Main Page CJLY
Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
recent showslisten live
Read a Transcript & Donate to Support our Work:

The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

Link to Audio and Episode Info Here

Show Transcript

Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, BC, Canada

 

June 10, 2010

 

Farmed Salmon Arrive in Ottawa (Norway, British Columbia VII)

 

Producer/Host - Jon Steinman

Transcript - Jeff Lyons

 

Jon Steinman: Welcome to Deconstructing Dinner, produced in Nelson, British Columbia at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY. This show is broadcast on radio stations across the country which include Simon Fraser University's CJSF 90.1FM in Burnaby. I'm Jon Steinman.

 

Over the past year, Deconstructing Dinner has spent an increasing amount of time focusing on the discussions that take place on food and farming within Canada's parliamentary committees. Specifically, we've focused on dialogue about the future of Canada's prison farms and on genetically engineered seeds, but today, we visit another discussion within a previously unexplored committee here on the show - The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. In the past few months the subject of salmon farming has made its way into that committee, and, on multiple occasions. As part of our ongoing coverage on salmon farms through our Norway, British Columbia series, we'll be featuring some of that dialogue from Ottawa. Among the many Members of Parliament who we'll hear posing questions, we'll hear statements and responses from biologist Alexandra Morton of the Raincoast Research Society, Mark Sheppard of British Columbia's Ministry of Agriculture & Lands, Lawrence Dill a Professor Emeritus at Simon Fraser University and from Craig Orr - the Executive Director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

 

Increase Music and Fade Out

 

Salmon has and continues to be a really hot topic of debate and discussion lately... discussions both about farmed and wild salmon.

 

For one, the regulatory regime of British Columbia's salmon farming industry continues to transition from Provincial to Federal authority... that following the successful 2008-2009 legal challenge of the Province's authority over the industry. This transition is of course of interest to Members of Parliament sitting on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

 

And also of interest is the 2009 collapse of the Fraser River Sockeye when only 1 million of an expected 10 million sockeye salmon returned to the Fraser River. That collapse has led to a commission of inquiry named the Cohen Commission - which, led by Justice Bruce Cohen will examine the collapse and make recommendations for the future sustainability of the fishery. Opening hearings of the commission will be held between June 15 thru the 17 and evidentiary hearings will then continue in September. Of course among the many areas of concern that the Commission will be examining, salmon farming is on that list.

 

So that provides somewhat of a context for the many committee meetings that have been taking place in Ottawa addressing the Pacific salmon farming industry. On March 22, as an example the Committee on Fisheries and Oceans spent a full 2 hours speaking with Trevor Swerdfager, the Director General for Aquaculture Management with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (the DFO). And then, on April 12, B.C. wildlife biologist Alexandra Morton was invited to address the committee and share her research and opinions. Morton is a well-known guest and voice here on the show and as is one of the focal points of her research, she addressed the impact that parasitic sea lice which are incubated on salmon farms are having on wild juvenile salmon. Alex has recently become very concerned with what her and others believe is the first sign of possible resistance among sea lice to the primary drug used to control them on salmon farms - a drug known as SLICE. Alex joined the committee via teleconference only a week and a half prior to the start of her Get Out Migration (recently featured here on the show).... when her and hundreds of supporters walked down Vancouver Island to the B.C. capital demanding that salmon farms be removed from B.C.'s coastal waters.

 

Alexandra Morton: I just wanted to say a little bit about sea lice. I'm a killer whale researcher, but sea lice are actually very easy to study, and the reason I say that is because they change their body shape every few days for the first month. So when you see a fish, you can see how long it has had each of those lice, and that's how we've been able to study them. We watch the little fish come out of the rivers and we check them at intervals to see how many lice they have. Typically they have no lice, and then they get to the fish farms and they have baby lice. Then, as they go past the farms, the sea lice just mature, and when they get to the next farm, they get more juvenile lice. That's why it has been easy for us to figure out where the lice are getting on the fish.

 

The reason I and many of my colleagues have such a strong opinion about the sea lice coming from the fish farms is because we've done experiments--not with the fish farmers really coming onside, but we work with them. For example, in an area where there are no farm fish one year, we'll count the number of lice on young fish, and then when they put the farm fish back, we count the lice on the young fish. And the pattern is really clear. If you take the farm fish out, the lice go away. If you drug the farm fish--so you're killing the lice on the farm fish--the lice go away on the wild fish. When you put the farm fish back, the lice come back. If you look at two areas in the same year and one area has no fish farms and the other has lots of fish farms, you find lice where there are farms and no lice where there are no farms.

 

So we've done a lot of work for 10 years.

 

There was a little bit of a disturbing comment by Trevor Swerdfager, who said that this work had been seriously debunked. I would like to say they tried to debunk it, but we were allowed to publish our responses in the journal Science, which is arguably one of the two top journals in the world and very hard to get into. They published DFO and they published our response back, so I think it's questionable whether it was debunked at all.

 

The question about drug resistance in lice...it's inevitable. As soon as you have a monoculture, the parasites increase, because there are no predators and because all the hosts are packed together. So in the wild, sea lice have a very difficult life when they're young. They hatch, and then they have to swim for a period of days before they even have the ability to grab a fish. This means they never get on their mother's fish. That fish is long gone, and they're lucky to find a fish at all. But when you take a salmon farm and you hold the fish stationary, and you crowd them together and you put them in the inshore waters, you're breaking three very fundamental biological natural laws that govern wild salmon. Wild salmon are supposed to move. They're not supposed to be beside the rivers when the young ones come out, and they're not supposed to be crowded together.

