Monthly Archives: July 2011

And the pressure builds… “silences and lies” and DFO and the feds…

Thanks to some other folks that are hilighting these articles. The mainstream media seems to be on to this bandwagon now…

New York Times article:

Norwegians Concede a Role in Chilean Salmon Virus

By   Published: July 27, 2011

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — A virus that has killed millions of salmon in Chile and ravaged the fish farming industry there was probably brought over from Norway, a major salmon producer has acknowledged.

Cermaq, a state-controlled Norwegian aquaculture company that has become one of the principal exporters of salmon from Chile, has endorsed a scientific study concluding that salmon eggs shipped from Norway to Chile are the “likely reason” for the outbreak of the virus in 2007, according to Lise Bergan, a company spokeswoman.

But, she argued, “the report didn’t pinpoint any company” as the culprit. [gee, thank goodness for that...]

The virus, infectious salmon anaemia, or I.S.A., was first reported at a Chilean salmon farm owned by Marine Harvest, another Norwegian company [which also has a large amount of operations on the B.C. coast].

It quickly spread through southern Chile, wracking a fishing business that had become one of the country’s biggest exporters during the past 15 years. The Chilean industry, whose major clients include the United States and Brazil, suffered more than $2 billion in losses, saw its production of Atlantic salmon fall by half and had to lay off 26,000 workers.

The outbreak in Chile also revealed structural problems within the industry, including overcrowding in pens that environmentalists say probably helped speed the spread of the virus. Since then, the industry and the Chilean government have instituted a wide range of reforms to try to contain outbreaks, but despite extensive efforts to rein it in the virus continues to spread.

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Victoria Times Colonist

Muzzling scientists wrong

Taxpayers paid for Kristi Miller’s important research on why West Coast salmon stocks have been crashing.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, for which she works, wanted the information made public.

There is great public concern about the future of salmon.

And when Science, a leading research journal, published the findings in January, it notified 7,400 journalists worldwide and advised them how to seek interviews with Miller, who leads a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo.

Then the Privy Council Office in Ottawa – the top bureaucrats – stepped in and muzzled Miller, Postmedia News reported this week. She was ordered not to talk to journalists or speak publicly about her team’s research.

Those in control in Ottawa also ordered the Fisheries Department not to issue a news release about the study, saying that it “was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect.” (The research identified a genetic marker associated with increased death rates for Fraser sockeye and “raises the possibility” that a viral infection might be to blame.)

The gag order remains in effect more than six months later.

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From UPI.com:

Canada said to be silencing scientists

OTTAWA, July 27 (UPI) — A leading fisheries scientist studying why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada’s West Coast has been muzzled by a government department, documents show.

The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the prime minister’s office, stopped Kristi Miller, who heads a $6 million salmon genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island, from talking about her work published in the research journal Science, Postmedia News reported.

The journal notified journalists worldwide and encouraged Miller to “please feel free to speak with journalists.”

Documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act show major media outlets were making arrangements to speak with Miller but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.

The office also blocked a Fisheries Department news release about Miller’s study, saying the release “was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect,” the documents show.

The Harper government has been reining in federal scientists whose work is financed by taxpayers and is often of significant public interest, Postmedia said.

Researchers are now required to submit to a process that includes “media lines” approved by communications officers, strategists and ministerial staff in Ottawa, Postmedia said.

The government’s control over communication is “really poisoning the science environment within government,” said Jeffrey Hutchings, a senior fisheries scientist at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

“When the lead author of a paper in Science is not permitted to speak about her work, that is suppression,” he said. “There is simply no ifs, ands or buts about that.”

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Don’t think this story sounds familiar… go back and read the various accounts of the collapse of North Atlantic Cod. Here’s a decent little summary I found online, from the peer reviewed Canadian Journal of Communication.

