Tag Archives: Atlantic salmon

Salmon for the forests; forests for the salmon… shocking…

Globe and Mail image

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Health of salmon run affects ecosystem of forest

I’m appreciative of the most recent Mark Hume article in the Globe and Mail.

However at the same time, it’s rather exhausting that these sorts of things come to light so slowly.

I tell the story often…

…when I was growing up on Haida Gwaii, I spent an immense amount of time fishing; largely for Pacific salmon. Coho, humpies, the odd Chum (Dog), and from time to time Chinook. Whenever we brought fish home, we had generally hiked them up the river on an alder branch broken off a tree nearby the closest “meathole”. Generally, we would clean the fish once we got home. Our mom told us for years to bury any heads and guts in the garden, but deep enough that some dog or cat wouldn’t dig them up.

Fertilizers of all sorts are generally made out of fishmeal — and in years gone by were a central component. Industrial fisheries in some far-away ocean grinding up some little fish on the ocean food chain to turn it into cheap fertilizer.

So if fishmeal, fish guts, and fish heads are good fertilizer in a garden — why they hell wouldn’t they be the same in the forest?

Indigenous cultures have been saying this for eons — “everything is connected.”

Ever look at a west coast totem pole… everything is connected.

Ever look at west coast, or even interior art… (you guessed it… everything is connected).

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So says the article:

When bears, wolves and other animals drag salmon carcasses from spawning streams they cause an intricate chain reaction that changes the nature of the surrounding forest, according to new research from Simon Fraser University.

Plant species that efficiently take up nitrogen from the decomposing bodies of salmon flourish – and soon there are more song birds, drawn by the dense growths of wild berry bushes and prolific insect hatches.

“The shift in dominance of some of these plant species was a lot more dramatic than I frankly had expected. Species like salmon berry it turns out are really well named. They tend to dominate in streams that have a large number of salmon,” said Prof. Reynolds, who oversaw the research project which was led by Morgan Hocking, a postdoctoral fellow.

In addition to looking at plant species, Prof. Reynolds said it is important to consider the physical characteristics of a stream as well, because animals avoid fishing in places where getting out of the water with a salmon is difficult because of steep banks.

“If it is a small stream and has shallow banks, then there is a lot better chance that the plants will be effected by the carcasses, because these are more accessible to bears,” he said.

I’m certainly appreciative of the research by Reynolds and Hocking. I’ve read quite a bit of their research before and it’s great to see some of it going a bit mainstream.

This is an image from Dr. Tom Reimchen’s lab at Uvic. It’s kind of ‘techie’ and scientific; however shows the same connections — or more like has been showing these connections through ‘scientific’ channels for quite some time.

Salmon enter the near-stream environment from bottom stage left, and become food, nutrients, energy for a pile of critters. (make sure you glance at the date: 1994)

"nutrient vectors"?

And well… what to our wonder…

Apparently salmon depend on the forests of the stream ecosystems they swim up to spawn and then often (for some species) spend several years in as baby salmon.

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An article just the other day from the Atlantic Salmon Federation:

Boreal Forest Water Vital to Atlantic Salmon

OTTAWA – A first of its kind report by the Pew Environment Group reveals that Canada’s boreal, the world’s largest intact forest and on-land carbon storehouse, contains more unfrozen freshwater than any other ecosystem. As United Nations’ International Year of Forests and World Water Day coincide, world leaders are grappling with water scarcity and pollution – and scientists are calling boreal protection a top global priority.

… [because Canada’s Boreal Forest]:

  • contains 25 percent of the planet’s wetlands, millions of pristine lakes, and thousands of free-flowing rivers, totaling more than 197 million acres of surface freshwater;
  • provides an estimated $700 billion value annually as a buffer against climate change and food and water shortages;
  • offers the last refuges for many of the world’s sea-run migratory fish, including half of the remaining populations of North American Atlantic salmon.

“A first of its kind report…”??

Maybe for the Pew folks… but certainly not a unique idea. (as i’ve mentioned before… marketing is everything; everything is marketing).

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And so really… what all of this is saying is… if we’re going to do true “Ecosystem-Based Management” we better really think about the entire spectrum of ecosystems, and the endless interlinked relationships… and we should probably be cautious and use precaution because we might mess up a delicate balance…

But have no fear I tell you… because over ten years ago (1999) the Department of Fisheries and Oceans devised this incredible draft concept: Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy. One of the central components of that Policy was to be “Ecosystem-based management”…

How are we doing?

Utter failure.

Have you seen the allocations of salmon for species other than humans?

Like maybe Species at Risk Act (SARA) listed Resident Orcas in the Salish Sea that depend heavily on Fraser Chinook as a food source, or dwindling Grizzly Bears, or starving eagles?

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And south of us… have no fear, I found on the Pacific Fishery Management Council website that there is a sub-committee of a Committee holding a sub-Panel of a Panel to devise a Plan…

Sounds promising, let me tell you.

Ecosystem-Based Management Subcommittee of the Scientific and Statistical Committee and the Ecosystem Advisory Subpanel to Hold Work Sessions to Develop recommendations on an Ecosystem Fishery Management Plan

The Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) will convene meetings of the Ecosystem-Based Management Subcommittee (Subcommittee) of the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and the Ecosystem Advisory Subpanel (EAS) that are open to the public.  Please note, this is not a public hearing; it is a work session for the primary purpose of considering recommendations to the Council on the development of an Ecosystem Fishery Management Plan (EFMP).

I don’t mean to be the can of fish asshole today… but come on!

are you kidding?

I’m really not sure what an “ecosystem fishery” management plan is… isn’t that what we all do… go fishing in an “ecosystem”?

The Subcommittee session will focus on incorporating ecosystem science into the Council management process.  The joint session of the Subcommittee and the EAS will focus on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment [take deep breath]. The EAS will also discuss available science and its potential application with the SSC and will develop recommendations on the EFMP’s purpose and need, regulatory authority, and management unit species for the June 2011 Council meeting in Spokane, Washington

(I’m not making this stuff up… true quotes)

I just don’t understand why they don’t form an advisory subsubcommittee (S2C) that will integrate a framework that will inform the sub-Panel of the Board of the Directors recommendations to the post-science, pre-conference, strategic planning sub-Group — which will in turn provide a background matrix and risk-management scaffolding to guide regulatory management and authority of that sub-species, pre-migratory, complex habitat, ecosystem-based, policy informing database and ecological modeling platform.

