Category Archives: Cranks

Lazy reporting, mean girls and plankton blooms

Linda Aylesworth of Global News took activist Alexandra Morton’s bait and ran a segment on TV about her recent attack on Grieg Seafood.

Unfortunately, Aylesworth didn’t make any effort to fact-check the claims of either Morton or the Grieg Seafood managing director quoted in the story.

“It’s a classic ‘he said, she said’ story,” Aylesworth states in the segment.

That’s a cheap cop-out and reinforces the cliche of the big company hiding something while the lone, plucky activist tries to uncover the truth. It’s also a lazy out for journalists who claim they are just presenting “both sides of the story” and letting viewers “make up their own minds.”

Ah, Lois Lane and classic investigative journalism, we miss you.
Ah, Lois Lane and classic investigative journalism, we miss you.

We don’t think that’s good enough, when a topic is being presented in a way that implies one party is lying, and that our precious wild salmon are threatened. The journalist needs to do better.

Why didn’t Aylesworth contact a real ocean biologist, say, someone at UBC or SFU, to ask for more information about plankton blooms so she can actually educate, instead of titillate, her viewers? Why didn’t she contact DFO, which regulates salmon farms, for information about the mass mortality incident, to fact-check the claims made by both interviewees? Why didn’t she contact CFIA, which regulates farmed animal health, and must be informed if any diseases of concern are found in a salmon farm?

No, what we got here is more of the same tired narrative Morton has been promoting for decades and Global TV thoughtlessly regurgitated it without question, and without any attempt to scratch the surface.

 Mean girl rabble-rousing

Some interesting information has trickled back to us about Morton’s activities while filming this farm in Nootka Sound.

Apparently, she and her three friends riled up the tourists who were there to fish, inspiring many of them to boat out to the farm and abuse the farmers over the VHF radio.

Afterwards, Morton got on the radio and tried to play “good cop” by telling the farmers that she’s got nothing against them, that they are just doing their jobs. As she wrote on her blog, “Thank you to the patience of the salmon farming crew at Concepcion Point. This must have been as stressful on you as it was on us.”

How thoughtful. She works to rile up the tourists against them, starts rumours in the media that imply they are thoughtless stooges killing wild salmon and hiding disease, and then she tries to play nice.

Like  the popular girl in high school spreading rumours about you, then pretending to be nice to you the next day.

All about plankton blooms

Plankton blooms are natural in BC and a common occurrence at salmon farms. A few years ago, this blog, which sadly now appears to be defunct, did an excellent post on the topic. It’s well worth a read.

As well, the Harmful Algae Monitoring Project is a great resource. Scientists have been working with salmon farmers since 1999 to monitor and better understand harmful algae (plankton) blooms.

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Morton attack on Grieg Seafood is unintentionally hilarious

Thanks for the laugh today, Alexandra Morton.

Her latest blog post, written in the style of a mystery / spy story, contained this gem:

We observed a smelly slick of fish oil seeping from the pens. A biological oil spill. Farm salmon are so fat that when mass die-offs happen they release large amounts of fat.

1778340

Once we were done laughing, we asked ourselves, if that’s true, then why aren’t the back eddies of our rivers covered in an “oil slick” when millions of spawning salmon die and decompose in them every fall? How come when fatty seals and sea lions die, they don’t leave an oil slick? In fact, given the number of creatures that die in the ocean every day, how home the entire surface of the ocean isn’t covered with an oil slick all the time?

Morton took water samples to test for the presence of algae (analyzed in the sterile environment of her hotel room), perhaps she could test them for the presence of fish oil as well to back up that statement.

Otherwise, this is just another one of her loaded weasel word statements meant to paint a word picture of how awful farmed salmon is, in her view.

Another weasel word tactic she uses in this post is that she does not include everything Grieg Seafood CEO Morten Vike had to say about her previous allegations, focusing instead on his use of the word “fine.”

Well, Vike did have more to say, which Morton should have included since she knows full well the source is behind a paywall that almost none of her readers will be able to access.

Here’s the rest of what Vike had to say:

Vike
Algae blooms can kill farmed salmon quite effectively. Why didn’t Morton ask the local company fish health reps what was going on, instead of public “name and shame” letters to the corporate head office and the hilarious cloak-and-dagger spy routine?