 

What's happening now is the wild fish come in, and for sure, lice are natural and they have lice. They pass them to the farm fish, and then all the wild fish go into the rivers and they die. This really brings down the lice population to nearly zero, but what happens now is that as the wild fish go by the farms, the lice are passing to the farm fish. The wild ones go and die, but the farm fish don't, and they have lights on.... So the fish are crowded and stationary, and as the baby lice hatch, they find fish to attach to and the lice numbers come up. When you've got 600,000 to a million farm salmon in a school, it doesn't take very many lice on them to make billions of larval lice. Lice, like most parasites, reproduce rapidly. They're a very fecund animal.

 

This means there are many generations of lice, and when you treat them with the drug, you never kill all the lice. If you talk to fish farmers, they all realize you can't kill them all. So the ones that survive are a little bit resistant to the drug and they produce babies. Then, as more drugs are used, of course, the resistance builds.

 

This is a very serious problem in Norway. The lice are becoming resistant to all the drugs, both in the feed and bath treatments. As for the east coast of Canada, Mr. Swerdfager was debating whether DFO really recognized drug resistance there, but the fish farmers certainly recognize it. They now have three more drugs to use, and the trouble with these further drugs is the one we're using now is in a pellet form and the fish eat it. It does come out through the fish waste. But the other treatments are bath treatments. They drop tarps and they pour the drug in, and it affects the outside of the fish, but then they lift the tarps and this goes into the water.

 

In the areas where there is salmon farming in British Columbia, we have very viable prawn, crab, shrimp, and other fisheries for animals with a shell, and all these drugs they use on the lice attack animals with a shell.

 

I also want to point out that sea lice are the easy pathogen to study, but the same dynamic is occurring with bacteria and viruses. They get in and they intensify, as they do in all feedlots, and they challenge wild fish at a higher level than they are designed to take.

 

JS: Alexandra Morton, speaking on April 12 to Canada's Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Among the 12 Members of Parliament who sit on the committee is Gerry Byrne, the MP for the Newfoundland riding of Humber-St.Barbe-Baie-Verte. 

 

Gerry Byrne: Would you be able to categorize the opinions expressed by other groups, for example, the Canadian veterinarian association? I know veterinarians are involved in aquaculture, so obviously the veterinarian association would necessarily be involved in the aquaculture industry. Have they expressed any opinion about this whatsoever? We're dealing with a very technical science here, a drug resistance, so what is their opinion, in your mind?

 

 AM: I haven't heard their opinion on sea lice, in general, but I am dealing with Dr. Mark Sheppard in the province. He is a veterinarian in charge of this, and he is saying there is no evidence of drug resistance anywhere in British Columbia. I keep writing him back saying that the graphs on their website, on the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands website, for the area of concern...for a scientist, they're a neon sign warning of drug resistance.

 

The reason I say that is because they had very high lice levels in this area on the Greig farms. They treated it in October and the lice levels came down to three times the provincial limit, an average of nine per fish, and then they bounced right back up. So I've asked him, "What is your explanation for that behavior in the lice after the treatment?" They won't answer. They just keep saying, "We're looking into it", or "It's a concern", or "We don't see any evidence." He won't tell me why that happened.

 

There's actually an audio clip on CBC from Dr. Larry Hammell from the University of P.E.I. He describes what drug resistance looks like in sea lice, and he describes exactly what's on those charts in the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands website.

 

So quite frankly, they're not answering the question. I don't see how you can look at those graphs and not see drug resistance.

 

JS: We'll come back to Alexandra Morton later on the show, but let's continue on this issue of drug resistance among sea lice to the primary product used to treat the sea lice - SLICE (a product which should be noted is not approved for use in Canada) but is nevertheless used... through an ongoing stream of emergency veterinary approvals that salmon farm companies are able to apply for. Mark Sheppard, who Alexandra Morton referred to, was too invited to address the committee... two days later, on April 14. Mark Sheppard is the Senior Aquatic Animal Health Veterinarian for B.C.'s Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. Sheppard is heard here fielding a question from Scott Andrews - the Liberal MP for the Newfoundland/Labrador riding of Avalon.

 

Scott Andrews:  I have a question here that one of our analysts put together. We heard evidence that tolerance to Slice, an antiparasitic drug used to treat sea lice infection, was not a problem in British Columbia. Can you confirm that this is the case, and how do you test for this type of drug tolerance? Are you familiar with that?

 

Mark Sheppard: Yes, and again, I'll reiterate that there is no evidence to substantiate the allegation that there is drug resistance to Slice by lice in British Columbia. To make such a claim, in my opinion, is misleading and quite frankly irresponsible.

 

It's a complex issue, drug resistance and the development of it, and there are a myriad of other factors that need to be considered before putting it on the list. Now, it is on the list; it would be on the very bottom of the list as a likelihood as to how one would explain why a Slice treatment did not work.

