Search “BC salmon” on google or otherwise and one can get a list of media articles. As usual, there is much debate from all sides of the issue — many of which are explored on this site.
Some curious comparisons this week…
The release of another peer-reviewed scientific study (Public Library of Science ONE — PLOS):
Sea Louse Infection of Juvenile Sockeye Salmon in Relation to Marine Salmon Farms on Canada’s West Coast
Pathogens are growing threats to wildlife. The rapid growth of marine salmon farms over the past two decades has increased host abundance for pathogenic sea lice in coastal waters, and wild juvenile salmon swimming past farms are frequently infected with lice. Here we report the first investigation of the potential role of salmon farms in transmitting sea lice to juvenile sockeye salmon.
This is the first study to demonstrate a potential role of salmon farms in sea lice transmission to juvenile sockeye salmon during their critical early marine migration [spring time]. Moreover, it demonstrates a major migration corridor past farms for sockeye that originated in the Fraser River, a complex of populations that are the subject of conservation concern.
Now to be fair, if one looks at the authors of this paper there are some organizations involved that may fairly be suggested to have some bias in their perspective. However, there is a rather significant difference between profit-based bias and non-profit-based bias; between satisfying-shareholder-make-profit-bias and special-interest-group-protect-wild salmon bias.
And really this whole bias thing is rather complex isn’t it?
Major universities get millions and millions of dollars of funding from industrial companies — say for example close to home here in Prince George: Canfor the major forestry company has invested a lot of money in the University of Northern BC (UNBC) campus. Go to a public presentation and you will most likely sit in the “Canfor Theatre”.
Do you think major research is going to come out of these institutions that might affect those donations?
Hard to say…?
The important point is that information gets out into the public realm for people to make up their own minds — that’s democracy isn’t it? People power?
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The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has invested probably over $100 million (or more) in aquaculture over the last decade or so — think it’s going to start releasing research or policies that have potential to make those investments obsolete?
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And so what does the BC Salmon Farmers Assoc. (BCSFA) have to say about this recently released research paper?
The British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association [BCSFA] has stated that additional research into sea lice and its effect on wild salmon stocks is both important and necessary in response to the findings of a new study [above] that ties salmon farms to wild salmon infected with sea lice.
… the study recorded the highest lice levels on juvenile sockeye in the Georgia Strait near a farmed salmon processing plant, which intensifies existing concerns regarding the full potential consequences of the salmon farming sector on wild salmon in BC.
The aquaculture industry agrees with the researchers that more work is needed.
“Our farmers take very seriously the responsibility of managing sea lice on our fish to ensure they are not putting additional stress on wild salmon,” said BCSFA Executive Director Mary Ellen Walling. “Both sea lice and the challenges faced by BC’s wild salmon are complicated, multi-layered issues and there is more work to be done.”
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But hold on a second…
The “fact” reported at the Salmon Farmers site suggest: “farmers work to protect wild salmon from sea lice” and the added commentary from the site moderators suggest:
…the precautionary approach is a very interesting topic. Many would suggest that aquaculture (growing fish and shellfish that help take pressure off wild stocks) is one step in the precautionary principle. But you are correct that, like all forms of food production, farming seafood also has some inherent risks…
If you’ve read other posts on this site; I’m not one to buy this: “salmon farming takes pressure off wild stocks” argument… that’s the good old apples and oranges thing… it’s like saying goose farms take the pressure of wild geese… and so on.
Furthermore, you can watch the little Youtube video at the site:
There’s kind of an important piece of “fact” left out in this little video…
It’s all fine and dandy that the adult Atlantic salmon are checked for lice — and you can see one pulled of an adult salmon in the video — and it’s fine and dandy that the farmed salmon pick up the lice “naturally”, and so on and so on.
That’s not really the problem.
The problem is that the farms accentuate a naturally existing parasite.
Sort of like the pine beetle infestation.
Pine beetles have been around about as long as trees. The two co-existed with ups and downs… however when intensive logging, fire suppression to protect the logging industry, a beetle break out in a Provincial Park and lack of interventions, and a list of other interventions occurred — a “naturally” occurring parasite became a devastating infestation.
