Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon in BC?

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

Background

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.

Conclusion

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?

Probably not.

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And so what does the BC Salmon Farmers Assoc. (BCSFA) have to say about this recently released research paper?

More research needed into sea lice

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

Hmmm…

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-RqHyCxDEc

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.

Great point.

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?

4 thoughts on “Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon in BC?

  1. Brian

    Quote: “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…”

    Again….to be fair…if you are going to use the same rational and logic (as this quote) to put salmon farms into closed containment then there are many, many other human activities that should be brought into the mix. That is the major flaw in using the precautionary principal arguement. All forms of food production has inherent risks. Joe Public complains about salmon farms, but thinks nothing of purchasing that steak which orginated from beef cattle. Cattle that free-range on Crown Land in and around water; calves that go to feedlots in Alberta; cattle that reside on ranch land that was not likely not the same before the ranch started. Now this is not really criticism towards ranchers (although it seem like it), but just to say that food production is not without some impact. Yes, more streamside fencing is done now, but the impact is still there. If you google the internet you will find lots of peer-reviewed work on riparian areas and salmon habitat. Do you see people lining up to abolish cattle ranching or have cattle prevented from free-ranging on Crown Land? You can pick other human activities in and around water where peer-reviewed research has been done on the impacts…and guess what….those activities are likely still going on in and around water.

    “A mechanism to identify the preferences of society.”

    That is an interesting quote. I realize some people have a problem with science-based arguements, but I believe those carry more weight and are much more objective than the alternative. Who gets to choose “the preferences of society”? What if someone’s preferences conflict with my set of preferences? Would there be any conflict of interest issues with people in this “Assembly” which could affect what they chose as a “preference”? How do you judge who’s preferences are better? What is the criteria? How would we determine whether these “preferences” were working or not?

    If people are that concerned that their “preferences” are being ignored then perhaps they need to see what direction or signals they have been giving to their elected politicians. People like to talk about wanting environmental change but how many are willing to consider this when they go and vote? Do we talk about fisheries during election time or just in between elections? If people are that concerned about their “preferences” then perhaps they should get involved more with not just posting in blogs or internet chat boards, but actually learn what is going on and educate themselves. People that are doing fisheries work can even use the support.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    thanks again Brian, good to see your continued engagement.

    to be somewhat fair… there is little comparison between cattle ranching/feedlots and salmon farming. And, as far as I know, there are rather active folks making their voices known on these issues. Furthermore, last time I checked, cattle ranching wasn’t occurring on the marine migration routes of baby salmon and a potential pathway for pathogens.

    does cattle ranching have an impact on wild salmon though? absolutely.
    Has cattle ranching passed on devastating diseases to wild salmon in other areas. No.

    Are there concerns that cattle ranching passes on diseases to other wild animals?
    You bet there are. And this is where we can start comparing cattle ranching to salmon farming.

    just wondering where the peer-reviewed science is on what’s happening in Egypt, or Tunisia?
    You are more than welcome to carry the opinion that ‘science-based’ arguments carry more weight… personally, I find that unfortunate, but then that’s my opinion.

    Science has a place in our societies… no question.
    Does it however carry a heavier weight… absolutely not.

    Read up more on the Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform in BC. The recommendations of the Assembly went to voter referendum… the Assembly didn’t decide. Everyone has a preference, a bias, a subjective view of the world — even a scientist.

    You’ve hit on a decent point with folks becoming educated… That’s kind of exactly the point of non-profit interest groups. They often speak up on things that people with busy lives might potentially gloss over; that folks with busy lives would simply believe from high-priced PR campaigns… that’s kind of exactly what large corporations and organizations like the BCSFA prey upon, and hope for. “do you believe everything you hear?”

    Furthermore, the “scientists” and technocrats often end out making things so utterly complex and inaccessible that it leaves little opportunity for average folks to actually gain a decent understanding. Who in their right mind is going to sit and read a 50 pg. ‘strategic framework on catch monitoring’ when they have kids to drop off at soccer…?

    When it comes to indigenous people — the United Nations has this rather impressive and forward-thinking Declaration. It’s called the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. One of the key principles of that Declaration is ‘the right to free, prior and informed consent’. And fascinatingly, Canada, just signed on — with Conservative government caveats of course, but they still ratified it.