 

JS: Mark Sheppard's response certainly triggered a flashback to some of our previous episodes here on Deconstructing Dinner on the subject of genetically engineered food... where the heated debate on that issue is too often met with the common argument.... that there is "no evidence" to substantiate the allegation that GE foods are harmful to humans. As was suggested here on the show then and as we'll suggest once again... it must be one of the most unscientific statements to make that there is "no evidence" to substantiate something if at the same time there isn't anyone looking. With GE food as an example, there haven't been any ongoing studies on the impact GE foods might have on humans just has there hasn't been anyone checking for drug resistance among sea lice in B.C. And so in both cases stating that there is "no evidence" is a pretty misinforming statement (especially to the unscientific ear) as it suggests that there have indeed been efforts to test that hypotheses. 

 

With the questionable statements being made by the Ministry of Agriculture & Lands' Mark Sheppard, Member of Parliament Fin Donnelly continued pressing Sheppard about the graph - the graph that was released by the Province that suggested to Alexandra Morton that drug resistance should be tested for. The NDP's Fin Donnelly represents the B.C. riding of New Westminster-Coquitlam Port Moody. In his response, Sheppard alludes to Alexandra Morton's position as "wildly speculative".

 

Fin Donnelly: One of the handouts, in the background information, says this with regard to Slice:

 

 

From a strictly medical perspective, the drug protects the fish from lice for a short period. If medicated fish are exposed to unmedicated lice a second time (from various marine sources), those lice may re-infest the recently medicated fish. This situation, as it recently occurred in the Nootka area, is not evidence of drug resistance even though some may interpret it that way.

 

I have a couple of questions on that. One, I'm wondering if you could describe what drug resistance looks like. This is not drug resistance, in your opinion. What does drug resistance look like? Second, why are some saying that this is, in their opinion, evidence of a case of resistance to Slice?

 

MS: Right. Both are good questions. If I may, I will answer the second question first. The development of drug resistance is an extremely complex phenomenon. Some people--who are not qualified to make comments on it, in my opinion--have decided to put forth a wildly speculative conclusion based on a graph, which, as I think I've explained to you, had many other factors that needed to be considered before any conclusion was made on that point.   

 

That case in itself is a matter of someone who either didn't understand the science or simply preferred to move forth with a perspective to suit their agenda.

 

As to drug resistance and what it looks like, if you'd like I can refer to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Or is your question, Mr. Donnelly, specifically about lice?

 

FD: It's about Slice.

 

MS: Okay; so Slice and lice.

 

By the way, for those who don't know, Slice is the trade name for a drug. Its generic name is emamectin benzoate. It's used in different countries and it's very effective at killing all life stages of lice when it works.

 

In other countries it's used multiple times each year. They use it every six weeks sometimes, for example. In B.C., as I said, we use it once a year normally.

 

Drug resistance can develop if there is a repetitive use of the product numerous times over short periods. If the drug is not effective at killing all the lice or all the bacteria, the animals that survive--the lice or the bacteria--then have the opportunity to pass on their genetic protection, resistance, of the drug to the offspring. So when the drug is used again, there's more protection. More animals survive and they keep passing on that genetics. It takes quite some time before drug resistance develops in a population of parasites or bacteria. Unfortunately, that is what we're seeing, failed treatments in other parts of the world where they are using Slice on numerous occasions.

 

Unfortunately, the lice...and again, we're talking here about the Atlantic Ocean louse, a very different animal from what we have here in British Columbia. That's what they're seeing, and as a result, they have to use alternate products to try to control their lice infestations on their fish.

 

Does that answer your question?

 

FD: I think so.

 

MS: Well, if I may, if it didn't answer your question, I can see how, for someone without the depth of knowledge to look at a graph to see that there's a peak, there's a medication, then there's another peak, then yes, I suppose if we had drug resistance, that might be what it looked like. But I would still go through the other 20 factors first before making that conclusion.

 

JS: Mark Sheppard of British Columbia's Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. Now what stands as perhaps the most curious comment made by Sheppard requiring some deconstructing, was that very last one.... MP Fin Donnelly had referred to the same graph that biologist Alexandra Morton used that was suggestive to her that resistance to SLICE among sea lice might be a reason for the drug not working and the graph. Now while Mark Sheppard insisted that Morton had come to a "conclusion" that the lice were resistant, never at any point did she conclude anything... we went back over her statements and responses made to the committee and have confirmed that she only stated that the graph is "a neon sign warning of drug resistance" and on another occasion "I don't see how you can look at those graphs and not see drug resistance". Now the statements are no doubt strong but were only a plea for the Province or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to test for drug resistance (as she explained both in committee and through email communication with Mark Sheppard in the months prior). That email communication is documented on Alexandra Morton's blog linked to from the Deconstructing Dinner web site at deconstructingdinner.ca

 

While Sheppard used very strong words to dismiss what Morton was interpreting from the graph, Donnelly maintained his line of questioning asking whether or not drug resistance among the sea lice would result in the graph that Morton and Sheppard are referring to. It was that persistence by Donnelly that resulted in what seems to us here at Deconstructing Dinner... to be an agreement that, yes, the graph that Morton believes should warrant drug resistance tests is indeed suggestive of possible drug resistance....

 

here's that comment again...

 

MS: Does that answer your question?

 

FD:  I think so.

 

MS: Well, if I may, if it didn't answer your question, I can see how, for someone without the depth of knowledge to look at a graph to see that there's a peak, there's a medication, then there's another peak, then yes, I suppose if we had drug resistance, that might be what it looked like. But I would still go through the other 20 factors first before making that conclusion.