Maybe that’s why Dr. Reimchen’s work has never been officially incorporated into Department of Fisheries and Oceans “ecosystem-based management” policies. He must not have been on the sub-committee of the sub-Panel reporting to the EBM Board at the DFO…

But hey… thank ghad… there is contact info for the upcoming gathering down south:

For further information regarding the ecosystem-based management advisory subpanel and subcommittee work sessions, please contact…

… Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to … at least five days prior to the meeting date.

I, by no means fault the effort to provide access to individuals with disabilities — that’s important everyhwere… I’m just wondering if they’ll have “translation” services available. I think that could be a mandatory “auxiliary aid” for any of these salmon processes.

I was a at a conference in Portland, Oregon last year and there were translation services for Japanese and Russian participants — several times I was looking for the translation services for gobbledeegook, bumpf, bureaucratese, ‘science-chatter’. I’m sure some folks have been looking for these services at the Cohen Commission looking at declines [aka crash] of Fraser salmon in 2009…

It’s a disease… or a bumpf-ease… could one be so bold as to say “plain language might save the wild salmon”?

And maybe a return to a thousands and thousands of years old understanding… salmon are essential to forests; forests are essential to salmon.

“Everything is connected; connected is everything…”

“Analogies between commercial poultry production and Atlantic salmon aquaculture may be informative”

Some interesting articles over at Wired magazine that I hadn’t picked up before — and maybe somewhat informative as the Cohen Commission into Fraser sockeye declines starts going over related information:

Brandon Keim writes last summer, 2010:

which is the diseased-ridden salmon?

Salmon Killer Disease Mystery Solved

The identity of a mysterious disease that’s raged through European salmon farms, wasting the hearts and muscles of infected fish, has been revealed.

Genome sleuthing shows the disease is caused by a previously unknown virus. The identification doesn’t suggest an obvious cure — for now, scientists have only a name and a genome — but it’s an important first step.

“It’s a new virus. And with this information now in hand, we can make vaccines,” said Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity, a World Health Organization-sponsored disease detective lab.

Two years ago, Norweigan fisheries scientists approached Lipkin and asked for help in identifying the cause of Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation, or HSMI, the official name for a disease first identified in 1999 on a Norweigan salmon farm.

Infected fish are physically stunted, and their muscles are so weakened that they have trouble swimming or even pumping blood. The disease is often fatal, and the original outbreak has been followed by 417 others in Norway and the United Kingdom. Every year there’s more of the disease, and it’s now been seen in wild fish, suggesting that farm escapees are infecting already-dwindling wild stocks.

Lipkin’s team — which has also identified mystery viruses killing Great Apes in the Ivory Coast, and sea lions off the U.S. West Coast — combed through genetic material sampled from infection salmon pens, looking for DNA sequences resembling what’s seen in other viruses, and inferring from those what the HSMI-causing sequence should look like. Lipkin likened the process to solving a crossword puzzle. The researchers eventually arrived at the 10-gene virus they called piscine reovirus, or PRV. The virus was described July 9 in Public Library of Science One.

Related reoviruses have been found on poultry farms and cause muscle and heart disease in chickens. “Analogies between commercial poultry production and Atlantic salmon aquaculture may be informative,” wrote the researchers. “Both poultry production and aquaculture confine animals at high density in conditions that are conducive to transmission of infectious agents.”

Such findings may be useful as the Obama administration develops a national policy for regulating aquaculture.

“If the potential hosts are in close proximity, it goes through them like wildfire,” said Lipkin.

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One mystery ‘solved’ and another found… Keim’s newer article from early in the new year 2011:

Mystery Disease Found in Pacific Salmon

diseased salmon?

Traces of viral activity have been found in a mysteriously dwindling population of Pacific salmon, hinting at an explanation for deaths that have so far baffled scientists.

In fish returning to Canada’s Fraser River, site of the die-off and home to one of North America’s last great sockeye salmon runs, researchers discovered patterns of gene expression usually seen when a body fights a virus.

The findings are not conclusive, and pose many as-yet-unanswered questions. “This is the discovery stage,” said Scott Hinch, a University of British Columbia salmon ecologist. “But it raises all kinds of concerns.”

The importance of salmon in the Fraser and elsewhere isn’t only in the intrinsic marvelousness of creatures that are born far from the sea, spend adulthood thousands of miles away in the open ocean, and return in a final blaze of upstream glory to spawn and die in the waters of their birth.

The Fraser River’s wild salmon fishery is worth about $1 billion annually. And that’s just the obvious value. Salmon migration is also a physical circuit to the sea, each body a mass of nutrients carried from ocean to continental interior, scattered by scavengers across the land.

Some researchers think the Pacific northwest’s forests are so lush not just because of the region’s climate, but because its soils were fertilized for thousands of years by salmon bodies — an extraordinary line of natural credit, now threatened by dams and overfishing.

Unlike other major river systems on North America’s Pacific coast, however, the Fraser is largely undammed. Even as other Pacific salmon populations vanished or entered boom-and-bust cycles typical of ecosystems on the brink of collapse, its own populations persisted. Until the early 1990s, about 8 million sockeye salmon returned each year to spawn. Then their numbers started drop.

In some years, half of the Fraser’s returning sockeye die before spawning. In other years, mortality is closer to 95 percent. “The causal mechanisms of this premature mortality have eluded multidisciplinary research by scientists and fisheries managers,” wrote Hinch and his colleagues, led by biologist Kristina Miller of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in a Jan. 14 Science paper.

In less academic terms, the fish are dying, and nobody can figure out why.

Five years ago, the researchers noticed that some Fraser sockeye appeared to show unusual signs of physiological stress while at sea. In the new study, they take that work to the genomic level. Salmon were caught, biopsied and tagged with radio transmitters in the ocean, about 120 miles from the Fraser; at the Fraser’s mouth; and again on their spawning grounds. For each stage, the researchers could look for patterns in gene expression, then see if they tracked with differences in fate.

A pattern stood out. Many of the fish displayed high activity in a set of genes typically activated in response to viral infection. When this genomic signature was found in ocean fish, they were 13.5 times more likely to die before reaching the Fraser. When the signature was found in fish tagged in the river, they were 50 percent more likely to die before reaching their spawning grounds. In fish tagged on their spawning grounds, those with the signature were 3.7 times more likely to die without mating.