Silences and Lies: How the Industrial Fishery Constrained Voices of Ecological Conservation

by Carol Corbin — Vol 27, No 1 (2002)

…As the fishery industrialized over the course of the twentieth century, those who worked in the industry became increasingly segregated. Distinct discursive realms emerged, among them “fishers’ vernacular,” “scientific language,” “product talk,” and DFO’s “official word.”

There was little dialogue between the groups and little collective opposition to the overfishing. DFO’s “official word” claimed that the stocks were strong despite protestation to the contrary from several fishers’ groups and DFO’s own scientists.

The outcome for the region was economically and ecologically devastating.

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However, I suppose we should listen to the “official word” from the technocrats within some of these institutions that suggest all is good in the hood…

“Scientist muzzled over missing-salmon study”

Is this not deja vu all over again?

I am curious what the lengthy commenter “Brian” who apparently works for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has to say about this one…

The Province/Vancouver Sun, 26th July 2011

 Scientist muzzled over missing-salmon study

Privy Council Office gags B.C. biologist, dismisses her findings, blacks out documents

Margaret Munro (Postmedia News)

VANCOUVER — Top bureaucrats in Ottawa have muzzled a leading fisheries scientist whose discovery could help explain why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada’s West Coast, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News.

The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister’s Office, stopped Kristi Miller from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years.

Science, one of the world’s top research journals, published Miller’s findings in January. The journal considered the work so significant it notified “over 7,400″ journalists worldwide about Miller’s “Suffering Salmon” study.

Science told Miller to “please feel free to speak with journalists.” It advised reporters to contact Diane Lake, a media officer with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Vancouver, “to set up interviews with Dr. Miller.”

Miller heads a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island.

The documents show major media outlets were soon lining up to speak with Miller, but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.

The Privy Council Office also nixed a Fisheries Department news release about Miller’s study, saying the release “was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect,” according to documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act.

Miller is still not allowed to speak publicly about her discovery, and the Privy Council Office and Fisheries Department defend the way she has been silenced.

But observers say it is indefensible and more evidence of the way the government is undermining its scientists.

“There is no question in my mind it’s muzzling,” said Jeffrey Hutchings, a senior fisheries scientist at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

“When the lead author of a paper in Science is not permitted to speak about her work, that is suppression,” he said. “There is simply no ifs, ands or buts about that.”

The Harper government has tightened the leash on federal scientists, whose work is financed by taxpayers and is often of significant public interest — be it about fish stocks, air pollution or food safety.

In one high-profile case reported by Postmedia News last year, Natural Resources Canada scientist Scott Dallimore had to wait for “pre-clearance” from political staff in the minister’s office in Ottawa to speak about a study on a colossal flood that swept across northern Canada at the end of the last ice age.

Researchers, who used to be free to discuss their science, are now required to follow a process that includes “media lines” approved by communications officers, strategists and ministerial staff in Ottawa. They vet media requests, demand reporters’ questions in advance and decide when and if researchers can give interviews.

Environment Canada now even has media officers in Ottawa tape-recording the interviews scientists are allowed to give.

Yet transparency as well as open communication and discussion are essential to science, Hutchings said, and Ottawa’s excessive control over communication is “really poisoning the science environment within government.”

“An iron curtain has been draped over communication of science in the last five to six years,” he said.

The Privy Council Office and the Fisheries Department said Miller has not been permitted to discuss her work because of the Cohen Commission, a judicial inquiry created by the prime minister to look into declines of the famed Fraser River sockeye salmon. She is expected to appear before the commission in late August.

The Privy Council Office has “management responsibility” for the commission and decided Miller should not give media interviews about her study because of the ongoing inquiry, said PCO spokesman Raymond Rivet.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada is conscious of the requirement to ensure that our conduct does not influence, and is not perceived to be attempting to influence, the evidence or course of the inquiry,” department spokeswoman Melanie Carkner, said in a written statement.

Hutchings doesn’t buy it, saying he finds it “inconceivable that the Cohen Commission would have viewed the communication of brand new scientific information as somehow interfering with its proceedings.”