 

JS: Now no indication of what those other 20 factors are was made, but given the serious repercussions of drug resistance, it would seem any indication of that resistance should warrant a response. Instead, as can be viewed on Alexandra Morton's blog, her email communication with Mark Sheppard and his supervisor Trevor Rhodes indicates a very different response and a very difficult effort trying to convince the British Columbia government that drug resistance should be looked into. Despite Sheppard agreeing that drug resistance would indeed produce a graph like the one released by the province, British Columbia's Director of Aquaculture Operations' Trevor Rhodes wrote to Morton with the following statement.... "there is no indication that sea lice in Nootka Sound or elsewhere in BC are resistant to SLICE." This, despite, his colleague stating as we just heard that the graph is very much an indication of possible resistance.

 

soundbite

 

Now it's this topic of discussion from Canada's Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans that has mobilized at least one group to go on the defense for fish farms and challenge Morton's testimony to the Committee. A group calling itself Positive Aquaculture Awareness issued a statement on their web site about the hearings. Based in the unofficial capital of salmon farming Campbell River - the group is referred to by it's supporters as a "grassroots organization" but upon a closer look, is more or less a front group for the salmon farming industry made up of industry professionals. Their President as an example is the Plant Manager of Noboco - one of the major producers of styrofoam packaging for the fish farming industry. Their Vice-President is with Campbell River's Economic Development Corporation. Their Secretary is the Production Manager of Grieg Seafood (the company in question over possible sea lice resistance on their farm) and of their 2 Education staff, one works for a Norwegian company producing steel frames for fish farm cages and the other... works for Walcan... the seafood processing plant that Grieg seafood sends their product to.

 

In their statement made on their web site, Positive Aquaculture Awareness writes, "Her allegations of SLICE resistant sea lice, likely presence of Infectious Salmon Anemia on Marine Harvest salmon farms and general proliferation of disease at salmon farms were as shocking as they were untrue."

 

That statement is a pretty shocking one to say the least because upon deconstructing it, the statement is quite flawed... because allegations (as the group says were made by Morton) can never be "untrue" as the group states, just as allegations are also, never true... allegations after all rest in the middle... waiting to be proven or disproven. Alexandra Morton was indeed alleging sea lice resistance and alleging the likely presence of Infectious Salmon Anemia, never were her statements stated as fact as Positive Aquaculture Awareness says in their statement. It appears as yet another public relations strategy and some serious spin place on the statements made in Canada's Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

 

soundbite

 

On May 12, 2010, Lawrence Dill was also invited to testify before the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Dill is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby British Columbia. Dill shared his thoughts on Mark Sheppard's testimony to the Committee following a question from MP Fin Donnelly.

 

FD:  Thank you. We've had expert professionals in front this committee who have said essentially that sea lice are not a problem on the west coast with respect to aquaculture and wild salmon. I even asked about the potential of developing resistance to SLICE. I'm wondering if you could comment on either of those.

 

Lawrence Dill: I will comment on the resistance to SLICE first. I felt that Dr. Sheppard's commentary on that was highly irresponsible and very unscientific when he said there was no evidence for it and

that he would put it at number 20 on the list of possibilities, or something like that.

 

Resistance to SLICE has happened elsewhere. It has happened in Chile. It has happened in Norway. It has happened in eastern Canada, and there was a report yesterday that came out of the 2010 sea lice 2010 congress going on here in Victoria that it is highly likely in B.C. In fact, there are some signs in B.C. that the process may have already started. There is certainly no evidence to the contrary, because no one has done experiments, so it's inappropriate to discuss that possibility without studying it first.

 

JS: Lawrence Dill, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby British Columbia. Dill's opening remarks to the Committee not hear here are archived alongside today's episode archive on the Deconstructing Dinner web site at deconstructingdinner.ca

 

And another witness who testified on May 12 and spoke about the risks of resistance to SLICE among sea lice was Craig Orr of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. We'll hear more from Craig Orr's opening remarks later on the show, but first here's his response to a question from Conservative MP Blaine Calkins that inquired into the international Sea Lice Conference that took place in Victoria in early May. Craig's comments indicate that resistance to SLICE among sea lice is indeed a very real concern.

 

Craig Orr: I was at a session yesterday at Sea Lice 2010, called "Resistance". It had titles such as "Reduced sensitivity to emamectin benzoate in a farm population of sea lice", "Increased tolerance towards emamectin benzoate versus fitness in lab-reared sea louse", etc.

The plenary talk was given by Professor Tor Horsberg, from the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science in Norway. He's a pharmacologist who has studied this for a number of years. He's a world authority. He showed us the problems that were happening in Norway. One of the things he said was that SLICE wasn't working in this last year. It's the last chemical that has been developed, and it was developed in 1999. So we're talking about something that's 11 years out of date now in terms of recent developments. He did say that they were working on vaccines for fish to deal with sea lice, but as far as he knew—and he should know—there was nothing in the pipeline for vaccines right now.

 

He was quite worried about the efficacy of SLICE, obviously, as were many of the other people. He talked about how they had to resort to other ways that were used in the past to deal with lice, including organophosphates like DDT and those kinds of things, and chitin disruptors.

 

One of the things that Norway does, too, is take boats around to these farms, closed boats, and they have a hydrogen peroxide bath that they put these fish in to kill the lice. But all these things have limitations on what they do in terms of killing lice, and Norway has a problem.

