Fishing guides subjected to conspiracy theory nonsense

A disturbingly flawed piece of pseudoscience was recently sent out to fishing guide associations all over B.C.

Pseudoscience from Alexandra Morton

Alexandra Morton and other anti-salmon farming activists are fixated on one explanation for why salmon returns have declined since the 1980s.

They say that since the late 1980s and early 199os, salmon have declined.

That’s because, they say, it was in that same time period when salmon farming in B.C. experienced its largest growth period.

Therefore, salmon farms MUST be responsible for the decline in productivity.

A graph created by Alexandra Morton purporting to show that the productivity of Fraser sockeye dropped right around the same time salmon farms in B.C. grew.
A graph created by Alexandra Morton purporting to show that the productivity of Fraser sockeye dropped right around the same time salmon farms in B.C. grew.

While this makes for an alarming-looking graph, what is even more alarming is the bad science behind it.

Once again, correlation does not equal causation.

But even more important, Ms. Morton, who has stated she has spend “thousands of hours” reading through all the documents submitted to the Cohen Commission, has very obviously ignored many documents submitted to the Cohen Commission which disagree with her hypothesis.

Six scientists who also reviewed all the data submitted to the commission were tasked by Justice Cohen to synthesize it all into a report. Their work, “Fraser River sockeye salmon: data synthesis and cumulative impacts,” has been largely ignored but includes some fascinating information which shows how bad Ms. Morton’s science really is. Lets begin by looking at their premise.

The Pattern We Seek To Explain

Based on the Cohen Commission’s technical reports (Peterman and Dorner 2011, Hinch and Martins 2011), we can describe five key attributes of change in Fraser and non-Fraser sockeye populations:

1. Within the Fraser watershed, 17 of 19 sockeye stocks have shown declines in productivity over the last two decades (the two exceptions are Harrison and Late Shuswap sockeye).

Hold on. According to Ms. Morton’s bad science linked above, only the Harrison River runs have not shown declines. She never mentions Late Shuswap runs. Why is that? Because they don’t fit into her neat and tidy theory that the only salmon unaffected by the decline are the ones which didn’t have to swim past salmon farms.

2. Most of 45 non-Fraser sockeye stocks that were examined show a similar recent decrease in productivity. Thus, declining productivity has occurred over a much larger area than just the Fraser River system and is not unique to it.

This has also been ignored. As we’ve said before, stocks have declined since the 1980s from Alaska to Washington, including in regions where there are no salmon farms for thousands of miles. This does not fit into her tidy theory either.

3. Of the nine Fraser sockeye stocks with data on juvenile abundance, only Gates sockeye  have showed declines in juvenile productivity (i.e., from spawners to juveniles) but 7 of the 9 stocks showed consistent reductions in post-juvenile productivity (i.e., from juveniles to returning adult recruits).

Morton is not noting this either, and lumping all productivity statistics together.

4. There have been three separate phases of decline in productivity since 1950. The first started in the 1970s, the second in the mid-1980s, and then the most recent one in the late 1990s or early 2000s, with individual stocks showing these trends to various extents.

On Ms. Morton’s graph, a decline in productivity is apparent in the 1960s, similar to the decline in the 1990s. What is her explanation for that decline? Can that be blamed on salmon farms too, which did not exist anywhere in the world at that time?

5. Over the last two decades there has been an increasing amount of en-route mortality of returning Fraser sockeye spawners (i.e., mortality between the Mission enumeration site and the spawning ground). This results in reduced harvest, as fishery managers do their best to ensure enough spawners return to the spawning ground in spite of considerable mortality along the way.

What is different here compared to previous declines in productivity? More returning fish have been dying between Mission and their spawning grounds. There are many possible explanations for why this might be happening.

And that is exactly what the Cohen Commission was formed to find out.

