“Salmon-Killing Virus Seen for First Time in the Wild on the Pacific Coast” & PR tactic #4: cover-your-ass-in-case-its-right Rule

And the story goes global.

“Salmon-killing virus… on Pacific coast”

Can you say Public Relations nightmare for salmon farmers of the world…?

Was listening to CBC Radio this morning and the second story on “World Report” was this one. Even the New York Times is in on the story:

Salmon-Killing Virus Seen for First Time in the Wild on the Pacific Coast

A lethal and highly contagious marine virus has been detected for the first time in wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest, researchers in British Columbia said on Monday, stirring concern that it could spread there, as it has in Chile, Scotland and elsewhere.

Farms hit by the virus, infectious salmon anemia, have lost 70 percent or more of their fish in recent decades. But until now, the virus, which does not affect humans, had never been confirmed on the West Coast of North America.

_ _ _ _ _ _

This isn’t only a problem in Canada. Check out the BBC and other news outlets in Scotland and the UK.

Fish farm ban on cards for [Scottish] coasts

Published on Monday 17 October 2011

THE Scottish Government may introduce laws banning fish farms from operating in some coastal areas.

It could follow Norway, where the law has restricted the spread of farms after growing concerns over the depletion of wild stocks.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Now you know what all of this means, don’t you?

Some serious PR-tactics, campaigns, and speech writing (e.g., “marketing is everything, everything is marketing”) due to come out of salmon farmers — especially the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

First rule of any PR campaign — DENY, DENY, DENY.

Second rule: question veracity of results.

Third rule: question credibility of researchers (that’s already started in comments on this site)

Fourth rule: state how well you have things under control — this is the: cover-your-ass-in-case-its-right rule)

Yesterday was a quick press release from the salmon farmers:

Suspect findings of ISA of concern to BC’s salmon farmers

A press release today from Simon Fraser University regarding reports that two wild Pacific salmon have tested positive for Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) is of concern to BC’s salmon farmers.

Our members are actively following up with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The CFIA is reviewing the validity of these publicized but as yet unconfirmed results. The BC Salmon Farmers Association has not yet been able to review the findings.

“Farm-raised Atlantic salmon, unlike their Pacific cousins, are susceptible to ISA, so this is a concern for our operations, but much less likely to be an issue for the different Pacific species,” said Stewart Hawthorn, Managing Director for Grieg Seafood. “If these results are valid, this could be a threat to our business and the communities that rely on our productive industry.”

The results were reportedly found in juvenile Sockeye smolts in Rivers Inlet – an area north of most salmon farms. These fish would not have passed aquaculture operations, but our farmers remain concerned about what this means, and how the disease, which is not native to British Columbia, may have been introduced.

“Samples from BC’s salmon farms are tested regularly for ISA by our regulator’s fish health departments and have never found a positive case on a farm. Over 4,700 individual fish samples have been assessed and proven to be negative.  These unconfirmed findings certainly are unexpected, unusual and warrant further investigation,” said Clare Backman, Sustainability Director for Marine Harvest Canada.

Extensive egg importation regulations were implemented years ago to ensure that disease is not imported to BC waters. Experts testified at the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon that these regulations were strong and proactive in reducing the risk of disease. Testing done by third party researchers in the past on wild Sockeye have returned negative results for ISA as well. Biosecurity protocols both within each company and across the industry also protect the health of wild and farmed fish.

“Our fish remain healthy and we are seeing no indication of the presence of ISA,” said Hawthorn. “It is very important that our fish remain healthy – to support our ongoing commitment to our businesses, our communities and our environment.”

The BCSFA represents salmon farm companies and those who supply services and supplies to the industry. Salmon-farming provides for 6,000 direct and indirect jobs while contributing $800-million to the provincial economy each year.


Stewart Hawthorn
Managing Director, Grieg Seafood
(250) 202-8588

Clare Backman
Director of Sustainability, Marine Harvest Canada [and former DFO employee]
(250) 850-9554

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Well done, I think all rules were covered.

Make sure to put in language that places a little seed of doubt “suspect findings” “apparent” “reportedly” and so on.

Stay tuned as this story will most likely get more interesting.



5 thoughts on ““Salmon-Killing Virus Seen for First Time in the Wild on the Pacific Coast” & PR tactic #4: cover-your-ass-in-case-its-right Rule

  1. Will

    I saw a farm salmon ad on CBC TV 6:00pm News for the first time this evening. You hit the nail on the head again, Salmon Guy. The industry spin machine is cranking up. Just wondering how long it will take the DFO spin machine. I haven’t seen any reports on what plans DFO has for any of this.

  2. Greg Posten

    Spin or Facts?

    Just wondering if you are sometimes too pessimistic and therefore confuse facts as spin.

    For example, if the results from the lab have not been verified (and false positives are apparently common with PCR tests), and farmed salmon have tested negative for the ISA virus (no virus), why would that be construed as spin?