 

I also sat down to lunch yesterday with Dr. Karin Boxaspen, who's a major sea louse researcher in Norway. She said the only reason they actually saved some fish last year, in terms of the wild fish, is because they had an exceptional cold snap that killed off some of the lice. She said it would have been far worse without the weather assisting in terms of killing lice.

 

So we have problems, even though we spend 300 million euros a year—that's from the paper I told you about before, by Costello. We have considerable problems in killing lice off in a way that's sufficient to save wild fish.

 

Peter Heuch, who is a leading expert on the sea lice action plan that they have in Norway, was at the conference as well. He has shown that as farms get larger and larger, they have more and more problems with these chemical treatments. They just do not do the job, and they have been unable to recover their wild fish in Norway because of salmon farming.

 

JS: Craig Orr of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

 

soundbite

 

This is Deconstructing Dinner produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman. You're listening to part VII of our ongoing series Norway, British Columbia... a series examining the salmon farming industry on the British Columbia Coast - an industry made up mostly of three Norwegian multinationals.

 

On today's show we're listening in on sessions of Canada's Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans where over the past few months, the subject of salmon farming in B.C. has been discussed in depth in part because of the now in process transferring of regulatory authority from the Province of B.C. to the Federal Government and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. If you're new to this series, that transfer was the result of a successful legal challenge initiated by a number of groups including biologist Alexandra Morton who we heard earlier and who we'll hear again later on the show. But first, another witness invited to address the committee and field questions was Craig Orr who we just heard a small clip of... Orr is the Executive Director of the Coquitlam, BC based Watershed Watch Salmon Society. Here again is Craig Orr and his opening comments to the Parliamentary Committee.

 

CO: My involvement in the interactions of wild and farmed salmon goes back to about 1999, but in particular it geared up quite a bit in 2001 when we saw the first-ever sea lice outbreaks on juvenile Pacific salmon on the coast of British Columbia.

 

Since that time my major focus has been on aquaculture and aquaculture interactions between wild and farmed fish. I've helped to organize seven international workshops as the associate director for the Centre for Coastal Studies at Simon Fraser University and as the executive director of Watershed Watch. We brought in scientists from around the world to share their experiences and their science concerning the impacts of sea lice.

 

In 2004 we began working with the largest salmon farming company in Canada--and in the world, actually--Stolt Sea Farm, now Marine Harvest Canada. The goals of that work were to improve the understanding of and transparency around the data from salmon farms and the interactions between wild and farmed fish, and to undertake management actions that would reduce infection pressures on wild fish.

 

In 2006 part of that work involved monitoring lice on some of the Marine Harvest farms on a weekly basis during the out-migration of juvenile fish and also looking at the effects of biocides on those lice. The results of that research will be coming out in a paper shortly.

 

I have also published several other papers on the interactions of farmed and wild salmon, and in particular I have looked at the production of lice on salmon farms.

 

In that work, and in particular in the workshops that we've hosted with Simon Fraser, we've built up

a considerable weight of evidence and reviewed the science around the impacts of salmon farms around the world. What we know from that science--you may have already heard some of this, and I apologize if it's redundant--is that 95% of the lice in coastal waters around the world come from salmon farms. They are actually manufacturing lots of lice because of the high density of farmed fish.

 

You have to understand that our salmon farms on this coast are extremely large. A typical farm is about 725,000 farmed salmon, which is much larger than the farms in Europe. To put that in perspective, that's a mass equivalent of about 500 Asian bull elephants swimming around in a farm.

 

We've looked at that science. We've looked at the fact that we've altered the natural ecology of our coastal oceans. In particular what we've done is reverse the natural laws of what's called migration allopatry. That means simply that juvenile fish leaving rivers typically did not encounter, over historic times, large numbers of adult lice-bearing salmon in coastal waters.

  

They're quite small when they leave the rivers. The juvenile pink and chum salmon weigh less than a gram when they emerge from the gravel and go to sea. The adult salmon were in the high seas feeding at the time, and although they may have hosted several lice per fish, they weren't shedding those lice eggs while the juveniles were going by, so there was a separation--migration allopatry--between the wild juvenile fish and the adult fish when we had a natural ecology on this coast.

 

Right now we cultivate farm fish, and the evidence suggests that they are producing substantial numbers of lice. I published a paper in 2007 in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management looking at production patterns on marine harvest farms. We waited several years, prodding Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which had that data, to publish the information. They did not, so we undertook that ourselves.

 

What I showed in this paper was that these farms--we were looking at just eight of them--were producing billions of lice eggs and infectious larvae every year. In particular, they were producing very large spikes of lice just before the juvenile fish migrated past the farms, and we're still seeing this pattern to this day in western Canada.

 

Some of the other science backs me up on the fact that we're seeing large production of lice from these farms.

 

In 2009 Mark Costello, a leading researcher in New Zealand, said "There's no doubt that salmon farms are the major source of sea lice epizootics observed in wild fish around the world."

 

All the scientists came together in 2007 at a workshop in Alert Bay in British Columbia and said there was no doubt that salmon farms cause impacts around the world. That was true from Ireland, Scotland, Norway. The statement of expectation, which is printed in the workshop proceedings, also said it's time to act, to deal with these impacts. The situation in British Columbia is exacerbated by the small size and vulnerability of the pink salmon and chum salmon, in particular, but we have seen lice on all species of Pacific salmon, all six, including steelhead.