“It’s excellent science,” said fish microbiologist James Winton of the U.S. Geological Survey, who was not involved with the research. “This appears to be quite important.” Winton applauded the researchers’ approach, which had never before been used in salmon, a species for which researchers only notice the most obvious diseases.

“The fact that, within the physiology of these fish, you can see signs of who is likely to make it and who won’t, is amazing,” said Michael Webster, a program officer at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Wild Salmon Ecosystems Initiative.

However, though a virus is the most likely culprit, it hasn’t yet been isolated. The findings open up a range of new questions, said each of the researchers: If the pattern is indeed caused by a virus widespread in the Fraser, where did it come from? Was it introduced, just as infectious hematopoietic necrosis — a lethal virus endemic in Pacific salmon — has been transferred around the world? If it was always there, did it suddenly evolve into a more virulent form? Or is something else exacerbating its effects?

The researchers suspect climate has a role in the answers to some of these questions. In the last 40 years, the Fraser’s waters have warmed by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit, with most of that coming in the last 15 years. “In some cases, that temperature alone is pushing fish stocks to the edge,” said Hinch.

Heat and stress can weaken fish, making them more vulnerable to disease. Changing temperatures also change the ranges of microbes and parasites, allowing them to move into new regions. Over the last decade, the Yukon River has been invaded by Ichthyophonus, a parasite that threatens the river’s Chinook salmon population [along with the Marine Stewardship Council eco-certified Bering Sea pollock fishery]. It’s believed to have spread because of changing temperatures.

“We use the term emerging diseases. In humans, it’s the SARS coronavirus, or avian flu. They also occur in fish. Part of (their increasing incidence) is due to the fact that more people are looking, with better tools. Part of it is due to us moving pathogens around the globe. And part of it due to increasing stress on these animals,” said Winton. “At some point, we’re going to add the last straw.”

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Does increasing stress, increasing temperatures and the like maybe suggest we should be even more precautionary in our ‘management’?

Maybe more salmon should get to the spawning grounds?

Maybe we’ll need to forgo some ‘economic’ gain now, to preserve for the future… you know… like a savings account, or an RRSP? (we certainly wouldn’t want that to stand for Registered Reductions in Salmon Populations).

Remember the last sentence of the previous article… “If the potential hosts are in close proximity, it goes through them like wildfire”… and combine with the one above: “At some point, we’re going to add the last straw.

Once upon a salmon: “Salmon management for people”… that’s the problem isn’t it?

Pacific Salmon Management for People

I came across this book in a Vancouver Island used book store recently as well. It was published by the University of Victoria in 1977.

It’s quite a remarkable read for simply shaking one’s head and mumbling: “…we just never learn… we just never learn…”

There’s also some recognizable names from today’s salmon debates…

Here’s some material from the Preface of the book:

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Over the past few years there has been a rapid and widespread expansion of enlightened attitudes towards managing resources and planning their development. Two principle components can be identified. The first is recognition that a resource is part of an ecosystem, and that manipulation of any part of the system will have effects ramifying throughout. The second component is an awareness that people also are a part of the ecosystem, and the ramifying effects will reach them in many different ways and times.

This book emphasizes the salmon resource system — the fish, the environment, the people, and the social organisation and interactions which nowadays link them together and which overlies the natural ecosystem of simpler times. Its examination of this system unfortunately cannot be comprehensive. The system is too complex for that…

… Section III concerns itself with the future, for without such prognostications the book itself would be only an academic exercise of little use to people…

Indeed.

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Here are three quotes from Section I: Emerging Knowledge and Theory.

“One can only look with sadness and with wonder at the record of man’s use of the Pacific salmon resources…”

For myself… this book was published before I was in kindergarten… how sad and with depressed wonder is that view of man’s record with Pacific salmon — now?

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“This (the involvement of biologists in salmon management) is particularly necessary during a management period when a philosophy of systems analysis, in which salmon tend to be regarded as statistically predictable automata, rather than living individually varying animals, is being emphasised.”

Not much has changed on this front… we now have a Department of Fisheries and Oceans “Pilot Study” called the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI) which is a computer modeling program that uses a variety of paper maché theories to attempt to predict run sizes and fishing limits.

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“It is ironic that just as the agencies are beginning to achieve maximum sustained yield (on the Skeena sockeye at least), the inadequacies of this theory are becoming widely recognized.”

It is even more ironic that in 2011, thirty-four years later — salmon management is still based on this tired old theory of maximum sustained yield. It’s still a central component of the apparent Wild Salmon Policy.

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And, yet… the conclusion to this book could, no doubt, be written today. It could be the same words used in Justice Cohen’s final report…

The problem of Pacific Salmon management is twofold: the maintenance of a natural resource, and its allocation to people with diverse claims. The setting is the contemporary world of urban and industrial growth, unemployment and inflation. The light which we throw on the problem is the new understanding that issues cannot be interpreted, nor decided upon, in isolation but must be seen in a broad context of ramifying relations which we call a system.

James Crutchfield described how man as a predator of salmon has failed conspicuously to maximize either the salmon populations or his own gains. Stocks have declined, and labour and capital have been grossly wasted. From the failure to put the fishery on a sound economic basis stems the failure to reach the primary goal of salmon management – “some composite measures of human well-being.” The chief reasons for the pursuit of immediate profit and conflicts of interest. Inadequate knowledge of the ecological needs of salmon has not been a prime cause of their decline. Decisions have been made knowingly.

The mood of today, and it may be an ephemeral mood, is tempered with restraint. The tradition of stewardship, traceable to Plato has a voice. Man has responsibilities towards nature (and the mind to the body?). Certainly the Pacific salmon must not attain the status of the Atlantic salmon in Europe…

…The problems of salmon management, then, represent in microcosm some great issues of our time. They call not merely for ecological economics but also from ecological politics. They are one test of whether man can make a civilization distinguished by restraint and a sense of place…

I know the sense of place that I have of British Columbia and the Pacific Rim in general… is one that includes healthy runs of wild Pacific salmon.

When will we learn? When will we learn?

Maybe reading these old reports on salmon ‘management’ should come with a mandatory prescription of Prozac.

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?

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.

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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)

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

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

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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.?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Who has the facts? Who has the half-facts? Who has the zombie-facts?

