Somebody call the donation police — salmon advocacy gone wild…?

Is there a misunderstanding out there surrounding the difference between “non-profit” vs. “profit” corporations?

It seems there might be. This relates to some interesting PR sliding around about how a collection of non-profit organizations is largely responsible for some negative publicity and public perception surrounding salmon farming in BC. Comments have been left on this site suggesting as much, and various other comments made in other places.

I came across this article written by Ms. Walling the Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association from 2009:

Unaccountable Advocacy: Advocacy groups claim to have the public’s interest at heart, but how do we know which of these self-styled experts are credible?

Wild salmon in British Columbia are facing extinction. Electromagnetic radiation from high voltage power lines is causing childhood cancer. Vaccines cause autism in children.

What are we to make of these statements?

All are taken from news stories; all were made by so-called experts from advocacy groups working on behalf of the public good; all are sensational and emotional.

Ummm… yeah, wild salmon for example are a rather important critter in the psyche of British Columbia — and actually all around the Pacific Rim, so no kidding there might be some sensational and emotional comments.

Extinction of wild salmon runs?

Well… it’s already here. There are numerous wild salmon runs in BC that have disappeared; never to be seen again; extinct.

Does this cause a rise of emotions and sensations? You bet it does.

_ _ _ _ _ _

The article continues:

…And while the use of an emotional argument to pique the public’s attention in important issues need not be a problem, it does raise questions.

Are advocacy groups manipulating the media? Are journalists probing the claims of activist groups with the same scrutiny as is applied to business and industry? If not, should they be?

And, so, what are major corporations doing in mass PR campaigns that involve the media?

This news forecast is brought to you by So-and-so chunky soup, or so-and-so apparel… Oh, and while you’re watching this newscast we will blitz you with these various segments of commercials… (e.g. “do you believe everything you hear…?)

And really… is it up to journalists to do the scrutiny? Sure, to a certain degree; however, most mass media are simply for-profit corporations with shareholders to answer to as well.

The job of scrutiny and critical thinking lies with the consumer of the information, or the consumer of a product.

Nobody has a gun to their head saying they have to buy the Volvo over the Subaru because journalist “x” reports, or some magazine for consumers reports that Volvo’s are safer.

It’s free choice and critical thinking (or not)

_ _ _ _ _ _

Non-governmental organizations today are a powerful force. They have credibility that businesses lack.

Gee… I wonder why? How do you spell Enron again?

_ _ _ _ _ _

And it’s become big business. There are more than 3,000 so-called nonprofit environmental groups in the U.S. today, most of which take in over $1 million annually… In one recent year, Greenpeace International took in $35 million, the National Audubon Society $79 million, the National Wildlife Federation $102 million, the Sierra Club $74 million, the Nature Conservancy $972 million, and the World Wildlife Fund $118 million.

Oh no, somebody call the donation police…

And what did the Red Cross, the United Way, and the local food bank take in?

In addition, each of these groups holds assets ranging from $16.3 million to $2.9 billion. Perazzo concludes that “no trade association on earth possesses the financial resources and political influence of the environmental lobby.”

Ummm… how about trade associations that represent U.S. Banks? Or, how about the World Bank?

Or, what sort of donations, influence, and financial resources does the National Rifle Association possess in the U.S.?

_ _ _ _ _

Many advocacy groups are perceptive manipulators of public opinion. They view the media as a conduit for information and often approach news outlets with stories of conflict and controversy, and which appear to be backed by research or expert opinion. Journalists – driven by deadlines, editorial pressure, and the push to entertain rather than inform – sometimes run with the story without applying the same scrutiny to the claims of advocacy groups that they would apply to business, industry, or government.

And what is the current ‘bcsalmonfacts’ campaign, but little more than attempting to manipulate public opinion?

And what is the BC Salmon Farmers Association again? Oh right, an advocacy group… and one of those apparent evil non-governmental ones at that?

Advocacy groups go out with stories of conflict and controversy… maybe… but does the media do a better job of that on its own? Most certainly.

Same scrutiny as business, industry and government?… yeah, maybe not, however, advocacy groups aren’t spending tax dollars or earning social license to utilize public resources with the simple sake of earning profit for shareholders.

Big difference.

_ _ _ _ _

Online resource explaining some differences:

Non-profit corporations are formed pursuant to federal or provincial law. A non-profit corporation can be a church or church association, school, charity, medical provider, activity clubs, volunteer services organization, professional association, research institute, museum, or in some cases a sports association.

Non-profit corporations must apply for charitable status to benefit from tax-exempt status and to issue tax deductible receipts to donors. Non-profit corporations are distinct from business corporations which are formed to make a profit and to distribute the profit to its shareholders.

Business corporations are regulated by either federal or provincial laws.

That is why there are rules around securities and publicly-traded companies; that is why insider trading is bad; that is why ridiculous multi-million dollar lawsuits are launched around simple claims such as: “Canada’s most reliable wireless network”. The stating of which costs millions in law suits between Canada’s big telco companies Rogers, Telus and Bell.

