Salmon farmers hire PR firms: “It’s about time the real story was told,” says the industry..

Small little press release running in the media yesterday:

Sure, your cheque is in the mail. Really.

An Initiative of the BC Salmon Farmers Association Invites the Public to Get the Straight Facts on Salmon Farming at their New web site, www.BCSalmonFacts.ca

“If it wasn’t so sad, it would almost be funny,” says Mary Ellen Walling, Executive Director of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association. “Many people are being fed a diet of misinformation and that’s exactly why our members have launched www.BCSalmonFacts.ca, a new web site where we will separate myths from fact and set the record straight.”

In addition to the new website, members of the BC Salmon Farmers Association are also launching a television and print media advertising campaign urging viewers and readers not to believe everything they hear about farmed salmon without first checking the facts.

“At BCSalmonFacts.ca people will be able to separate fact from fiction,” says Clare Backman, Director of Environmental Compliance and Community Relations at Marine Harvest Canada, a member of the BCSFA. “It’s about time the real story was told.”

There are video clips and forums on the site with links to articles of interest. On the forums people can post questions and get straight answers. There is also a Facebook page and a Twitter feed.

So I suppose Backman figures that the general public won’t catch the bias involved in this initiative? Or the peculiar coincidence that the salmon farmers are under considerable pressure in the current Cohen Commission?

I tend to get a little chuckle out when I hear some company or industry association carry on about how they’re going to: “set the record straight.”

It’s a downward spiral. You are basically saying, hey general public you’re stupid, you’ve been duped, you don’t know how to do your own research and come to your own beliefs. You need to be spoon fed our farmed spin to really understand the issues.

BCSalmonFacts.ca is an initiative of three major salmon farming companies and two feed suppliers: Marine Harvest Canada, Mainstream Canada, Grieg Seafood, EWOS and Skretting, all members of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

This isn’t all that different then say… the non-stick cookware folks launching a campaign to explain how “healthy” using their products is…

Or, those toy manufacturers that use lead paint on their products launching a PR campaign.

It’s called: SPIN. How can we spin this issue so people get muddled up on the truth…

Other case in point: Prime Minister Harper and new Environment Minister Peter Kent setting out on a campaign to “clean-up” the image of the tar sands. (coincidence, I suppose that Mr. Kent is a former TV anchor and reporter…?)

Peter Kent’s green agenda: Clean up oil sands’ dirty reputation

The oil sands have a new defender: freshly minted Environment Minister Peter Kent, who calls Canada’s tarry resource an “ethical” source of energy that should take priority in the U.S over foreign producers with poor democratic track records.

OK, great.

Rather than concentrate on actual environmental consequences: water use, incredible amounts of natural gas being burnt, greenhouse gas release coming out the ying yang,  immense pipelines, and so on and so on…

Let’s concentrate on the “ethical” component, on the “perception” and “reputation” of the tar sands… instead of the actual frigging impacts.

That’s right the “ethics”.

Hmmmm.

_ _ _ _ _ _

The BCSFA is the voice of British Columbia’s environmentally sustainable farmed salmon industry.

Farmed salmon is the province’s largest agricultural export and is recognized around the world as a naturally healthy and environmentally responsible product.

Ok, this is spin at its finest. Any of you out there who teach media communications, or Public Relations (PR), or professional spin mongering… this is good.

“Naturally healthy”… yeah, like McDonald’s Big Mac made from naturally healthy beef.

“Environmentally responsible”… yeah, I’m sure that catching food/forage fish off the coast of South America, grinding it into fish meal and shipping it to the BC coast is about as “enviro responsible” as it comes.

_ _ _ _ _

I suppose the one positive about this slick PR initiative launched largely by publicly traded corporations — its that it mirrors the great old cigarette company campaigns. Rumour has it that the Salmon Farmers Association and its associated companies have hired PR firms that have actually launched some of those old campaigns.

They are pulling out all the stops on this one: a slick website, newspaper articles and social media. It’s almost out of a textbook.