To Hutchings, the muzzling of Miller is “all about control — controlling the message and controlling communication.”

The government released 762 pages of documents relating to the Miller study to Postmedia News. Many passages and pages were blacked out before they were released.

The documents give a glimpse of the way media strategists, communication specialists and officials control and script what government scientists say — or, in Miller’s case, do not say —about their research.

The documents show the Fisheries Department wanted to publicize Miller’s study, which raises the spectre of a mysterious virus killing huge numbers of Fraser River salmon before they reach their spawning grounds.

In November, two months before Miller’s findings were published in Science, Fisheries Department communications staff started preparing “media lines.”

The lines said Miller’s findings “demonstrate unequivocally that salmon are entering the river in a compromised state and that survivorship can be predicted based on gene expression more than 200 kilometres before salmon reach the river.”

Miller’s team has not yet identified a culprit, but her Science study said one possibility was a virus associated with leukemia, which can be transmitted from fish to fish.

Reporters from Postmedia News, CBC and many other media, including Time Magazine, asked to speak with Miller after receiving the Jan. 9 notice from Science.

The documents show DFO communications staff firing off a series of “URGENT” emails as they tried to get clearance from Ottawa for Miller’s “media lines” and the OK for her to speak with reporters.

They eventually got approval from DFO’s deputy minister and the federal fisheries minister’s office but then had to go “to PCO for sign off,” the documents say.

“You need to write a note for hot-button approval,” Rhonda Walker-Sisttie, director of DFO public affairs and strategic communications in Ottawa, told the Vancouver communications branch by email, advising them to use the “PCO template for media requests.”

As the reporters’ deadlines loomed, Terence Davis, DFO’s Pacific regional director of communications, implored Ottawa to clear Miller to talk.

“If we are unable to set up a technical briefing or interviews for later today, the opportunity for DFO to gain the profile we would like for Kristi’s work may be lost or very much diluted,” Davis said in one email.

“We are pushing hard,” Walker-Sisttie assured the Vancouver communications office.

Then, weeks after the department learned Miller’s findings were to be published in Science and several days after 7,400 journalists were notified about the study, the PCO decided not to let Miller talk about her findings and their significance.

“PCO has decided that we can only respond in writing,” Walker-Sisttie reported from Ottawa. Another explained: “Kristi was not approved to provide interviews.”

The reporters, who the documents show were baffled and miffed by DFO’s inability to get Miller on the phone or on camera for interviews, filed stories based on her highly technical Science report and interviews with some of Miller’s colleagues at the University of B.C.

Miller is still not allowed to speak about the Science report, which she wrote in a Nov. 12 memo “reflects only a fraction of what we know.”

But Miller will finally be able to discuss her work in late August, when she is scheduled to testify at the Cohen Commission.

Hutchings said government communication strategists are likely now busy telling Miller: “Here is what you can say. Here is what you can’t say. Here is what we want you to stick to. Don’t talkabout this.”

“I’d be amazed if she is not receiving such quote, unquote ‘advice,’ ” said Hutchings.

 

When is it that publicly funded institutions can start muzzling publicly funded civil employees from releasing information rather vital to the public interest?

trouble at the DFO henhouse?

sinking ship?

So what happens in the federal Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans when colleagues call out their own? …When employees/scientists call out other employees/scientists?

Is this something the ol’ Human Resources dept. deals with?

And what does it do for public confidence when a publicly-funded government institution has their employees bickering?

A memo released as evidence within the Cohen Commission into Fraser sockeye declines suggests a little trouble in the henhouse… (in the list of evidence released July 8th — exhibit #1342)

Hargreaves and Beamish memo 2003

'... i agree with the criticisms of DFO'

.

Not that this sort of squabbling is surprising… however, this Ministry has a pretty important function. One is left wondering who’s running the show?

no association, personally or professionally

‘…not a good team player…’

how dare you.

I didn’t realize “science” was a team game…

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The Cohen Commission is into a summer break now, however there could be some more interesting DFO memos etc. How many other non-’team players’ aren’t pulling the line?