 

There are also papers out there that show population levels of effect. Several papers have looked at the effects of lice on individual fish. It's a little harder to translate those into population level impacts. In particular, I draw your attention to a paper done by Jennifer Ford and the late Ransom Myers, of Dalhousie University, published in 2009, in which they did a paired bay comparison of salmon farms around the world. What that means is they looked at areas in Ireland, Scotland, Norway, and British Columbia. They looked at one bay where there were no salmon farms and they looked at one bay where there were salmon farms, and that way they were able to control for all sources of mortality. What they said very conclusively in this peer-reviewed paper was that salmon farms are the major source of declines of wild fish around the world. Their meta-analysis left no doubt of that. In fact, they found that on average, wherever there was salmon farming, there was a 50% decline in wild fish survival, around the world. British Columbia is simply the latest place where this is happening.

 

JS: Craig Orr - the Executive Director of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society based in Coquitlam, British Columbia. Craig addressed Canada's Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on May 12, 2010. Now one of the topics that has come up here on the show before and came up quite often during the past few months that the Committee has been studying British Columbia's salmon farms has been the role of Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans in promoting salmon farming and their role in protecting wild salmon stocks. Previous guests like Otto Langer - formerly of the DFO, shared many critical reflections and perspectives that questioned the department's credibility and their ability to adequately carry out their mandate. Langer left the Department along with many other DFO scientists because of those concerns. In his opening remarks to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, Craig Orr also did not mince words, stating that the actions of DFO staff sometime leave him embarrassed to be a Canadian. He refers to published pieces by scientists like Martin Krkosek who, despite demonstrating peer-reviewed research on the negative impacts of salmon farms on wild salmon, is seemingly dismissed by DFO scientists. The latest came from the Sea Lice conference that Orr attended in early May.

 

CO: Unfortunately, although there are papers like this out there, there is also a recent one by Dr. Martin Krkosek in one of the pre-eminent science journals in the world, showing rapid declines in survival of pink salmon in the Broughton Archipelago. We have a very large amount of debate still happening in British Columbia. In fact, I just saw that debate rear its ugly head again at the workshop where we had the senior scientist from DFO, Dr. Dick Beamish, refusing to answer any questions whatsoever at a sea lice workshop on whether sea lice were causing impacts on wild fish. It's a debate that's been going on for far too long. The science on this coast has been ignored and distorted, in particular by management agencies, to a point where it's embarrassing to be a Canadian at times, to see the kind of science that is coming out of our federal government. In fact, some resource ecologists studying these problems around the world call this resource management pathology, and it's a recurring situation around the world.

 

Let me just sum it up. I can't sum it up any more eloquently than the great Buzz Holling, a pre-eminent Canadian ecologist who lives in Nanaimo. He says: "While science uses uncertainty to drive the engine of inquiry, vested interest groups use and foster uncertainty to maintain a status quo policy."

 

This is clearly demonstrated probably more so in the sea lice communications plan that came out a few years ago in which the communications branch of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans urged its scientists, when they were talking about this situation in public, to extol a complexity of ecosystems and the need for more research before we can definitively ascribe these losses of wild fish to salmon farms. This was again carried to heights that were absolutely absurd.

 

The last piece of evidence I'll bring before I bring this to a conclusion is a recent criticism of Dr. Dick Beamish, who published a paper called "A proposed life history strategy for the salmon louse, Lepeophtheirus salmonis, in the subarctic Pacific". He published this in a journal called Aquaculture, which is not a well-known ecology journal, in which he normally publishes papers. He talked about alternate life history strategies where these sea lice are coming from. Of course we heard from DFO back in the mid-2000s that sea lice were coming from wild fish, they were coming from sticklebacks, they were coming from everywhere except salmon farms. An academic, Dr. Dill, whom I believe you just heard from, wrote a review of Beamish's paper, and I'll just cite a couple of lines and I'll finish off on that:

 

 

Beamish's paper is curious in failing to mention farm salmon host in the Broughton Archipelago

 

and this is in a paper that looks at alternate life history strategies of sea lice

 

 

despite this being the only place on the coast where newly emerged wild fry are heavily parasitized. ...Beamish's errors of omission and their selective use of their own and others' data lead the naive reader to a conclusion that cannot be substantiated. Their "conclusion" that the "transport of sea lice in the coastal areas is an evolutionary adaptation" is unwarranted and, indeed, is not a conclusion at all. In fact, the presence of farmed salmon along the migration routes of very young wild salmon represents an anthropogenic or human perturbation to a natural host-parasite system....

 

 

 

    You know, these are pretty strong statements from an academic. Unfortunately, we still don't seem to have our federal government onside. We have had, of course, our Auditor General twice cite the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as being in a conflict of interest because they're simultaneously trying to promote salmon farming and protect wild salmon.

 

Unfortunately, we've had a lot of problems getting the clear science out there, which is probably why we're at this session right now. But there is really no doubt that salmon farms are exacerbating the problems with wild salmon around the world, mainly through sea lice, but also through disease, and I haven't touched on the other issues of escaped fish, and pollutants. We did publish a paper, as well, looking at how mercury is transported through the feed, then bio-magnified back up through the food chain, and it appears in rockfish around the salmon farms. So there are other problems with salmon farms.

 

All the researchers we talked to suggest that sea lice are a major problem around the world and the treatments for those sea lice are starting to fail. We just heard from researcher after researcher, from Norway, Scotland, and Ireland, saying their treatments for sea lice are failing, and we can expect the same to happen here.