The synthesis of the data by the six scientists results in conclusions much different that Morton’s synthesis of cherry-picked data supporting her pre-conceived hypothesis. They recommend more study, particularly in the Strait of Georgia, but also offer conclusions by the Pacific Salmon Commission, which found that it was most likely marine ecology inside and outside Georgia Strait as well as climate change had the greatest impacts on salmon returns (see the last two pages of the synthesis report).

What’s the take-home message here?

Salmon science is complicated. It does no one any good, particularly the fish, for one person who hates salmon farming to make simplistic graphs and conclusions and send them out to fishing guides.

There’s a word for that. It’s called “propaganda.”

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3 thoughts on “Fishing guides subjected to conspiracy theory nonsense”

  1. what..and this response (which incidentally contains more bad science) is not propaganda?

    in the balance i think we’ll take Morton’s take home message as being rather more plausible, albeit flawed, than your ‘its too complicated for you little people’ patronising BS.

    1. What parts of this response are “bad science”? Please explain. I would be interested to know why a guy like Randell Peterman is involved in “bad science”.

      More plausible, albeit flawed? That makes no sense. If it is flawed how can it be more plausible?

  2. Morton’s pseudoscience report is very flawed. I am glad you did a post on it. First, Morton is right that the Harrison Sockeye are doing exceptionally well. However, she also doesn’t mention the fact that Harrison are composed of 3 and 4 year olds. In 2009, the 3 year olds old Sockeye that returned to the Harrison did really good, but the 4 year olds did not. In fact, the recruits per spawner for Harrison 4 year olds did worse than the rest of the Fraser Sockeye 4 year old stocks in 2009. I asked Morton on her blog why she did not mention this fact. She declined to answer. Secondly, Harrison Sockeye are not immune to prespawn mortality. She talks about prespawn in other places and how this relates must be linked to this “novel virus” or ISA or salmon leukemia. In fact, Harrison Sockeye experience very high prespawn mortality in the beginning (August and September as they enter and hold in Harrison Lake) with spawning success improving in November. Thirdly, is Morton suggesting that Harrison juveniles completely avoid salmon farms on the WCVI also? According to Morton, the ocean currents on the WCVI do not push out the farm effluent out to the migrating Harrison juveniles. Really? What oceangraphic evidence does she have to support this? Where is it in the pseudo report? How do we know that Harrison juveniles are not spending some time near these farms on WCVI? Lastly, what changes have their been in enumeration and assessment methods of Harrison Sockeye over the past 10 years?

    The closure of the Conville Bay farm was not really a closure from what I learned…and it definitely was not closed because they farmers were worried about Dr. Miller’s work. There can be numerous farm sites but they are not all in operation at the same time. This particular farm that Morton claims is the smoking gun was apparently sold from one fish farm company to another where Atlantics are now farmed. There were economic reasons, but of course it is much more juicier to come up with a story of deception. During inquiry testimony, Claire Backman stated that Chinooks are still being farmed in the general area of this particular farm mentioned by Morton, so her contention that this closure was a major factor in the bonanza in 2010 is flawed. She also failed to mention the excellent ocean conditions experienced by the 2008 Sockeye outmigrants from the Fraser (see State of the Ocean report series on DFO website). What happened in 2002 when the Adams River had a huge return. This particular Chinook farm that Morton is critical of was likely in operation then. She tries to connect the dots but it is not just that simple.

    Morton also refuses to look at other aspects. Why are some co-migrating stocks doing better than others? For instance, Quesnel Lake stocks have declined drastically since the 2001 while Chilko (migrates alongside of Quesnel stocks) remains much stronger. If Morton did a little searching she would have found out that Quesnel Lake has experienced similar declines in kokanee and rainbow trout over the same time period. Morton also refuses to notice why the Late South Thompson Sockeye productivity has remained fairly stable.

    The fact is that Morton will provide no response to these on her blog. I wish you luck, Annie. You could be waiting awhile….lol. As I said before, she has abandoned science and is now an active protester with a primary focus on demarketing and smearing the BC industry as much as she can in the American media.

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