The farmed salmon are in southern B.C. bays largely all year round, this means the parasitic lice have hosts all year round. Whereas wild salmon are not around all year round and thus lice don’t exist at the same densities as migration time.
When southern salmon fry migrate through salmon farming areas (many of which are directly on wild salmon migration routes — esp. Fraser salmon fry) they pick up the sea lice that wouldn’t be there in the same numbers if the salmon farms weren’t there. The sea lice are there on adult farmed salmon — adult salmon which wouldn’t be there, and haven’t been there since time immemorial.
(think head lice and elementary schools… the lice wouldn’t be there in the same numbers if there weren’t a concentration of close proximity kids heads to infest)
It only takes a few lice to knock down a baby salmon. (And if you read the study quoted above, there is a big difference in sea lice densities on salmon in areas like the Skeena River: no salmon farming — and the Georgia Strait: lots of salmon farming, plus salmon farm processing plants with guts, lice, and such pumped directly into the Strait.
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So let’s take the comment from “bcsalmonfacts” at their site:
…the precautionary approach is a very interesting topic. Many would suggest that aquaculture… is one step in the precautionary principle. But you are correct that, like all forms of food production, farming seafood also has some inherent risks…
And combine it with Ms. Walling’s recent comment:
“Both sea lice and the challenges faced by BC’s wild salmon are complicated, multi-layered issues and there is more work to be done.”
And the comments from the above article:
[this] intensifies existing concerns regarding the full potential consequences of the salmon farming sector on wild salmon in BC… The aquaculture industry agrees with the researchers that more work is needed.
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Well… the European Union, and European Environmental Bureau (1999) has some interesting definitions and considerations of “the Precautionary Principle” :
2.2 Precaution places the burden of proof on the proponents of the activity.
The reversal of the burden of proof is a fundamental principle of precautionary action. The reversal of burden of proof creates incentives for the proponents of an activity to prove that their product or activity is safe. The traditional burden of proof, which lies with legislators [think DFO’s new legislation and the Province of BC before that], may cause considerable delays before action is initiated [considerable delays when government bureaucracies handle things… no… I don’t believe it].
Furthermore, in the case of ‘uncertainty’ the traditional burden of proof may not work. Yet failure to act may in some cases impose considerable costs upon society and health…
2.3 Precaution applies the substitution principle, seeking safer alternatives to potentially harmful activities, including the assessment of needs.
Where safer alternatives are available or may be marketed in the forthcoming future, these should be promoted as a substitute to the activity giving rise to ‘reasonable suspicion’. The substitution principle allows for technology driven changes (best environmental option) instead of waiting for the proof of harm. [think closed containment salmon farming, and no salmon farms on wild salmon migration routes]
The principle should be applied in a wide sense including the consideration of alternative products or services to serve the same function in addition to alternative materials for the same product…
2.4 Precaution requires public participation in decision-making.
Risk perception has a cultural dimension.
There is a considerable degree of subjectivism in choosing for a risk averse or a risk friendly approach, different within and between different societies. Decisions on the acceptability of technologies and activities, as well as on the intensity of their control cannot be defined by ‘sound science’ alone, but requires a mechanism to identify the preferences of the society. [this is where non-profits come into play]
Therefore, accountable, transparent public and democratic decision-making within Community institutions is a prerequisite to intelligent decision-making that will serve all citizens…
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“A mechanism to identify the preferences of society.”
This isn’t just about science. This isn’t just about peer-reviewed journal articles. This isn’t just about esteemed fisheries scientists and their viewpoints and research. And this most certainly isn’t just about economics and agricultural exports and even just about jobs.
This is about the relationship between people and salmon; people and their surrounding environments; and people and their desired futures.
Maybe a Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon in BC… Rather than a quasi-legal, Dr. science-heavy, multi-million dollar Commission? (but I will wait to read the final report next year on this… Maybe Justice Cohen has and will hear the voices of common BC’ers and otherwise).
Maybe a Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon in BC… rather than just an under-financed, sometimes overworked, heavy on the B bureaucracy that is fundamentally broken in so many way.
What do you think?
What’s your salmon story?