 

how do you spell government cluster#$%* ?

quality urban salmon habitat?

In flipping through a web search, I came across a BC Court of Appeal decision from last week: Yanke v. Salmon Arm (City) there is also a quick summary of the case at the large Canadian law firm Blakes.

B.C. Court Limits DFO [Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans] Authority in Riparian Area Development

In short, Mr. Yanke constructed a building within a streamside protection and enhancement areas — otherwise known as the “riparian area” — of Shuswap Lake near Salmon Arm, BC.

The issue as stated in the BC Court of Appeals judgement is: “whether construction of the house, as proposed, would violate the Riparian Areas Regulation, B.C. Reg. 376/2004 under the Fish Protection Act, S.B.C. 1997, c. 21.”

These regulations are Provincial regulations established by the BC Ministry of Environment (MOE). As stated on the MOE website:

The Fish Protection Act is a key element of the British Columbia Fisheries Strategy to save our fish stocks before it’s too late .

…Protecting riparian fish habitat, while facilitating urban development that exhibits high standards is a priority for the Government of British Columbia. Good quality urban streamside habitat is essential for ensuring healthy fish populations.

[I'll reserve comment on the immense bumpf-y-ness of this fluffy, meaningless underlined statement]

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The comment section of the Blakes’ summary tends to wrap the issue well:

The Court of Appeal decision has confirmed that the deference paid to the DFO in British Columbia by local governments when approving developments near water bodies is unsupported in legislation, and the MOE’s development of agreements and Guidebooks has not helped to end the confusion over the actual role of the DFO [federal Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans].

Curious, kind of sounds like some of the struggles underway at the Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser sockeye — e.g. What does DFO do? What is it supposed to do? What does it have the authority to do?

And more clearly — what is it supposed to be doing, and why isn’t it doing it?

Similar to the recent court decisions that overturned a decision by the Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans to grant authority of salmon aquaculture to the Province.

Ooops, sorry folks… wrong decision — said the courts.

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The Blakes summary:

In a recent decision of importance to project developers dealing with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the B.C. Court of Appeal has agreed with the analysis of the Supreme Court of British Columbia just a year ago, which exposed the institutional fiction that the DFO may reject development proposals that do not cause a harmful alteration, disruption or destruction to fish habitat (HADD).

…the Court of Appeal explicitly confirmed the lower court’s analysis of the role the DFO plays (or does not play) under the provincial Riparian Areas Regulation (RAR), and the mistaken reliance by municipalities on the DFO to approve or disapprove of projects in riparian areas. In doing so, the Court of Appeal said the practices of the various government departments (DFO, the B.C. Ministry of Environment (MOE) and the City of Salmon Arm) appear to be based on a scheme not found in any legislation.

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It gets better…

From the BC Court of Appeals decision:

The Legislation

[13]         The legislative framework that governs this case is part of a cooperative effort between federal, provincial and local governments to preserve and enhance fish habitat. The provisions that we are concerned with regulate and restrict the use of land adjacent to watercourses.

The Appeal decision goes on to explain how the legislation was developed by the Province and how it shifted and changed in the period between the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Streamside Protection Regulation evolved into the Riparian Areas Regulation, which suggests:

[17]         The Riparian Areas Regulation establishes “riparian assessment areas” which, in the case of a lake, extend 30 m. upland from the natural boundary (or “high water mark” as defined in the regulation). No development can take place within a riparian assessment area except in accordance with the regulation.

[19]         In addition to the prescribed assessment methods, the Provincial government has published the Riparian Areas Regulation Implementation Guidebook to assist local governments, landowners, developers, community organizations and qualified environmental professionals. The guidebook sets out policies and practices that go well beyond those established in the regulation. The Attorney General concedes that the Guidebook does not have legislative force. To the extent that it sets out requirements that go beyond the legislation, therefore, those requirements are not legally enforceable.