Oh right, it is.

Companies take huge PR hit due to poor product, or industrial accident, or other negative company consequence (BP anyone? and I don’t mean Boston Pizza — listeria (hysteria) meat — Mad Cow — avian flu — etc. ) … what to do?

(p.s. did you see a pattern there… industrial feedlots, not good)

Launch counter-spin PR campaign, hire slick spokespeople and get the word out that your product is “fine”, “responsible” and “ethical”… and even “environmentally responsible”. (yeah, well shitting in the woods is also environmentally responsible… as long as you bury it… just becomes a problem when a couple million folks start shitting in the woods)

Why are those pesky, panicky, illogical naysayers attacking our products, shouting their ills, and simply putting good blue collar folks out of work?

It just doesn’t make sense folks… look how ethical we are, look how responsible we are, look we put $$ into this local kids park… our practices are responsible, why can’t you just understand this…

“oh I know,” says CEO, President, top cheese… “let’s launch a PR campaign to clean up our reputation… Somebody get on the blower and find me a PR expert.”

_ _ _ _ _

My analogy: why is it that the companies and it’s PR-spin Association have to undertake these spin campaigns?

Would it be all that different than most folks resumes? …because I’m sure that everyone’s resume is exactly true.

Customer service as a teenager becomes: “customer experience engineer.”

Mens wear associate becomes: “Product line supervisor.”

Cashier at a grocery store, becomes “Financial exchange controller.”

Is it lying? No, it’s SPIN.

If “it’s time the real story is told” or spun, you know, like a good yarn — then what about the peer-reviewed scientific articles worldwide, coming from areas where salmon are farmed, that suggest: if you’re going to farm salmon, don’t do in open-pen feedlots — Or, absolutely do not farm salmon in areas where wild salmon populations might interact. What are those stories? Fairy tales, Dr. Seuss rhymes…

When an industry goes into full spin mode; it generally means a downward spiral of despair and insecure feelings that they are seriously threatened (if not, then why launch?). Once you have to go public, selling how great you are — as a person, or as a company — you’re on a very slippery, well-waxed, downward slope that is subject to one of the other things that is certain on this planet like death and taxes… and that’s gravity.

You can try and fight it… like plastic surgery or ‘augmentation’ for example… but it’s inevitable.

13 thoughts on “Salmon farmers hire PR firms: “It’s about time the real story was told,” says the industry..

  1. Or is it just communication of information?

    Is it spin, or is it just bringing information to the public – who are actually asking for fact on the subject?

    Instead of critiquing semantics (like the word “natural”), how about actually reading the information and offering comment on the facts presented? Discussion on that level is much more constructive than simply saying any communication from business is “spin”.

    This blog is just spin and opinion, and I bear that in mind while reading…but I still read with an open mind.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the comment, or spin, or information… (said tongue in cheek).
    Of course the blog is spin, everything is to a certain degree. And that begs the question — what are facts? who’s facts? and for what purpose?

    The day we start grade school, we are being spun a yarn… it’s near impossible to avoid.

    what “facts” were in the press release? hard to say.
    I’d have a much easier time having a ‘constructive’ conversation if the BC salmon farmers association, or any other industry, would come out and say: “yup, we have an impact, here it is… here’s how we propose to deal with it”.

    Instead, most (not all) try and sell the ‘ethics’ or the ‘social responsibility’ or whatever else rather than having a real conversation about impacts, and what is appropriate.

    Glad you’re reading, and even happier that you’re commenting — that’s discussion, and it can be constructive. That was a big part of the reason I started the blog in the first place.

    thanks again.

  3. Nick

    I have always found your site interesting and fun to read. I have even contributed to your site financially but must say your take on this is very shallow and lacks any deep thought that you normally put into your posts. Comparing farmed salmon to cigarrettes and lead paint is not only beneath you it shows that you have not really done any research ,only took some cues from the disinformation that was out there and regurgitated it. Definately picking the low hanging fruit. I certainly will continue to read your blog but will hope you due better research on future topics.