When it comes to salmon farming on the BC coast, is it any wonder that the average citizen in BC (that takes any interest) might be suffering from post traumatic information overload as the battlefield of naysayers and yaysayers lags on…

How to choose? How to choose?

Who has the facts? Who has the half-facts? Who has the zombie-facts?

Yesterday, CBC.ca ran an article:

www.cbc.ca

Closed-pen salmon farm launches in B.C.

B.C.’s first closed, floating salmon-farming tank — touted as a greener alternative to traditional open-net pens — has been installed off Vancouver Island…

…Traditional net pens used for salmon farming in B.C. are open to the ocean and have been criticized for damaging the marine environment. Fisheries scientists have found evidence that salmon farms transmit parasites and pathogens such as sea lice to wild salmon, leading researchers and environmental groups to call for closed-pen farming.

In addition, waste from open-net pens is released directly into local waters and is not always carried away by tides and currents as was anticipated…

Yet, if you go to the new bcsalmonfacts.ca website put out by BC salmon farmers they quote from another study that suggests:

Overall, the results of this study reveal that while a shift to closed-containment technologies may reduce the set of proximate ecological impacts typically associated with conventional salmonid farming, their increased use may also result in substantially increased contributions to several other environmental impacts of global concern, including global warming, acidification, and abiotic resource use.

Although closed-containment systems are currently being described and promoted as environmentally-friendly alternatives to net-pen farming, results of this study suggest that there is an environmental cost associated with employing this technology which should be considered in any further evaluation of their environmental performance

And then the apparent Fish farming Xpert site: “Canada’s biggest bath tub hits the water”:

Canada: a project dubbed as “closed containment” and “environmentally friendly”, aimed at producing salmon at high densities gets it start outside Campbell River.”

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Back to CBC.ca (for example) and the list of related articles looks like this:

B.C. salmon deaths may be linked to virus
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Pacific salmon not affected by lice: study
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Fish-farm sea lice more widespread than thought
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Fish farming projects in B.C. get funding boost
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B.C. fish farming expansion frozen until December

There’s more back and forth then at the Australian Open tennis grand slam. Average citizens sitting there watching flaming cocktails thrown back and forth, back and forth.

The media?… well they simply report the headlines of what the multitude of studies are saying and absolutely love this conflict of studies, scientists, advocates, and so on. It’s great news; great press.

How is anyone sitting somewhere in the middle on this issue — which is a big middle, as the gap between the two sides is about as big as the great open ocean trenches — supposed to be able to read some information here, read some information there, do some reflection, ask some questions, and make up their own mind?

It’s certainly possible, however for average folks busy with their families and work lives… the bickering and lobbing of cocktails back and forth probably gets a little tiring. It certainly does for myself, I just happen to have an almost lifelong interest in salmon and therefore read what I can, ponder, ask some questions, and so on.

And, thus my disappointment at the stretching of apparent facts, cherry-picking ideas, and Spin-cycle currently being engaged in by the bcsalmonfacts.ca campaign. (This isn’t to say that I haven’t had my disappointment at the other side for certain tactics or propensity for Spin either… this is just the topic of today)

At the same time anyone is welcome to opinions anytime… One might simply hope that there is some backing to the opinion, or at least an openness to listen to the opposite perspective on that opinion (and there is to some degree in that ‘facts’ campaign thus far — however it is a risk, and the worm can is open).

When some folks start claiming to have the “truth” — the “facts” — well, then I immediately get a sense there may not be much difference then apparent religious prophets, turned TV evangelists, trying to sell folks on the purple Kool-Aid (and donations to their 30,000 sq ft church, and highest in the county jesus statue outside).

Certain ‘scripture’ and phrases from apparent sacred texts, are twisted and turned — words and ideas are shaped to fit what it is that they are selling. Scientific reports are cherry-picked to get an idea across — meanwhile another scientific report that directly refutes the first is conveniently not mentioned, or forgotten, or has the methodology questioned, or personal credibility attacks mounted against authors, and so on.

For example, follow some of the responses from the bcsalmonfacts.ca folks on their website and one can start to see a curious mix of ideas starting to surface. There are comparisons between hatchery practices and salmon farming, used in conjunction with concerns of the ‘carrying capacity of the ocean’ (as if this was something anyone or group could actually measure with any accuracy whatsoever — we can’t even get the weather right after a few days with any level of accuracy).

There is the odd justification for open-pen salmon farming because farmed salmon have better feed conversion rates than cows, pigs and chickens. This is then stretched to suggest that since wild salmon can consume 10x their weight in fish that this then makes farming salmon more responsible and efficient than the wild.

Not to forget the fact that the graphs on yesterday’s post showed that one of the growing components of feed for farmed salmon is poultry… chickens.

One of the studies linked to by one of the bcsalmonfacts.ca responses (Not All Salmon Are Created Equal: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Global Salmon Farming Systems) to one of my comments suggests that in Canada, the composition of “animal derived meals and oils” (as separate from fish meal and oils) is approximately 20%. That suggests farmed salmon are being fed about 20% or so of ground up chicken — doesn’t it?

Oh, is that wild chickens then?

Or, are those the same inefficient chickens that farmed salmon ‘feed to meat conversion rates’ are compared to?

_ _ _ _ _

These blending of ideas and theories and hypotheses are all fine and dandy as opinion, and stretching and turning things like silly putty to fit your ideas…

But “facts”?

When you take the plunge to say you have the “facts”, then you should probably  tread carefully and responsibly and make sure you “stick to the facts, mam”.

You don’t have the “facts” when you simply quote from one scientific study and not another that refutes the same idea. These are selective facts, because the ‘fact’ is that there are disputed ‘facts’. (in a sense that’s what the legal system is — isn’t it… advocating positions to determine the “facts”? and many are familiar with how that system can be manipulated from time to time.)

You don’t have the “facts” when you start conveniently twisting some information and not others to fit what many might label a bias perspective. (I expect to get called on the same tactics)

It also seems a bit slippery when one fact might very well be a ‘fact’: like ‘salmon swim in the water’ and then right beside that state a little more slippery fact that is actually the subject of much debate.

Is that ‘transparency’ or simply baking a ‘fact’-cake from a variety of half-fact ingredients?

And I mean this for all sides.

How slippery should we allow the facts slide to be?

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Here is a thought from Mr. Orwell from his 1946 essay: Politics and the English Language that I included in a post this summer following the announcement of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement: Orwell’s sections of a “prefabricated henhouse”).

