The New York Times ran an article late yesterday on the continued hearings into Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) at the Cohen Commission into Fraser River sockeye declines.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The fate of wild salmon is a sensitive topic in the Pacific Northwest and arguments often end up in court in the United States, whether over threats to endangered fish by hydroelectric dams or sea lions swallowing them along their migration routes.
But on Thursday, a new and particularly bitter dispute began playing out in a very different kind of judicial venue across the Canadian border: a provincial Supreme Court justice held a hearing into questions of whether a potentially lethal virus had been detected in wild Pacific salmon — and whether the Canadian government was responding adequately.
The virus, infectious salmon anemia, has devastated farmed Atlantic salmon stocks in Chile and elsewhere. Some conservationists and scientists have long worried that the virus would spread from farmed fish to wild ones. Those fears escalated in October, when opponents of British Columbia’s ambitious farmed Atlantic salmon program, which is heavily promoted by the government, presented lab results they said showed an asymptomatic form of the virus in wild Pacific salmon.
Several more reports of the virus have emerged in the past two months, including a draft paper suggesting that the virus was detected as early as 2002 but not revealed by the government, further angering farming opponents.
The developments have prompted passionate debate on both sides of the border, with reaction veering from accusations that the Canadian government is covering up evidence of the disease to claims by Canadian officials that the reports are based on poor science.
The most combative exchanges occurred during testimony by Kristina Miller, the head of molecular genetics for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans laboratory at Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island. While previous reports of the virus had surfaced from sources outside the Canadian government, only to have Canadian officials question them, Dr. Miller testified that she also had received positive results when she tested for the virus, known as I.S.A. She said that when she reported her work to a superior last month, she was asked why she had conducted it at all.
“Nobody in the department talked to me about disease or I.S.A. after that,” Dr. Miller testified. At one point, she said she was frustrated at what she called “flippant dismissal of pathogens” that could be harmful.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is charged with promoting aquaculture but also with protecting wild fish, a dual mission that some critics say creates conflicts. Agency officials are scheduled to testify in the next two days…
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It doesn’t only create “conflicts”; it is a fundamental “conflict of interest”.
Some suggest that “conflict of interest” means: “We can define a conflict of interest as a situation in which a person has a private or personal interest sufficient to appear to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties as, say, a public official, an employee, or a professional.”
Enter government agency in there that is providing massive amounts of funding (over $100 million in recent years) to the salmon farming industry in Canada — and yet this week, DFO is starting the process of handing out pink slips to over 400 employees, mainly in the science and conservation sectors.
Is there a disconnect here?
The central mandate of the publicly funded Department of Fisheries and Ocean is “conservation” of wild fish populations, and yet it is now laying many people off that are in fact key in that function — all because of apparent “budget cuts”.
Yet… yet… how many employees would the $100 million or so given to the salmon farming industry in recent years, which most certainly does not play a role in “conserving” wild populations — how many employees would that support?