  3. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the comment Greg,
    me, pessimistic? absolutely, and, yes, sometimes to a fault.
    As one definition suggests, “pessimism: the doctrine or belief that the evil in the world outweighs the good.”

    Unfortunately, when it comes to fish and the fisheries that focus on them, and industries that impact them — our world history ain’t so good on this front… and thus pessimism often occupies the forefront of my mind (along with its cousin cynicism: “An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others.”).

    Irregardless of the lab results in this particular case — where hasn’t ISA shown up in places where Atlantic salmon are farmed?
    As mentioned in posts, it’s not a matter of ‘if’ — it’s just a matter of when…

    Has ISA shown up in farmed salmon?
    the farmers say ‘no’.

    Have they tested ‘every’ farmed salmon?

    Thus is it conclusive that ISA is not in BC’s salmon farms?
    No. (probable? maybe… because as Chile demonstrated: ISA ain’t so good for business, at least in the short term. Chile’s exports of farmed salmon are looking just fine this year…)

    Was there a time when folks weren’t too concerned about ISA in Atlantic salmon?
    Yes. “oh it won’t affect them…” they said. “nothing to worry about here” they said. (viruses and mutations are a curious thing…)

    Does this sound like the: “oh, those escaped farmed Atlantic salmon won’t reproduce in BC rivers.”
    “Don’t worry about it” they said.

    Ummm, chinook eggs taken from the Sacramento River and transplanted to New Zealand have provided rather successful populations of North pacific salmon in the south pacific… why wouldn’t Atlantic salmon escaping fish farms “colonize” North Pacific streams?
    They have. (not in big numbers yet… just a matter of time).

    I think we are all guilty of confusing facts as spin — and spin as facts.
    The problem is that there are fantastic PR firms out there with experts in human psychology, sociology, anthropology, rhetoric and so on that are absolutely fantastic at planting seeds of doubt and seeds of support which are largely… spin as facts. (remember the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that justified invading sovereign nations…)

    And in that whirlwind, whirligig, merry-go-round of PR, marketing, and bumpf-mobile… many of us lose track of what facts are spin, what spin is fact, what fact is fact, and what spin is spin.

    And there are companies (and governments) with deep pockets that love to employ these types of folks and professions… especially in times of ‘damage control’ or ‘risk management’…

    Do appreciate the comment, it’s just a bit of a dizzying prospect… and as we can all see, a wiiiiide range of opinions on the issue.

  4. Brian

    Quote: “Has ISA shown up in farmed salmon?
    the farmers say ‘no’.

    Have they tested ‘every’ farmed salmon?

    Thus is it conclusive that ISA is not in BC’s salmon farms?

    Fish farms regularly test for the presence of ISAV. Any eggs that are imported go into quarantine and are screened regularly until such point as the fish that developed from the eggs are considered pathogen free by Canadian standards. The source of these eggs for the last 10 years or so has been certified ISAV free. The disease screening protocol used meets EU and OIE (World Organization for Animal Health). This was all provided during the Cohen Inquiry.

    Targeted disease sampling on recently dead fish increases the likelihood of finding disease. If ISA is present, it is logical that it should appear in these sampled Atlantic Salmon morts because ISA is lethal to them. All tests to date have been negative for ISA (Exhibit #1471, Cohen Commission). These test encorporate the same PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test used to find the presence of ISA in those 2 Sockeye smolts. If you have any expertise on fish pathology and what would be a much better sampling regime I think many would like to hear it. I am sure Dr. Gary Marty would like to hear your thoughts also. Here is a recent CBC interview that you might want your listeners to hear:


    If this virus was brought to farms by the importation of eggs I would tend to think that ISA would appear on the farms first given that Atlantic Salmon are highly susceptable to the virus. One would also think that these PCR tests would show a positive result if it went from eggs to farm stock. Still more questions than answers, but some farm critics have already started to work their PR campaigns to basically call this an epidemic.

    This is why cooler heads are needed instead of jumping to conclusions. Farmed and wild fish need to be sampled further to determine the magnitude and extent of this.

  5. salmon guy Post author

    thanks Brian,
    the ‘more questions than answers’ comment is about dead on.
    and thus maybe the government, DFO, and salmon farmers might want to chill out their “nothing to worry about here” PR campaigns.

    ah yes… the old ‘everybody just be rational and scientific about this’ statement. All too common and predictable. Waiting for someone to send me the good news stories of areas where open-pen salmon farming has had a positive impact on wild salmon stocks when they two interact, or at least a net-even impact…

    Yet again, the great thing about democracies Brian, is that ‘freedom of speech’ thing. Citizens are welcome to voice their opinions against government decisions, stand up for their concerns for local areas, etc. — and thank ghad for that.

    Government institutions and representatives, and businesses and their lobby organizations need to be cautious in their PR campaigns — as they can be hit hard at the polls, or in the marketplace. Unfortunately, senior managers in government bureaucracies have a certain immunity from the public… and hence often lose touch.

    thanks for the comment.

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