It seems fitting in a few ways:

This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.

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Pre-fabricated henhouses; fact-cake made from chicken scratch and half-facts; bumpf-filled pie… all sort of the same thing…

Who really has the facts?

“Separating Fact from Fiction”?

Fish Feed Circa 1990

www.bcsalmonfacts.ca

Fish Feed Today

bcsalmonfacts.ca

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Making an evidence presentation is a moral act as well as an intellectual activity. To maintain standards of quality, relevance, and integrity for evidence, consumers of presentations should insist that presenters be held intellectually and ethically responsible for what they show and tell. Thus consuming a presentation is also an intellectual and moral activity.

~Edward Tufte, introduction to his book Beautiful Evidence

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Separating Fact from Fiction” is the headline of the recent Vancouver Sun’s ‘exclusive online and commentary opinion’ by Ms. Walling Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmer’s Association:

BCsalmonfacts.ca is a website that raises some of the common myths that we hear questions about, and provides answers through video, written explanations, animations and links to supporting documents. BC Salmon Facts also includes a discussion forum, where people can ask questions and debate the facts and answers…

As you may have read in on this blog this past week, I have some posts asking questions about some apparent BC salmon facts on the same named website — as well as pondering some of the strategies and tactics of the PR campaign.

As Ms. Walling suggests in her opinion piece:

We’ve learned that … those asking ‘tough’ questions appreciate having someone who can explain the answer and give some straight forward information. It makes the discussion rational and reasoned.

I agree… rational and reasoned would certainly prove beneficial in this searing, glowing red amber hot button issue. As mentioned, I take issue at times with PR-spin conducted on all sides of the equation.

Good discussion, requires decent information.

As such, I have questioned some of the “facts” posted on the bcsalmonfacts.ca website, and posted a few ‘tough’ questions (although maybe the jury is out on how tough those are…). Looking to thoughts from Ms. Walling’s editorial piece last year on the same Vancouver Sun weblog titled “Fishing for Proof” might assist here:

Scientists working for environmental organizations have a legitimate right to be involved in the decision-making process on issues such as salmon farming. However, their use of sensational claims has created an ethical battlefield where business interests are portrayed as being in opposition to environmental interests…

…To be successful in addressing the factors that are adversely affecting wild salmon populations in B.C., business, industry, government and non governmental organizations will need to work together. We need to have rational discussions about the cause and possible effects and we need to work together to move beyond rhetoric towards solutions. [my emphasis]

(which I’m guessing means the definition of rhetoric as: “Language that is elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous.”… vacuous basically suggesting empty, devoid of substance…)

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On yesterday’s post, I quoted from one of my favorite information design experts Edward Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale University. In his most recent book Beautiful Evidence. One reviewer suggests: “Tufte will get you thinking about the meaning of words and images, not to mention your ability to tell the truth”.

Beautiful Evidence -- Edward Tufte

In this fine book, Tufte states in his Introduction:

Evidence that bears on questions of any complexity typically involves multiple forms of discourse. Evidence is evidence, whether words, numbers, images, diagrams, still or moving. The intellectual task remains constant regardless of the mode of evidence: to understand and to reason about the materials at hand, and to appraise their quality, relevance and integrity.

And, this appears to be the case with the bcsalmonfacts.ca PR campaign. The “facts” posted on the website are accompanied by ‘evidence’ — as opposed to “rhetoric”…?

As in: “moving beyond rhetoric.”

Moving beyond empty, meaningless language that does not improve discussions…

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I refer to some rhetoric as bumpf (search the term and category on this blog site) — empty meaningless phrases that don’t really mean much; overused and empty… like eating chocolate bars as part of a healthy weightloss diet.

Air Pie; things said that don’t really mean anything; words used in ways that forget actual definitions.

I’ve hit on some of these terms on various posts on this site, for example: sustainability, ecosystem-based management, conservation, etc… They are used by all sides of many debates, and yet few seem to stop and ask: “hey, wait a second, what definition of ‘sustainability’ are you working from?”…

Or: “what do you mean when you say: conservation?”

Here are groups of folks throwing burning cocktails at each other and we don’t even know whether they share the same definitions of some words in the debate… it’s thus, a bit of an empty, meaningless argument — like the words.

It’s akin to parents arguing about “disciplining” their children when one parent believes discipline means: throttling a child and getting the wooden spoon, and the other parent thinks ‘discipline’ is: sending a misbehaving child to a corner for a little timeout.

It’s becomes a pointless discussion if neither understands where the other is coming from or what the other person means when they say “[enter word here]”…

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So let’s look at an apparent “fact” or ‘BC salmon fact’:

Salmon feed is designed specifically to conserve wild fish stocks.

Today’s feed minimizes the use of wild fish protein and oils. Review these charts to see the ingredients in salmon feed today, compared to what they were in the 1990s.
Fish Feed Circa 1990
Fish Feed Today
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We can see by the chart that there is a reduction in the use of “fish meal protein” and “fish oil” with a significant increase in “poultry and plant protein meal”.  Yes, that’s a good for lots of little fish in the sea (e.g. anchovies, sardines, and such) that get caught in other parts of the world and ground up into fish meal and fish oil.

(One of the first question that pops to my mind is: what’s the percentage of “poultry” to “plant protein meal”, those are two very different things; however, that’s besides the point of critically exploring the evidence at hand.)

The logic here suggests that because there is less fish meal and fish oil used in the feed that this: ‘conserves wild fish stocks’.

How?

I’ve raised this point before in the use of this word: “conservation”.

Conservation means: “To protect from loss or harm; preserve”

Preserve means a few things:

1. To maintain in safety from injury, peril, or harm; protect.
2. To keep in perfect or unaltered condition; maintain unchanged.

Those are pretty clear definitions, thus, how can we say we are “conserving” something; or “preserving” something; or even “protecting” something… if what we actually mean is that we have “reduced” use?

So is not the fact that is beings stated here more like this: “salmon feed research and development is working to reduce our pressures on wild fish stocks”?

And,  “we can demonstrate evidence of this by this by a certain graph and text”?

Because if we say we are “conserving” when we’re simply “reducing”, then aren’t we just engaged in rhetoric? And using “sensational claims” on these “ethical battlefields”?

Words are important, so are images, and shouldn’t they be used to develop better understanding, not further muddy the waters?

How do everyday folks separate “fact from fiction” when so many of us forget the real meanings of some words?