 

Thank you.

 

JS: Craig Orr of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society.

 

Orr was one of a number of witnesses addressing the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans who spoke very critically of Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans suggesting that the department is in a conflict of interest with a mandate to both protect wild salmon and promote salmon farms. To the untrained eye, that conflict of interest and the confusion that might arise both within the department and among Canadians is pretty obvious when paying a visit to DFO's very own web site. On it they maintain a page titled Myths and Realities about Salmon Farming. The page lists 16 myths among which are these 5:

 

The DFO says it's a myth that "farmed salmon spread disease to wild salmon". This despite the opposite being true (such as one of the first known instances of disease transfer in Norway decades ago... when furnculosis spread from farms to wild stocks.)

 

The DFO also says it's a "myth that sea lice from farmed salmon are destroying pink salmon stocks in BC." This, despite, as heard just earlier, the work of Martin Krkosek who published those very findings in the journal Science.

 

The DFO says it's a "myth that food fish are being taken away from wild stocks to feed farmed fish". This is perhaps the most blatant lie of them all... because there is absolutely no question that wild food fish are consistently used to feed farmed fish. And again... this is Canada's very own Department of Fisheries and Oceans making these statements....

 

What else does the DFO say is a myth...

 

well... they say that it's myth that "the science on the aquaculture issue seems confusing".... yet as Craig Orr identified, the very Sea Lice communication strategy for the DFO, essentially encourages them to confuse the public... by inserting the talking point of complexity... and more research being needed.

 

And the last "myth" that we have time to address here on the show is DFO stating that it's a "myth that farmed salmon are pumped full of hormone and antibiotics"

 

Well, we didn't need to go far to find a paper published in 2007 by the DFO's very own Les Burridge who writes "In British Columbia, the quantity of antibiotics prescribed per metric ton of production is also very high compared to Norway or Scotland. It has been suggested that this use of large volumes of antibiotics can only be explained by excessive and prophylactic use."

 

Again, that from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans'. Les Burridge. And again, the DFO on their website stating that it's a "myth" that farmed salmon are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics.

 

soundbite

 

As heard earlier wildlife biologist Alexandra Morton also appeared before Canada's Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and she too was questioned on the work and statements of DFO scientists. In particular was this question from NDP MP Fin Donnelly on the collapse of the Fraser River Sockeye in 2009.

 

FD: I want to read a comment that we heard at this committee. As you know, aquaculture is one of the possible causes of the decline of the Fraser River sockeye run last year. It was devastated. At a recent hearing, the committee heard that DFO did not "have information that suggests that the presence of fish farms is causing a decline in the wild salmon populations in British Columbia right now". Could you comment on that statement...

 

AM:  Yes, DFO is a bit schizophrenic at this point. I would say the guys on the ground are seeing evidence, but that information never seems to get to the top. So the fact that DFO has no evidence is irrelevant, in my mind.

 

First of all, they don't know what diseases are on these farms. Second, they had a front seat on the sea lice epidemics of the Broughton. There was enormous evidence that it was the fish farms, because in 2003 they took all the farms off the migration route, and the number of pink salmon that survived and came back from that generation was greater than ever recorded in the history of studying pink salmon.

 

That's a paper, actually, by Dr. Dick Beamish. What Beamish took from that study was that fish farms and wild salmon can survive together. That was a very flawed jump in reasoning because what had happened that year in fact was that the fish farms had been removed.

 

There's a lot of evidence that the farms are affecting the wild salmon. There are a tremendous number of holes in our knowledge about what is going on in these farms for viruses and bacteria.

 

JS: Alexandra Morton.

 

Now some of the criticism that Alexandra Morton often receives questions her very vocal focus on sea lice as being the main culprit in the decline of wild salmon stocks. This concern was raised by Liberal MP Gerry Byrne.

 

GB:  I think we all recognize there are probably a number of different causes or sources of population decline or disappearance in terms of Fraser River sockeye. Would you characterize an explosion in sea lice population in key transit areas as being the critical cause for wild salmon population decline?

 

AM:  I would expand that to a pathogen explosion, because a lot of fish farmers now come to me directly; they talk to me and tell me what goes on in these farms. I, unfortunately, can't do much with that information because they don't want to be revealed. They won't tell me the exact site sometimes. The impression I have very clearly is that there are large bacterial and viral outbreaks on these salmon farms.

 

There was a paper written by Dr. Sonja Saksida that described a massive outbreak of the virus IHN from 2001 to 2003, which infected 12 million farm salmon. The Fraser sockeye swam through that, and that was the 2005 generation that crashed so badly.

 

Now, the really key thing about those Fraser sockeye is there's a pattern we should be reading. All of the stocks that have been genetically observed going north past Campbell River and the 60 salmon farms from there to the open ocean are in steep decline. The one stock that is observed genetically going out from the bottom of Vancouver Island--they're called the Harrison--is actually increasing. If you pull back your focus, the Somass River coming out of Alberni Inlet, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, goes by no salmon farms, goes straight into the Pacific Ocean. That run of sockeye came back at more than twice what DFO forecast. As well, from the Columbia River to the south, and the Okanagan River, which feeds into the Columbia, those sockeye go straight into the Pacific Ocean. They're in the same latitude, and they did extremely well. They passed no fish farms.