    That means that to meet the spirit of this Declaration… that the heavy-weighted scientists will need to start doing a much better job of explaining what it is they do. Sometimes, folks start throwing around bumpf, charts and graphs, simply because that’s what all their peers do. And if they want to get “peer-reviewed” they better talk the talk.

    If the people that do the fisheries work need some support — then maybe they should start talking in a way that is accessible to as many folks as possible. And maybe come down to common reality as opposed to modeling so many things in the form of such garbage as the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI).

    just a few thoughts on the issue… thanks for the continued engagement.

  3. Priscilla Judd

    Great logic!
    Another thought : Why should we wait until we have reached the point of disaster (irreversible harm) before we engage the principle?

    Like – oops… like – I think… like maybe we have some irreversible harm now …
    Ah shucks… too bad – oh well… sigh…. now we really need to rely on farmed fish – yeah? yeah – You bet!
    There is no proof that sea lice caused that harm… No? yeah??? yeah …
    Then prove it!

    Ah ha – gotcha!

  4. Brian

    Dave, impacts do not have to be disease related. Critics of salmon farming complain that salmon farms are using waters that belong to you and me…..Well….what do you call the cattle free ranging on Crown Land? Why are migration routes that much different from Crown Land where animals move from one place to another? There are similarities, but fish farm critics are blinded by perception once again. The precautionary principle is a valid one, but critics like to throw it around as a “fix all” concept. Ok…but there are trade-offs for those types of decisions. If circumstantial evidence is going to be used against fish farming then why stop there. When critics are faced with other impacts that affect their own lives then they will start to pick and choose their “preferences”.

    Quote from Salmonguy: “Everyone has a preference, a bias, a subjective view of the world — even a scientist.”

    If that is true how would an assembly be any better. Good luck getting everyone (i.e. stakeholders) on the same page in a friendly kumbaya session. Once everyone puts their “preferences” on the table you will soon realize how difficult it is to make everyone happy.

    Quote from Salmonguy: “You’ve hit on a decent point with folks becoming educated… That’s kind of exactly the point of non-profit interest groups. They often speak up on things that people with busy lives might potentially gloss over; that folks with busy lives would simply believe from high-priced PR campaigns… that’s kind of exactly what large corporations and organizations like the BCSFA prey upon, and hope for. “do you believe everything you hear?”

    Non-profit interest groups still have “interest”…lol. You make it seem like they are interested in keeping people informed about issues; however, in my opinion they present a very slanted version of their own side of things….attach some governement bashing to it…..play the old “rich multinationals are robbing your resource” card…..frighten people by telling them that if they do not get involved (or donate to their cause) that their resource is in imminent danger.

    Speaking up for a cause is one thing, but distorting an issue and saying things that are simply not true or severely exaggerate something is another. Many people default to ENGO chat boards and blogs because they are simple to navigate and most simply do not care to find out more about an issue. If you read many of the posts of fish farm critics on these boards they pretty much follow what ENGOs say – word for word. What is popular for many people is to fill out these online protest petitions that these “non-profit groups” have. Instead of formulating a well-thoughout hand written letter, many have defaulted to letting someone else do it for them. How original..lol. Yes, these “groups” do speak….opps…I mean…speak up for the busy people.

    Quote from Salmonguy: “Furthermore, the “scientists” and technocrats often end out making things so utterly complex and inaccessible that it leaves little opportunity for average folks to actually gain a decent understanding. Who in their right mind is going to sit and read a 50 pg. ‘strategic framework on catch monitoring’ when they have kids to drop off at soccer…?”

    My late father never finished Grade 10. He had to work on the farm and go to work at an early age. He learned quite a bit from the variety of jobs he had. He was very involved with local fish and game projects. However, he also read a lot…an awful lot. He had me as a resource, but he took charge of educating himself. There is no reason why someone can get a basic understanding of an issue by doing some reading. It certainly doesn’t have to be a 50 page strategic framework. It can be a book from the public library or even asking questions of DFO staff members volunteering their time at the Adams River Sockeye run. People can also talk to people that do the work in the field also provided they ask good questions and leave the government bashing at home. If people are far too busy to understand an issue like salmon farming or other fisheries issues because they “just have to much going on” then they should think about how informed their opinions on an issue really are before they start sounding off.

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