Evidence has various definitions, one being: “indicate clearly; exemplify or prove.”

Furthermore, fiction, is suggested to mean: “An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.”

BC Salmon Farmers PR campaign: continuing the discussion…

I left some more comments today on the bcsalmonfacts.ca website — the Public Relations (PR) spin campaign of the BC Salmon Farmers Association and related companies involved in open-pen salmon farming on the BC coast. I have found it quite an interesting process — from a variety of angles…

As a few of my posts have alluded to this week, looking at the strategy, tactics and approach of this PR campaign has been an interesting process. Launching PR campaigns can be akin to freeing — or trying to cage — a schizophrenic, unpredictable critter.

These sorts of things can be a great success, or an absolute bomb… just like a Hollywood movie.

Backlash can hurt just as much as watching the old movie Backdraft multiple times.

And, thus, these sorts of things must be well-though out and very well managed — even more so when the purpose is “getting the real story out” and espousing “facts”. Think of how many politicians have had campaigns ended or careers ended because they weren’t forthright about certain actions, activities,  from the past.

No matter how many clever commercials they put on TV or social media.

A glaring difference here is that a politician has clear objectives with their PR-campaigns… get elected. When it comes to this ‘salmonfacts’ campaign… well, I’m a little unsure. Some of this relates to, for example, why cannibalize your own businesses.

One of the comments left today on the bcsalmonfacts.ca website in regards to the “fact” that “salmon are incredibly efficient eaters”. Yes, this is a fact, but what isn’t an “efficient eater”…?

And why cannibalize your own business in this process:

some might suggest that this ‘fact’ could be referred to as cannibalism…

And no, I don’t mean in the standard food consumption meaning of the word; more the business meaning of the word.

“Cannibalization refers to the business process whereby engaging in one activity or practice necessarily eats into another activity or practice. Cannibalization can take place within a firm, between businesses, or across industries.”

Last time I checked (and maybe it has changed recently?) Marine Harvest and Marine Harvest Canada [I stand corrected, it’s Skretting not Marine Harvest as Nutreco sold Marine Harvest a few years back] are subsidiaries of Nutreco:
http://www.nutreco.com/

Their website suggests: “Nutreco is a global leader in animal nutrition and fish feed.”

one of their specialties is “Compound Feeds”:

“Compound feeds are complete, industrially blended or compounded feeds which fully match the nutritional requirements of the specified animal (poultry, pigs, ruminants, fish, rabbits, goats, sheep and other species).”

So it seems like this graphic and this concentration on salmon feed conversion rates is a little contradictory when compared to overall business practices of companies listed on this site.

Yes, maybe salmon food conversion rates are lower and this can serve as a front to suggest: look how “sustainable” this business of salmon farming is…

But isn’t it a little hypocritical for a company to sell its “sustainability” practices, by focusing on this specific ad, when the parent company (Nutreco) of this company [Skretting] is actually heavily involved as a majority of its business in developing feed for the poultry, cattle and pig industry, and is in fact invested heavily in poultry and other meats:

“Nutreco’s subsidiary Sada is the Spanish market leader in chicken production and is well known in Spain for its Sada and Cuk brands. Sada also produces a range of chicken products and meal solutions.”

If not hypocritical, its certainly cannibalizing the parent companies businesses.

BC Salmon Farmers, more responses… will I eat farmed crow?

If you have not had a chance to follow all the comments, or are new to the site; here’s a sampling of an exchange that portrays some properties of the BC salmon farming debate and where there may very well continue to be dissonance on this hot ticket issue.

A manager from one of the larger BC salmon farming companies (a very large company, where the salmon farmer is but one tiny cog in a much larger globalized multinational — not to suggest this as a “ohhh, watch out for the bogeyman”… more a reality of the business environment), respectively left some comments in response to my comments on the new PR campaign largely led by the website bcsalmonfacts.ca:

You raise a range of interesting points in your response to my posting on your blog. I do want to address these as best I can. I hope that ultimately you will come and see for yourself what we do and how we do it.

You comment that … in BC there are large populations of wild salmon stocks and the history of wild and farmed interactions is not a very good one.

This is an interesting point – but this is one of the myths that I’d like to see the wider public understand better. The farmers in BC have actually got a great record of living in harmony with wild salmon runs. In the Broughton – increasing pink runs and coho runs. In the Fraser a record sockeye run. Coordinated and effectively managed sealice levels to specifically protect wild stocks (not to protect the farmed fish)…

… Salmon farming is a good economic activity that should be seen as part of the solution to the world’s sustainability problems – it is not, in my view, part of the problem.

You then discuss more generally regarding what are acceptable impacts and how do we determine what is acceptable. You also comment on the role of PR. I’m glad to say that I agree with you here! All human activities have impacts. We do need to debate what is acceptable to the community here in BC.

But the community deserves to hear both sides of the story – PR works both ways and the people who advocate for the elimination of salmon farming (that is what would effectively happen if the industry was legislated out of the natural waterways) are very good at communicating their ideas and concerns. Salmon farmers have a responsibility to explain why we believe that our activities are part of the solution and not part of the problem.

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It is not the entire comment, and I haven’t shortened it to try and take things out of context; more to shorten reading time (and try and keep post length down).

In response, I had a post-length comment, of which I have added a few more thoughts:

thanks for taking the time in continuing this chat. I certainly have to respectfully take issue with a few comments about the ‘myths’ you allude to… like anything, and especially this hot button issue of salmon farming on the BC coast… it is multifaceted with more sides, angles and faces then a polar bear embossed diamond from Nunavut.

I don’t quite buy the ‘fish farms living in harmony with wild salmon runs’ argument… it’s a pretty weak causal connection. If I might use the analogy, it’s like saying clearcut logging had a harmonious relationship with salmon because look at the record Fraser sockeye run this year. “All those years of industrial clearcuts ‘obviously’ didn’t do any damage, look at this record 2010 run. What’s everyone complaining about?”

The jury is most certainly still out on this apparent harmonious relationship between salmon farms and wild salmon. And quite frankly, I agree with the newspaper article posted on the bcsalmonfacts.ca website today regarding this PR campaign [Vancouver Sun: BC salmon farmers fight back]. Some of the statements made in the salmon farmers press release, and some of the statements on the website, just inflame the situation more than seek resolution.

