...I've seen the sea lice on the fish....and I have starving eagles where I live because there's about 20 rivers around me that have no more wild salmon...the bears are starving too...that's why I travel around and spend my own hard earned money to educate people.....and apparently, unless I'm misinformed, she hasn't even been to the cohen commission,...the article she wrote has outright lies in it, and I'm getting tired of it all... I'm sitting in at the cohen commission and seeing anything negative towards fish farms getting stricken from the evidence, one piece at a time...and if you don't believe me then come down and see for yourself...DFO won't give the one scientist who may have the key to our 9 million missing salmon, any more funding to test the farmed fish...which may be the key to the entire commisson...she said the virus is coming from "somewhere" hhmm....let's see, where could that be...and the only thing she hasn't tested is farmed fish!!!...and the entire time she was giving testimony it came up as to how she has asked for farmed fish to be tested years ago...YEARS AGO!!!...and the farms still haven't been ordered to hand over any of their fish for testing, and that wasn't reported on at all in her "opinion"...in fact she makes it sound like the farms are willingly giving their data but so far they haven't come forward with their farm fish samples, if they're so squeaky clean then why don't they hand them over....The country of Chile is at this moment suing the same farms that operate up here for admitting to brining in the virused egg that wiped out the entire Chilean salmon farming industry....apparently they still can't operate in those diseased waters....so for someone who apparently hasn't been there and is making up lies about me and the many, many unpaid and hardworking "bread and butter" activists, doesn't in my "opinion" deserve an apology, unless and until I get one first... to report something so discrediting when this is a very serious matter makes me very angry.

Katie August 28th 2011 | 8:08 AM

What a different world this would be if the well-funded special intersts actually accepted the results of sound science based on both lab and field research. Instead these people continue to fight against aquaculuture by creating more websites, blogs, etc. to manipulate data and spin the story and attack people who they disagree with.  Imagine what a different world our salmon would live in if the tens of millions of dollars had been spent investigating on the larger issues?  But you're right Ruth, their bread and butter is to fight against aquaculture, not work for salmon.      

steve August 28th 2011 | 9:09 AM

Angela, aren't you missing something else Dr. Miller said during the testimony.  Maybe that this suspected virus has likely originated from freshwater because smolt begin showing the signal there.  If you are going to be spouting off what Dr. Miller said you shouldn't be editing her comments just to suit your agenda.  It is true that Dr. Miller would like to sample farmed fish and should be able to, but to say that these fish have never been monitored for disease is not true.

http://www.cohencommission.ca/en/pdf/Backgrounder-TechnicalReport-Project5.pdf

As you can see, at least there seems to be a much better plan to approach this issue instead of speculating and using fear tactics.

There is a reason why anti-fish farm stuff is getting picked away at during the inquiry now - it's because it is not standing up to what is happening.  There are also many other factors presented during the inquiry that have been glossed over now and forgotten due to fish farm activists.  Sea lice is not even mentioned anymore like it used to.  Why?  Should be obvious now.  It should come to no surprise that anti-fish farm theories were finally going to be scurtinized.

Hey Claudette, nice cut and paste of Ms. Morton's own comments word for word from her blog.  It is interesting to see the original thought of some anti-fish farm activists..lol.

MikeD August 28th 2011 | 9:09 AM

Sound science??

"In fact, the largest spawning returns of wild pink salmon in the province occurred in 2000 and 2001 – more than a decade after the industry began in BC. In December 2010, the allegation was put to rest by a joint Canada-US study." - Ruth Salmon

Not quite. A new SFU study contradicts the Marty study: 

"This new study used the same sea louse data as the Marty et al. 2010 study. It looked at pink as well as coho salmon before the emergence of salmon acquaculture. The 2010 study only looked at pink after the emergence of salmon farming."

"Also beyond the 2010 study, this study looked at adjacent pink and coho populations not exposed to salmon farms."

"When all the information is considered, the authors of this new study come to the opposite conclusion of Marty et al. 2010."

Advocacy under cover of science? There's a growing consensus that these open fish farms are not good for wild salmon. It's time for the fish farmers to get the farmed fish out of the ocean. And that doesn't mean managing them like overcrowded chicken farms!

Anniep August 28th 2011 | 6:18 PM

Angela Koch : Calling someone a whore in a public forum is hardly the way to win support for your cause. In fact it illustrates the mentality of the anti-fish farm crown well. I guess I too am a fish farm whore because I support an industry I know to be a good one in spite of the lies and innuendo spread by the anti crowd like yourself. You claim to have spent thousands of your own money ( Pew, Packard, Moore ?? ) . I would suggest you save your money and spend it on something more worthwhile like restoring habitat or something of that nature. Your claims about starving bears are ridiculous. Bears don't live just for salmon. They are omnivores and opportunistic foragers feeding on everything from carrion, fawns, adult deer, orchard fruit and berries to my neighbors sheep and lambs on occasion as well as humans if the opportunity presents as illustrated by recent news stories. Eagles are much the same feeding on carrion, crabs off the beach, fish and even small dogs and cats on occasion. As for Krkosek latest paper it is just another remake of a previous paper written by he and Morton and one that Morton herself rewrote to state that there is no difference between sea lice levels in fish farm areas and areas where no fish farms exist. Funny thing about Krkosek is every time he writes another paper he seems to be affiliated with yet another university. One has to wonder if that is because he is in demand or because he is just a poor scientist. As for Morton considering the caliber of some of the scientists who have already testified and their extensive fields of expertise Morton is going to look like nothing more than the rank amateur she actually is when she gets on the stand. It's time for Morton to get outta Dodge and return to the USA and suck a few more $$ outta her favorite foundations for some other bogus cause. Perhaps she can fund her mothers flight to space come 2012 .