 

That pattern, to me, says (a) there was a serious problem in the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, and (b) that's where all the salmon farms are. We absolutely need to know what pathogens were on those farms or we will never answer this question.

 

There are also processing plants spewing blood water into these areas. Some kids went down and videoed the Walcan one on Quadra Island. They put my plankton net right over the end of the pipe, and like it or not, they bottled it all up and put it in a cooler for me to check. Coming out of that pipe were sea lice hatching. They were actually alive. It's the first time I've actually seen sea lice hatch. So that suggests viruses and bacteria are coming out of that pipe, too.

 

All of that is so incredibly risky to our Fraser sockeye. The fact that only those stocks that are going through that area are in decline is a huge warning sign. If we really want to protect those fish, we need to pull those farms out right now and just test and see what happens. At the very least, we need to know exactly what was going on in them.

 

JS: Alexandra Morton of the Echo Bay, British Columbia based Raincoast Research Society. Morton spoke to Canada's Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on April 12, 2010. Full transcripts from all of the recent hearings on salmon farming that have taken place between March and May of this year are archived on the Deconstructing Dinner web site at deconstructingdinner.ca and the June 10, 2010 episode. You'll also find many resources on today's topic including unheard audio from those committee hearings.

 

To close out this part 7 of our Norway, British Columbia series we have here a collage of 4 final clips from the hearings which include Simon Fraser University's Lawrence Dill, the Watershed Watch Salmon Society's Craig Orr and the Raincoast Research Society's Alexandra Morton. Leading off the clips is an unheard segment from Deconstructing Dinner's October 2008 visit to a Marine Harvest salmon farm off of East Thurlow Island. It was there where the BC Ministry of Agriculture & Lands' Bill Harrower fielded a question from myself on the sea lice drug known as SLICE. His comments are suggestive that British Columbia's sea lice monitoring program is merely to appease the public and to not genuinely protect wild salmon... a reality that would actually make sense... because the province has never been responsible for the health of wild salmon. In the background helping Harrower answer the question is the BC Salmon Farmers Association's Paula Galloway.

 

Bill Harrower: Here, the reason for using slice at all is to ensure to the public and First Nations that there is a very low risk of transmitting lice from farms. That's the only reason it's used, because it's never posed a fish health risk to the fish on the farms here, whereas...

 

-unintelligible-

 

... but not for fish health, not for public relations so much, but to assure the public that

we're doing everything that can be done to safeguard wild stocks.

 

Lawrence Dill: so contrary to the absolute nonsense claimed by provincial veterinarian Mark Sheppard, there are a rather large number of credible scientists, me included, who disagree with him when he says that there is insufficient information to suggest that lice on farms is affecting Pacific salmon in a detrimental way.

 

I said earlier that science never proves anything absolutely. There is always a small element of uncertainty; it may be very small, but no matter how small, it's inappropriate to seize on this uncertainty to discredit the work. Seizing on uncertainty is a common tactic of people who don't want to believe the results, from those who deny climate change to tobacco companies. It's a bogus argument. The conclusions that scientists are coming to are more than strongly enough supported that DFO should be invoking the precautionary principle and getting the salmon farms out of the migration routes of wild salmon.

 

Thank you very much.

 

Alexandra Morton: I've been out and about in the Broughton Archipelago, a beautiful, remote area, for 26 years, and I just want to tell you that the oceans are not dying. When I arrived, there were no humpback whales. There are now 27 whales that use the area. The sand lance population, which is a very, very energy-rich fish, is bigger than it's ever been. Nobody has seen it this big. We have pilchard back, which were gone for 90 years. The Pacific white-sided dolphin population is in the thousands.

 

A lot is going right in our oceans, and the fact that our salmon are declining, when the western Pacific and the Alaskan ones are not, is an indication that we can fix this.

 

I so hope that you let us do this. If fishery management became more localized, if DFO became an organization that worked with people and you took the scientists out of the political body of DFO and let them be what they were at the fisheries research boards.... They were cutting edge. They were the leading fishery scientists in the world.

 

If we just took a few simple steps, Canada could be an example around the world of how we could have our fish and our communities thrive.

 

To your committee, thank you so much for having me here today. I see a lot of movement

happening, and I'm hoping that we can all follow through and solve this. It's not about anybody losing; we all win. The Norwegians, if they have to go home, will still fish farm. Those European shareholders will be fine. It's the communities of British Columbia we need to be concerned about.

 

Craig Orr: I'd like to say that humans are notorious for resisting change. They cling to outdated ideas and practices even though they know these are damaging. You can look at all kinds of human behaviours that are self-destructive, and I won't go into those, but there have been many studies looking at this from an ecological standpoint. One of the biggest drivers to get somebody to change is they finally get into a crisis so deep that they have to look themselves in the mirror and say they have to change.

 

We've had a crisis with our Fraser sockeye. We've had the worst returns on record in the last year on the Fraser River, and to Minister Shea's credit, she called an inquiry into the problems here. We've had a crisis with salmon farming on this coast, which is the main reason why we're seeing some change on this coast, and it's not happening fast enough to save certain stocks of fish. So we should be looking at why people resist change. There's lots of literature out there on that. But we do have a crisis, we have to change, and it has to happen fairly soon.

 

ending theme


HOME | ABOUT | RECENT | BI-WEEKLY COLUMN | LEARN | CONTACT | POST YOUR WORDS

deconstructingdinner@cjly.net

supporters
supporters


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.