  4. Annie

    It seems to me the biggest contributor of non facts about salmon farming is Alex Morton and the Wilderness committee. The facts on the new http://www.bcsalmonfacts.ca are indeed the truth but people of the opposing view continue to keep a closed mind and don’t want to hear the truth as it exists. Frankly comments about spin are a real hypocrisy considering anti-farm campaigns like Farmed and Dangerous. Telling the public something healthy is dangerous to eat is nothing more than the height of spin. As for the Cohen enquiry it isn’t about aquaculture it’s about the poor return in 2009 of sockeye. The Engos along with Morton are doing their best to turn it into an enquiry into salmon farming. It won’t wash. People with that view are only interested in negativity and they continue to put it out with great regularity.

  5. salmon guy Post author

    many thanks for the comment, support and honesty. Fair enough on all of it.

    With another read, you might find that I’m not necessarily comparing farmed salmon to cigarettes or lead paint — the comparison is more to highlight similarities in the public relations (PR) styles. However, everyone interprets things differently and it is often a challenge to try and keep intention and connotation and so on, running on the same plane.

    It’s been really interesting for me to see how activity on this blog exploded yesterday when I took this salmon farming PR issue on — as you may very well have noticed, I haven’t commented on salmon farming much since starting this blog. There are no shortages of other information sources out there (good and bad). Plus, it’s not due to a shortage of research, it’s something I’ve followed for years, it’s more that there is no shortage of raging debate out there – often dictated more by emotion than attempts at balanced discussions.

    thanks again, and hope that you keep reading and commenting when you feel so inclined.

  6. salmon guy Post author

    thanks Annie.
    As you well recognize and express yourself — this is a hot, hot button issue. I respect and appreciate the incredible variety of opinions on this issue — and with that, I, of course, have an opinion of my own. And as comments on this site, other sites and so on clearly demonstrate, folks are in turn going to have an opinion about my opinion. Somewhere through all of that is a middle road of some kind.

    I respectfully disagree that the information on the bcsalmonfacts is ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ or the only truth.
    It’s too complex an issue for that to be the case. I also don’t fully agree with information on the other side of the equation either — i agree with some folks that suggest there’s fear mongering there.

    It has been quite entertaining to see some folks assume that I’m one of the evil non-government organizations (NGO, or Engo). It’s just me.

    And yes, the inquiry is about the poor return of sockeye in 2009, however it is also the fifth of these in the last few decades. That’s a problem.

    The main point of my post on the ‘salmonfacts’ is that it is too heavy on the PR-spin side of things — inasmuch as folks spinning it as a simple, harmless stating of “the facts”. Some of them are half facts without the full story. And really, what is a “fact”? And for that fact… what is the “truth”?

    pretty tough to find a clear definition on these things, without going into the philosophical… it’s a complex issue.

    hope you keep reading and keep commenting.
    thanks again.

  7. Annie

    Salmon guy…… I’ve been a commercial fisher and now involved in salmon farming via my husband’s employment. I’ve seen it all over the past thirty years. Everything from the Pearce report that stated Commercial salmon fishers were over capitalized to numerous Fraser river sockeye enquiries. This enquiry will no doubt like the others just turn into a big waste of time and money. Too many groups trying to steer the enquiry into ONLY looking at salmon farming instead of the real culprits being poaching, the AFS, over fishing and poor decisions by the Pacific Salmon Commission amongst others. Fraser sockeye have returned in poor numbers numerous times and often pre-salmon farm days. The question I ask myself about 2009 returns is were the numbers wrong to begin with and from scale samples taken in 2010 record run how many fish were five year olds ?

  8. salmon guy Post author

    yes, true enough — i’m certainly not holding my breath over the Cohen Commission either. Yet, some decent results sometimes come out of these — just no political will to actually implement recommendations. Pearce was right though, the industry was overcapitalized.

    There are certainly some organizations pushing the Commission towards the aquaculture side of things — however certainly not all of them. It’s a pretty diverse schedule of hearings, with a pretty diverse range of interests granted “standing”.