If a business corporation operates by federal and provincial laws, then it can’t go off making false claims and engaging in false advertising. Or…well… it can, until it gets called on it and sued — or otherwise.

Non-profit, non-governmental, advocacy groups are part of doing business in democracies. Nike deals with it. BP deals with it. Exxon deals with it.

They probably even work in the cost of doing so; probably even form their own non-governmental special interest groups to engage in advocacy of their own.

Look at the history of cigarette manufacturers, they had — and most likely still do — have little side PR organizations.

_ _ _ _ _ _

The job of holding any organization accountable doesn’t lie with journalists — it lies with individuals.

Passionate about something? Go learn more about it and form your own opinion.

Just as the Wikipedia definition suggests:

[Advocacy] may be motivated from moral, ethical or faith principles or simply to protect an asset of interest.

Some is good, some is not. User beware.

12 thoughts on “Somebody call the donation police — salmon advocacy gone wild…?

  1. Pingback: David Loewen

  2. Nick

    Well researched, with some very good points, tactfully presented. This is why I like your blog more than most. Regards.

  3. James

    Charitable foundations are limited by law as to what they are allowed to engage in regarding politics and policy, and there has been considerable recent interest in the actions of many of these groups. The recent involvement of the Tides Canada/US Foundation in Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson’s campaign was clear.
    The involvement of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in both Tides Canada and the PNCIMA initiative shows a clear direction of policy change and influence aimed at creating a level of government in concert with First Nation’s, which will serve to further their interests in Canada. This attempt by US groups to influence Canadian policy in regards to environmental monitoring and management walks a fine line between advocacy/charity and activism.
    Funds like the BC Marine Planning Fund, Clayoquot Conservation Fund ( Friends of Clayoquot Sound ), Wild Salmon Ecosystem Fund, Oceans Fund and the Pacific Wild Fund all serve to change policy in Canada regarding Aquaculture and are supported by Tides Canada.
    Grants from Tides Canada help support Ecojustice, Georgia Straight Alliance, Raincoast Research Society, Watershed Watch, Nature Trust B.C., Wildsight and Ecotrust to name a few.
    These are Canadian groups benefitting from their tax-free status and funded by American dollars who are engaged in active campaigns all across the country aimed at curtailing industrial development under the guise of ecosystem management.
    Many of these grants have been rewritten to adhere to the laws of Canada, but the intent is still the same.

  4. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the links James,
    I’m not too sure what your point is though?

    I agree with some of the points of both writers in the articles and disagree with others… however it’s presented as if this is some great conspiracy…

    Is there a difference here between foreign interests (like Canada or the U.S.) dictating what goes on in other countries like Iraq, or Haiti, or Afghanistan — and this influx of U.S. dollars into enviro advocacy in Canada?

    If it’s about jobs — like the salmon farming PR suggests — then how many jobs does all this money equate into? Sounds like this money has spawned quite an industry. Isn’t that a good thing?

    And folks can continue to rail against various conspiracy theories of enviro advocacy (a practice of which I don’t always agree with) — or they can put things in perspective…
    For example, should the U.S. be allowed to dictate to African countries that the only way they will provide aid is if those countries choose to accept Genetically modified crops produced by American companies?

    Or let’s start adding up the wages of various canadian bank CEOs or other companies that depend on extracting non-renewable resources.

    I appreciate the sharing of resources and links. My comments aren’t to suggest it’s an empty discussion, i’m just not so sure the point of the whole thing (respectfully)…?

  5. James

    In the 70’s wild stocks were down to a point where the government via DFO created the Salmonid Enhancement Program to help. Within that same decade the first salmon farm came to the coast via technology being used already in Norway.
    Stocks all over the west coast of North America have been impacted by human development and fishing pressures, while Aquaculture operates in only a few areas. It would seem to me that if you can’t show any localized effects which are different than the general trend, you can’t really draw any valid conclusions.
    If you want to compare bank or mining wages to those of these foundations I say go right ahead though. Plus, you can’t call the environmental desk jobs these funds have created an industry. Once the goal is reached and farming salmon is no longer accepted in B.C., and other targeted industries are curtailed by similar means they will be gone. ( Insert comparison here )
    On that note, your comparisons really do nothing to further the argument on this issue, (you seem very capable of drawing links to irrelevant situations or industries) when what I thought we were talking about here is fish and the real or perceived impacts of Aquaculture.
    I was under the false impression that you were in to these “conspiracy theories” as you seem perfectly willing to lend that image to Aquaculture, but apparently can’t see the other side.
    If you are not able to see the relevance of a campaign backed with hundred’s of millions of dollars aimed at the demise of farmed salmon (especially in B.C. ) then I hope other readers of this blog will.

  6. salmon guy Post author

    fair points James.
    You are not the first to feel that I am doing direct comparisons on this issue — and it can be tough to separate denotation and connotation of typed words and phrases. The point is more to ask questions to provoke another view on things, and maye on that would not have been considered if not looked at from a different questioning angle; it’s not to draw direct comparisons. Sometimes, as analogy… which Wikipedia has a decent part of its definition:
    “Analogy plays a significant role in problem solving, decision making, perception, memory, creativity, emotion, explanation and communication.”