If the intention truly was to ‘get the real story out’ then why use the “email from Nigerian refugee” analogy — that’s simply inciting. Not that i’m not prone to the same approach from time to time… but this is a PR campaign by big, ‘responsible, companies with many brains at the table (I hope). I would hope the PR firm launching this could come up with something a little more clever than that. (but then, sometimes folks tune me up on my communication tactics too…)

I think I’d have to beg to differ that the runs [Broughton pink and coho] are “increasing”… as compared to what? Late 1990 numbers when there was a zero mortality coho policy? (I have the same issue with DFO and their salmon numbers too… see older posts… colonial cultures tend to have a rather narrow timeframe when they start talking about “historical populations”)

I also struggle with the: ‘farmed salmon is part of a sustainable food supply issue.’

If feed conversion levels are still above 1:1 as in the 1.2 to 1 as claimed on the PR site… that’s still a negative gain — and negative gains are not “sustainable”. If it takes me $1.20 to make $1.00, I don’t think any financial adviser would recommend this investment scheme [as sustainable]?

Furthermore, last time I checked at the local Prince George supermarket, farmed Atlantic salmon prices weren’t all that different then wild salmon prices. I don’t imagine that’s much different in the U.S. where the bulk of BC farmed salmon gets exported too. And thus, as I’ve mentioned in past posts, I don’t think inner city kids in the U.S. are eating poached or baked salmon at any meal they might secure.

I also don’t imagine that BC salmon farmers are making huge strides to get their product to West Africa in its time of ethnic strife and starvation.

It’s not to suggest that they necessarily should… it’s more that this argument that farmed salmon are a solution to food shortages is seriously flawed. Frankly, salmon is a luxury food that some middle class families can afford — however, cheaper beef, pork and poultry are going to be the meat alternatives to folks on the lower income scale.

[furthermore, there are many studies that suggest there are not food shortages in the world, there are serious issues with distribution… not to mention, food now being used to produce biofuels…]

And thus, I have doubts about the “good economic activity” that you suggest. As far as I can see (which sometimes isn’t that far, depends on how hard its raining), salmon in the marketplace is about supplying higher income folks, and thus, this is why it makes “economic” sense to some. Especially publicly-traded companies that have shareholders to satisfy [and analyst expectations to meet]. I respectfully suggest that this is one of those half truths, half facts that I have mentioned.

You are fair in your comments on PR and yes, I agree in turn — PR is certainly used by all sides. If you’d like, search “Canadian Boreal Forest Initiative Agreement” on this site (or Marine Stewardship Council) and you’ll see I don’t only have issues with corporate PR, there is certainly enviro-NGOs PR campaigns that also drive me batty.

I’m not so sure I agree with the assertion that the salmon farming industry would be “eliminated” if it was taken out of natural waterways…[and I see today there is a new posting on the bcsalmonfacts.ca in this regard]. I’ve seen a few recent presentations that demonstrate the technology and financials around closed-containment systems.

Also… like so many things, industry proponents buried in certain ways of doing things, faced with imminent changes, jump up and down, scream and shout, twist and turn, and lobby the shit out of government to make sure changes are not enforced.

“we will be forced out of business”; “this industry will die”; “people will lose jobs”; and every other possible argument. And then… what to our wonder… real innovative thinking happens… new technology is created, becomes more affordable, and a whole new way of doing things all of a sudden arises.

Look at the incredible growth of organic farming: from food to cotton.

Early on, industry proponents said “no way, won’t happen” and now?… Walmart has jumped on board.
Similar arguments around alternative energy and so on.

And so, I am a bit curious about what you mean by salmon farmers are “part of the solution and not part of the problem” — what solution(s) are you referring to? And which problems?

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A thought came to mind, in relation to yesterday’s post. In that post, I quoted a definition of public relations (PR):

1. the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.
2. the art, technique, or profession of promoting such goodwill.

If that is the case… then maybe some of the NGO campaigns opposing open-pen salmon farming on the BC coast, in relatively confined inland waterways, aren’t PR, as one could argue those campaigns are not seeking “goodwill” per se. Yet, some of those campaigns certainly employ the spin-factor or latching on to certain very negative components and communicating those in a way that over-emphasizes certain things.

Similar to various companies and corporations these days that advertise how great they are — yet will screw you over at the first opportunity. I recently looked at the back of my bill from Bell, and on the back in hard to read blue fine print it explains they will charge 3% per month interest on overdue balances. That’s 42.58% per year! (they leave that part out on their cute little TV commercials and newspaper ads). Same with the big banks and their mysterious user fees and administrative charges, etc.

This isn’t to say that I’m comparing these tactics directly — simply highlighting a point.

Marketing maven and guru Seth Godin has a fitting post on this from yesterday:

Raising expectations (and then dashing them)

Have you noticed how upbeat the ads for airlines and banks are?

Judging from the billboards and the newspaper ads, you might be led to believe that Delta is actually a better airline, one that cares. Or that your bank has flexible people eager to bend the rules to help you succeed.

At one level, this is good advertising, because it tells a story that resonates. We want Delta to be the airline it says it is, and so we give them a try.

The problem is this: ads like this actually decrease user satisfaction. If the ad leads to expect one thing and we don’t get it, we’re more disappointed than if we had gone in with no real expectations at all. Why this matters: if word of mouth is the real advertising, then what you’ve done is use old-school ad techniques to actually undercut any chance you have to generate new-school results.

So much better to invest that same money in delighting and embracing the customers you already have

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This is the danger with the fighting tactics that the salmon farmers have chosen for this PR campaign.

This is a potentially well-funded, infinitely backed PR-spin campaign mounted by massive multinational companies (for the most part). It looks pretty sharp, it uses nice language (e.g. dispelling myths, stating facts, and telling the real story). It’s about ‘putting those evil spin-mongering NGOs in their place, uncover their naysaying, left-leaning, greeny BS.’

The reality check here is that the general BC public — the average folks that in some way or another will make the decisions on whether to get open-pen salmon farming out of BC’s inland waters — will largely see straight through this. We are bombarded daily by hundreds, thousands of ads by large, national or multinational companies spouting off about how great they are, and how it’s just so simple to do business with their ultra-responsible firms.

Yet, when you actually try to call them you’re run through an infuriating automated answering system that doesn’t get you where you need to go. You get repeated “your call is important to us, please continue to hold”, and finally, a person, yet it’s quite apparent they are certainly not in the same time zone as you are.