    I agree exactly with some of your thoughts on where the issues lie — esp. overfishing. However, I’m not one that buys into the ‘poaching’ argument though. I can only assume that you are referring to First Nation “illegal fisheries” — as the media and others love to call it. Historically over the last 5-6 decades the total salmon catch by First Nations has been well less than 5% of the total catch, generally closer to 3% — so for ‘poaching’ to be a major issue First Nations would have to be catching five, six, seven, ten times or more of what has been reported in food, social, and ceremonial fisheries. Pretty tough to believe there’s been that much “black market” salmon out there…

    Plus, poaching is an interesting term subjected to issues in a Province that has failed miserably in concluding treaties with First Nations — with salmon being a critical component of many First Nation treaties. With the sad failure of a treaty process means an ongoing onslaught in the courts — a much too adversarial and expensive process.

    I’ve heard your question about the five year olds in a few places — i suppose some of that might be coming out of the current Pacific Salmon Commission post season reporting?

    thanks for continuing to engage in the discussion here.

  9. Brian

    I frequently disagree with Salmonguy it seems, but in the midst of battle we do agree on some things. I agree with Dave on this point. We have gone down the First Nations poaching arguement already (if this is what is being implied). First Nations catch far less than the commericial sector. Catch monitoring is not perfect and does have it’s challenges, but I have a hard time believing that First Nation’s catch monitoring is out millions or even thousands of fish. Think of the logistics of moving all those fish. We also have to factor in other things such as estimates made inseason into the mix. In addition, since the William’s inquiry I believe more effort was put towards enforcement. This is not to say that all First Nations are all on the same page, that they all get along and all play by the rules; however, the VAST majority of bands are very conservation minded, especially those in Salmonguy’s neck of the woods. Dave is well versed on these particular issues so I do take note of what he says on them (but don’t tell him). Treaty negotiations needs to be a priorty so that we all will have more certainty and become partners in management rather than opponents. In the end we all want the fish stocks to be as healthy as possible.

    The good thing that has happened within the last 2 years now is that more and more people are talking about salmon. When you think of it, this blog has made a significant contribution to this discussion despite my occaisional disagreements with the man in charge. What is worse is when we stop talking about it and stop engaging with one another.

    I do agree with Annie that aquaculture appears to be dominating the Cohen inquiry or at least the opponents of aquaculture are doing their best to put more of the focus on their concerns. Let’s face it – they are very well organized and know how to work the PR game. Governments and salmon farmers are seen as ruthless, uncaring people who lie and cheat, so it is quite easy to get people all hyped out about them. Equally, throw in the term “multi-national” (a common term used to describe anything bad these days) and people believe they are being robbed by tourists that sweep in and leave the next day with all their money. The inquiry needs to be about the causes which will includes how we manage these fish. I think we all can learn something out of all this including something about ourselves. However, critics need to decide whether we are going to try to make this a positive thing for all concern or should be continue down the path of confrontation where it is “us vs. them”. I do agree that the problem is related to “us” but the the problem with “us” can come in many different forms. That is why we have so much friction.

    Quote from Annie: “The question I ask myself about 2009 returns is were the numbers wrong to begin with and from scale samples taken in 2010 record run how many fish were five year olds ?

    The numbers were not wrong to begin with given this was the best information at the time (this is the part that most people forget). I realize Dave’s views on this, but please let me explain. Forcasters work with the best information available. This information (stock/recruitment data) along with environmental data from the ocean is put into models which attempt to project returns; yet, these the success of these models are based on certain assumptions. These assumptions are heavily influenced around available (or lack of and reliable stock/recruitment data) and ocean productivity, so if ocean productivity is variable or uncertain you can understand how this can influence your estimates. Forecasters try to choose the right models for a particular system by testing the performance of them and comparing their ability to forecast previous year’s returns. When you have the situation we have now in 2010, this basically blew these assumptions out the door. Who would have thought that an epic event was going to occur this year? It is extremely difficult for models to capture all this. Hopefully, further understandings of ocean conditions will enable forecasters to make better predictions. I will attach a link that should give you a better understanding of forecasting.