    On a few other points, there are many folks who consider the enviro-train an industry. And if it’s apparently “hundreds of millions of dollars” doesn’t that qualify as an industry?

    The curious thing is that many of the standard wages are probably about comparable to the salmon farming industry. Somewhere in the $30K – $40K a year…

    Localized effects and trends… I think that’s the point that many anti-salmon farms folks are drawing. There’s also the fact that many salmon farms are directly on migration routes of baby salmon. So they might only be in a “few” areas as you suggest, but stationary or not — they are still on salmon migration routes.

    The impacts of that? well… no one has the absolute conclusions, however, each side of the issue suggests they do. One side says ‘no impact’; the other side says ‘tonnes of impact’. As I keep suggesting, the jury is still out on some of these issues.
    If I was unable to see the other side, then I think I would probably have much more pointed blog posts on this issue, and many more blog posts over the past year… And as I’ve suggested a few times, I have my own issues on the enviro-advocacy issue. Go read the posts on the Marine Stewardship Council, one of those US philanthropic, foundation puppy organizations — that will end out doing more harm then good.

    thanks again for continuing to engage.

  7. salmon guy Post author

    And the Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP) was most certainly not built initially to try and supplement runs in the 1970s. The SEP was a poorly thought out idea that suggested by building hatcheries, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans could double the commercial harvest levels through propagation and building spawning channels.

    It eventually grew into a program that sometimes tries to supplement dieing runs. Unfortunately, in many cases it has probably done much more harm than good. There are no shortage of scientific criticisms out there of hatchery and ‘enhancement’ programs. And now hatchery programs are often seen by many folks in the sport fishing industry as basically a ‘farming’ technique to support their commercial operations (especially to the south of us).

    Directly comparing hatchery and salmon farming could potentially be one of those comparisons that you don’t like very much…

  8. Brian

    I found this the other day. Is there much truth in this? I was under the impression this all about protecting wild salmon….like the ones they produce up in Alaska. However, the author once worked for the salmon farming industry so I guess it is biased, but not like articles from fish farm critics? I mean, those fish farm critics are doing us all a big favour exposing those evil “mulit-national” fish farmers and informing Joe Public on the dangers of ISA and all those deadly toxins being released by fish farms.

    Would Hewlett Packard classify as a multnational company?

    Seeing as though you like Wikipedia so much I thought I would post the definition of a “multinational corporation”:

    “A multinational corporation (MNC) or enterprise (MNE), is a corporation or an enterprise that manages production or delivers services in more than one country. It can also be referred to as an international corporation. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has defined an MNC as a corporation that has its management headquarters in one country, known as the home country, and operates in several other countries, known as host countries.”

    I think HP has offices in Canada, Europe, Asia and the US. Would that mean that it is a multnational company? Time to expose them…..those evil multinationals…lol! However, perhaps Ms Krause is just making this all up? I mean she is a researcher afterall and it is possible that researchers stretch the truth from time to time.

    Could people on the other side (you know…the fish farm critics that are looking out for our best interests) pulling up to the money trough? Say it’s not true! I never thought the eco-train was such an industry – a very successful and influential industry. But then again it is about protecting wild salmon and endangered whales…right? Don’t like conspiracies? Hell, anti-fish farm critics have been claiming conspiracies (such as corruption, lying, covering up, etc.) against the fish farm industry and DFO scientists for years.

    I agree with Nick, your post was tactfully presented.

  9. salmon guy Post author

    thanks Brian,
    appreciate the definition… only problem is that the Packard Foundation is a different organization than Hewlett-Packard. So, yes, HP is a multinational corporation; however, the Packard Foundation is a non-profit charity based in the US.

    Regardless, it’s a fair point. How much influence should various family money based in the U.S. have on Canada and its enviro policies or otherwise?

    Problem is… no one could control this, even if they wanted to. People can spend money however they choose fit — in the legal realm anyways. Just like anyone can invest in the Canadian tar sands operations if they so desire, or arms manufacturers like MacDonald-Dettwiler or Boeing, or otherwise… like enviro-policies in other countries, or poverty issues, or disaster relief, etc.

    In as much as some folks are on the conspiracy theory wagon… one of the simple points with the salmon farm industry and DFO is that some folks made the wrong decision in handing aquaculture management to the Province. It went against the Canadian Constitution. That’s a problem. The fact that this had to go to court (taxpayer dollars) is even sadder.
    And now, if there is evidence that open-pen salmon farming does impact wild salmon populations — then DFO will be (and has been) in a fundamental conflict of interest.

    I don’t think Ms. Krause is making it up at all… she has every right to ask the questions and carry an opinion on the matter. It’s up to folks to determine on their own whether they agree or not. Just like folks may need to make up their own minds on the information coming from enviro organizations and filtering the PR coming from the industry — and maybe… even this very site.

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