This particular PR campaign is employing similar tactics, trying to show pizzaz and new aged-ness by engaging social media and so on… but it’s not that much different than BP oil mounting a Facebook PR campaign to change their image… most folks will see through it, the already converted will espouse its merits and why don’t those other dolts buy what we’re selling and stop believing that evil NGO crap.

It’s simply the wrong tactic… it’s old school, it’s tired, and it will most likely be a waste of money.

And worse yet, if the salmon farming naysayers are able to dispel and communicate the other ‘facts’ and the ‘myths posing as facts’ and so of this particular campaign — the salmon farming industry could end out with even more mud on their face. Most folks cheer for the little guy, the underdog, and this is shaping up nicely as well-funded multinationals against average citizens and a handful of NGOs, who have BC citizen membership behind them.

Maybe I’ve seen this picture somewhere before…?

(but who knows, maybe i’ll be forced to eat my words… eat farmed crow… or something)

BC Salmon Farmers continue to engage and respond…

Over this last week, there has been quite a jump in visitors to this blog — it appears largely due to my comments on the bcsalmonfacts.ca website established by the BC Salmon Farmers Association, and a few of the companies involved in this conflict-ridden, hot button industry.

Folks visiting this blog, may or may not follow the comments section. This week there have been comments from a few sides of the issue, including engagement from companies involved in the PR campaign.

It’s certainly an interesting process, discussion, conversation — and some pretty good examples of cognitive dissonance from all sides. As Wikipedia defines it:

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

There’s certainly no shortage of blaming and denying when it comes to the salmon farm debate on the BC coast… there’s also a certain amount of justifying. Well… in fact… it seems the entire bcsalmonfacts.ca PR-campaign is about justifying how great this particular industry is. If you are involved in the industry, it probably looks like roses — if you are an individual who holds the believe that salmon farms may be responsible for reducing wild salmon runs or polluting local clam beds… well, then, it probably smells like a steaming brown pile.

I’m certainly curious to hear the results of this PR-spin campaign and whether it is successful in changing any attitudes, beliefs, and/or actions — and thus, reducing cognitive dissonance… and dissonance (lack of agreement, consistency, or harmony; conflict) in general on this issue.

I would have to imagine that this is the intention of the campaign — otherwise why spend the money?

This is not ‘marketing’ per se… as marketing is suggested to be: “the action or business of promoting and selling products or services.”

I’m not so sure this is about selling, as reading the material on the website and otherwise — the industry supplies “fresh salmon” to all sorts of customers. It doesn’t seem to have a problem with securing customers for its product.

And, as suggested in various related material, this is simply about ‘getting the real story out’ and about ‘dispelling myths and expounding facts’.

So let’s slow down for a second here… if marketing is suggested to be about selling products; what is public relations?

Well… public relations (PR) is:

1. the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.
2. the art, technique, or profession of promoting such goodwill.

Curious that. Because as I understand it, “goodwill” is also something that can be sold as part of a company’s balance sheet:

An intangible asset which provides a competitive advantage, such as a strong brand, reputation, or high employee morale. In an acquisition, goodwill appears on the balance sheet of the acquirer in the amount by which the purchase price exceeds the net tangible assets of the acquired company.

I’m not so sure this is what bcsalmonfacts.ca PR spin campaign is up to — although it wouldn’t hurt, would it?

This PR campaign is about securing goodwill from the public, community, and politicians.

This is somewhat evident in some of the comments coming from industry — including on this site. One salmon farm rep (of which it’s been a respectful discussion) pointed out that if moved out of natural waterways (e.g. to closed containment systems on land) the industry would suffer a calamitous collapse (I’m paraphrasing).

I don’t quite buy this story… and I haven’t yet seen the financial analysis on the bcsalmonfacts.ca website or otherwise that shows the cold, hard numbers on this (e.g. the “facts”). I have though, seen financial analysis on the potential to move to closed containment systems, and it appears profitable.

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And so, what is this really about.

This is about the BC salmon farming industry pooping their pants, and potentially recognizing a little too late that their PR work to date has not been very good, and that they may very well be in danger of getting kicked out the natural waterways; or having their exponential BC growth seriously curtailed, or even shrunk.

That’s not good press for shareholders; and that’s not good press for marketing campaigns.

Growth is marketing; marketing is growth. Good PR helps fuel growth, and good growth is good marketing…

As some of their own team have pointed out in various commentary: ‘this is about fighting back’, ‘this is about correcting misinformation’, and so on, and so on.

I’m not sure I have ever seen or heard of anyone ‘securing goodwill’ by “fighting”. Or by simply employing the same tactics that got them into this particular position in the first place. (Look what happened to the BC coastal logging industry when it was hit by well-run, well-thought out PR and marketplace campaigns… not to necessarily suggest they were ‘right’, simply well run, focused.)

And, thus, strictly from a strategy and tone perspective… I’m not so sure this is the most well thought out campaign. With respect to those that planned it and are implementing it. Simply trying to flip the argument back at say — those nasty NGO misinformation campaigns — is akin to shouting: “no, you’re stupid”… “no, you’re stupid” on the schoolyard.

But then maybe I’m completely wrong on this one… but then a comment that came in while I was typing this post, highlights similar thinking as mine:

You cant blame the fish farm industry for finally adopting PR techniques like the enviros have been using for years….But, this doesnt really help any ‘neutral’ person really make informed decisions.

I want more frankness and openness from fish farmers. Show me the bottom underneath a fish farm on video and prove it is not a dead zone of fish fecal matter etc. Prove, as best you can, that the densities of lice around your farms do not overload juvenile salmon.
And to be precautionary, voluntarily shut down operations during smolt outmigrations or sensitive times.
In other words be more proactive, but not with PR spin which this debate is overloaded with.  The old ‘actions speak louder than words’ type thing.

So, overall for this discussion fish farmers employing the same spin tactics as enviros leaves alot to be desired. If farming isnt bad…prove it openly and clearly. If certain facets of farming are doing some harm admit it and find ways to fix it….then maybe joe average can have some faith in what is said on websites.

For better or worse, any industry will always be looked at skeptically when it comes to its environmental record… It’s basic human nature to think corners will be cut when it comes down to the bottom line vs nature.
This extra burden of proof required to come clean has hit the fish farming really hard… and you are nowhere close to satisfying the public’s belief threshold right now that you are what you claim you are.