    http://www.sfu.ca/cstudies/science/resources/adaptingtochange/Peterman2008-Pre-seasonForecasting.pdf

    The majority of Fraser River sockeye are 4 year olds with other components being 3 year olds and 5 year olds at the tail ends. Some systems have larger 5 year old components than others. This is not unusual and it happens already. To the best of my knowledge I have not seen anything documented about sockeye holding back in the ocean for additional year (changing from a 4 year old to a 5 year old) before returning home to spawn.

  10. salmon guy Post author

    Thanks for the comments Brian and passing along info.
    as much as we’ve set out on a few keyboard pounding exchanges… we probably agree on quite a bit when it comes to salmon. But then like anything, the path to take, on how to best look after these critters, or how they might look after us, can be somewhat forked and complex — and will require folks from all sides of the issue.
    thanks again.

  11. Annie

    Salmon guy, I think the bottom line is all interest groups want to protect the wild stocks. Salmon farmers have the least of all to gain if those stocks are harmed as the Morton group will immediately point the finger at them as she continually does. I wonder who or what she’d blame if there weren’t salmon farms in the vicinity. I wonder if she’d even be here. I don’t see the science in her methods and I think her efforts to keep trying to steer the commission in the direction of salmon farming indicate she has a personal agenda that may not be directly involved to protection of wild salmon. The enquiry has much data to go over and I think it’s time she put a lid on the aquaculture aspect and let other scientists present their information and studies. Her arrogant I’m the only expert here attitude is getting tiresome and I hope the real scientists with good information can come together and try and resolve why the fish are sometimes showing up in record numbers and other years not at all. The sea lice theory is old news and there’s a lot of new ideas that need to be examined.

  12. salmon guy Post author

    Thanks again Annie, some good points and several that I agree with.
    A couple of things to ponder… from another perspective, salmon farmers potentially have much to gain if wild stocks disappeared. If there were no wild salmon to potentially impact (like Chile for example), I think the whole issue of salmon farms could potentially be about as hot-button as a new mushroom farm in the Fraser Valley, or an expanded chicken farm. (not to take away from folks that oppose salmon farms because they potentially impact clam bed and otherwise).

    Much criticism directed towards salmon farms stems directly from the perception that they could be impacting wild salmon runs. In directing campaigns against salmon farmers many critics dig for everything they can find that assists the opposition.

    In regards to the Cohen Commission, I don’t know if it’s much use pointing the finger at Morton, as Justice Cohen was the one that granted “standing” to those participating in the Commission, and he is also the one that directs the process. He obviously felt that Ms. Morton and colleagues had something to contribute, and he will also be the one that decides who will have a lid stuck on them.

    I don’t quite buy the argument that the Commission is solely focusing on salmon farming (and you’re certainly not the only one that feels this) — there are too many diverse groups granted “standing” in the process (e.g. Rio Tinto Alcan). It is a pretty darn complex and diverse issue that I don’t think any one group is going to dominate.

    Fair enough on your thoughts on her approach, everyone is welcome to opinions. If you read past posts on this site, you’ll see I have some strong opinions on the ‘arrogance, we’re the only experts’ of institutions like the Department of Fisheries and oceans has become rather tiresome.

    I, for one, certainly don’t think the sea lice theory is “old news”. This is a very big issue that needs to be clarified — it has been an issue everywhere that farmed salmon have been raised in proximity to wild populations. If it was ‘old’ news then there wouldn’t be potent drugs/chemicals like SLICE to try and control it.

    I was recently listening to CBC Radio and they were discussing how some old diseases like whooping cough and otherwise are resurfacing in westernized countries — some hypothesize because some parents are not immunizing their kids. And thus, things we thought that were “old news” become new news — and potentially significant issues that need to be dealt with.

    So, as with everything, it’s about perspective, and on this issue there are many.

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