Anniep August 28th 2011 | 6:18 PM

By the way Angela it is already been stated at the enquiry and in a multitude of tweets and news stories that salmon farmers have agreed to have their fish tested and do so regularly anyway so your claims are a pile of nonsense. As for Ms Miller continuing her study on the hypothesis she has presented nowhere have I read that the DFO is refusing to fund her. Typical of the anti farm crowd you make your silly rants and the people who don't know any better will simply soak it up you hope anyway. people are getting wise to Morton and more and more people are touring the farms and learning firsthand for themselves the truth about BC salmon farming. Morton cannot even keep her address straight. Just a few months ago she claimed she had to sell her home in Echo Bay to support herself she was so destitute and now she again regularly refers to it as home and has in fact been residing there according to reports I've heard. She will tell any lie necessary to cover her tracks unfortunately she now has so many blogs and claims online the contradictions are surfacing on a regular basis.

steve August 28th 2011 | 9:21 PM

Mike, are you telling us that pink salmon are collapsing due to aquaculture and this latest study says so? Instead of focusing on mathematical models which depend on the information put into them have you looked at what the fish are actually doing - or have been doing for a long time? If you look at long-term and cycle-year averages of pink salmon their escapements have always fluctuated. How do you explain a record return followed by a dismal return the next with salmon farming present? Sea lice? Come on, Mike. Pink salmon stocks could be better in some areas but they are not collapsing. They definitely are not this year for the Fraser. Look at the inseason numbers coming in. If sea lice were such a factor then explain why 2010 was a record return of sockeye to the Fraser and why 2011 is turning out better than forecasted and exceeding the 2007 brood? Not saying everything is just peachy, but surely if you look what is going on it doesn't point to salmon farming being the primary culprit. Oh well, better luck next time for Ms Morton. Don't worry - even Chucky, Jason and Freddie had sequels.

Erin Breanne August 28th 2011 | 9:21 PM

This article in regards to a new study out of SFU says otherwise.

http://www.southasiamail.com/news.php?id=100346

Gareth Amory August 29th 2011 | 1:13 PM

Well, it wasn't a good week for anti-aquaculture folks. Their "Scientist of the year" didn't give them what they wanted. Their biased SFU researcher couldn't provide any link. 

Strange, you'd think they'd be happy that salmon farming is proving not to be the main reason (or any reason?) for the poor return in 2009 (nor is it the reason for the record return in 2010).

But instead of accepting that they are chasing a lost cause, they get angry, plug their ears, start calling names, and omitting anything that doesn't help prove their "case".

Childish.

They want to blame somebody. They need to blame somebody. They cannot be wrong.

But they have been proven wrong before and are being proven wrong again...and that really p$*#&@ss them off.

This is better than watching the folks on Jersey Shore self-implode over time.

Jillian August 30th 2011 | 4:16 PM

The author's bio: "Ruth Salmon is Executive Director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance"

She's an industry lobbyist

Enough said.

Duende August 31st 2011 | 11:11 AM

I agree with you on many points, especially the fact that the Cohen Commission must study all potential causes and synergies of causes for the long decline of salmon. It shouldn't be just about aquaculture. But without these activists' voices, I think fish farms would be too lax, and their long-term effects must be regulated and studied. History does show that these kinds of fish farms degrade natural environments around them. However, I think both sides should continue to encourage study into the causes of salmon decline, from warmer rivers to sewage to ocean acifidication to over-fishing to predation to starvation. I think there must be a number of reasons why the sockey are declining year after year (and, sorry, but one good year doesn't reverse the trend).

One point of contention: with good fisheries management and strict enforcement to prevent over-fishing, we'd have a lot more healthy wild salmon stocks. Farmed salmon aren't feeding the world at all; in fact, the food they are fed could feed the world. Nope. Farmed salmon is being sold as an expensive product to the upper middle-class. I personally don't eat it because I find the taste awful!

Anniep September 2nd 2011 | 4:16 PM

Farmed salmon does not taste awful it tastes different . Why ? Because it is Atlantic salmon and not the Pacific salmon people are familiar with on the West coast. It has it's own unique flavour as do each species of Pacific salmon. My granddaughter will eat nothing else but Atlantic salmon because she finds sockeye too strong tasting as do I. Atlantic salmon is not expensive nor is it only the upper class that eat it. You need to get out more.

Flint September 21st 2011 | 1:01 AM

Take some break, I keep on thinking about it so many times, if I will go for it or not.

But my intuition was just a mistake. Building it alone was my starting point for a great success.
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