And here is essentially the crux of the matter, and the government cluster#$%@:

[25]         It appears that the Ministry of Environment, in consultation with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Union of B.C. Municipalities, has developed a detailed (though not entirely consistent) regulatory framework for administering the Riparian Areas Regulation. This framework is reflected in the Riparian Areas Regulation Implementation Guidebook, in an agreement styled “Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement Respecting the Implementation of British Columbia’s Riparian Areas Regulation” and in a document published by the provincial government entitled “Variances to the BC Riparian Areas Regulation”.

The regulatory framework described in those documents prohibits all development within streamside protection and enhancement areas. It allows the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to adjust the boundaries of a streamside protection and enhancement area by way of a “variance” and allows a local government to make minor adjustments to the area by a process known as “flexing”.

Unfortunately, the elaborate regulatory framework described in those documents is not supported by the Fish Protection Act or the Riparian Areas Regulation, and therefore has no basis in law.

Awesome.

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As the Blake summary suggests:

… it is helpful that the Court has confirmed DFO’s limited role in riparian developments by providing clear direction to local governments and the province to avoid deferring decision-making to a federal entity with no authority to approve the work, and to not unilaterally diverge from the requirements of the RAR [Riparian Areas Regulation]. The hope is that municipalities will now follow the law, and stop insisting that DFO approve a project before they confirm it complies with the RAR.

Some concluding thoughts from the Court of Appeals decision:

[26]         It is not clear why there came to be such a dissonance between the statutory provisions and the regulatory framework that is actually applied. What is clear, however, is that the Court must be guided by the legislative provisions rather than by the Guidebook, the Intergovernmental Agreement, or provincial government publications.

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The saddest part of this whole thing… riparian areas in BC are basically up for development as long as an “environmental professional” says so. One has to wonder if these “professionals” take into consideration ‘cumulative impacts’ of all riparian habitat development or is it only site specific to the development at hand?

What do you think the cost of this court case was to taxpayers? Through lower courts, to BC Supreme Court, to BC Court of Appeals and Attorney General of BC is on the hook for Mr. Yanke’s costs too…

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death of a thousand cuts

wild salmon habitat… death of a thousand cuts… (paper cuts).

 

Public hungry for salmon info?

hungry public?

.

Two stories ran this past week that raised my curiosity.

One in the Globe and Mail:

Cohen commission’s calm hides turmoil behind scenes

The article focuses on the “undertaking of confidentiality” that all Cohen Commission participants had to take before participating in the Commission.

Alexandra Morton has suggested she needs to be released from the undertaking to release important information on salmon viruses that may be impacting, or could hugely impact, BC’s wild salmon.

But in counter submissions, the B.C. government and the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association argued that it is important for the commission to maintain confidentiality so that evidence can be presented fairly and in context during the hearings.

The BCSFA argued that releasing documents before they become exhibits “would promote a media trial that would distract the public from the commission’s work.”

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Distract the public from the Commission’s work” ?

If a poll was done right now in BC… how many people would suggest they’re following the Cohen Commission?

If the public is so voraciously consuming the Commisson’s multiple hundreds/thousands of pages of reports, evidence and information then why not televise the hearings on CPAC or otherwise?

It could be like an OJ-trial spectacle…

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Another related article ran in the Tyee — BC’s independent online news stop:

Is a Virus Ravaging BC’s Sockeye?

The government’s position seems to be that releasing scientific data to ignorant, sensation-hungry reporters will only confuse matters — as if decisions on a major public resource could be made behind closed doors.

There it is again… this assumption that the media and public is absolutely glued to this issue.

In some ways– yes… in many ways– no.

And most definitely not waiting with bated breath for some ‘complicated policy prescriptions’ or ‘core policy drivers’ to begin dealing with the issue of salmon declines…

medicated public?

And the even better assumption (my favorite) that the media and public is “ignorant” of these issues.

‘just leave it with us professionals… we know what’s best’

(and my response: “well… if you know what’s best then why didn’t you do that in the first place…?”