Also, if she really wanted to know if there was an algae bloom, she could have asked the fine folks at the Harmful Algae Monitoring Program, which regularly receives and analyzes water samples from salmon farms all around Vancouver Island. It’s more than likely that this farm sent in samples, too.

But as we discussed earlier today, to many people, opinions are more important than facts.

 

Yes, the CFIA CAN detect ISA virus HPR0

One of the favourite claims in Alexandra Morton and friends’ narrative about the ISA virus in farmed salmon is that the CFIA can’t detect it.

Another one of their favourite claims is that the strain of ISA virus that doesn’t cause disease, HPR0, is elusive and hard to detect and so therefore it must be in the Pacific somewhere.

Neither are true.

The CFIA has no trouble detecting all known variants of ISA virus, and just recently confirmed (this word is important) HPR0 in New Brunswick.

 

 

They test wild and farmed fish in BC too, so if it was actually here, you’d certainly be hearing about it.

 

 

Activist Alexandra Morton makes her lie even bigger

It would appear I touched a nerve with this post last week.

Annoyed by being caught in a lie, Alexandra Morton mobilized her followers to copy-paste this in the comments section:

I don’t generally respond to people who like to sling mud without posting their names. I feel it is cowardly and means they do not really believe in what they are saying, but in this case I want to set the record straight.

The reason I stated on 60 Minutes that nobody is actually looking at wild salmon carefully for ISA virus (except me) is because the CFIA is using a test called “virus isolation” that has never worked anywhere on wild salmon. It requires so much virus that wild salmon infected at that level likely have been caught by the predators that follow them.

If the CFIA wanted to know if ISA is in BC – they would have tested the farmed Atlantic salmon that are known carriers of the virus, they would have retested all the positive samples from the labs who are getting positive results and they would have used the same tests as these labs and figured out what these results mean. Instead they destroy and silence labs and carry on using a test that has never worked. When this virus goes deadly in BC, we will have all these people on record. It won’t help our coast, but it might help people somewhere else in protecting themselves from this industry.

American ISA test results

Notice how Morton focuses on the CFIA, and makes no mention of the thousands of tests done on wild salmon by Alaska and Washington states. Pretending they don’t exist won’t make them go away.

Those of you who hang on her every word should really ask why she never acknowledges these American test results — thousands of tests of wild Pacific salmon done since 2011 — which show no evidence of ISA virus.

The second lie

Morton says “the CFIA is using a test called ‘virus isolation’ that has never worked anywhere on wild salmon.”

This is another one of Morton’s attempts to trick people about how virus testing works, and to cast doubt on CFIA tests.

The fact is, “virus isolation” is nothing strange or unusual — it’s a common, internationally-accepted method to confirm whether or not you’ve actually detected a virus. The CFIA, Washington and Alaska are all using the same methods described in the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)  Manual of Diagnostic Tests for Aquatic Animals. Yes, “virus isolation” is one of two key methods outlined in this manual for confirming virus.

And, according to the manual, these methods have worked in confirming ISA virus in wild salmon and wild trout (Kibenge et al., 2004; Plarre et al., 2005).

The third lie

Morton says, “If the CFIA wanted to know if ISA is in BC – they would have tested the farmed Atlantic salmon that are known carriers of the virus.”

They did.

 

The half-truth

Morton says CFIA should have “retested all the positive samples from the labs who are getting positive results and they would have used the same tests as these labs and figured out what these results mean.”

They retested the freezer-burnt fish from Rivers Inlet which Morton presented in a SFU press conference back in 2011.

But since there’s no way to tell where any of her other samples since then actually came from, there’s no point in testing more of them.

Dr. Greenwood, of the Canadian food agency, said that research to determine where one of Ms. Morton’s market-purchased samples came from produced conflicting accounts from people in the supply chain. Without a clear chain of custody, she said, there was no point testing the fish at all. She said there had been no attempt to cover up anything.

“We couldn’t even verify that that fish was in fact Canadian in origin,” she said.

The record is far from straight, Alex

Morton insists on spreading lies and half-truths about scientific methods and test results. She is so hell-bent on getting rid of salmon farms that she’ll say and do almost anything.

Hopefully her followers will investigate her claims for themselves, and question her about things like the American ISA test results.

Here’s a few key points to remember when they do so.

2014-05-20 11_09_29-CULTWATCH _ How Cults Work 2014-05-20 11_08_40-CULTWATCH _ How Cults Work 2014-05-20 11_09_11-CULTWATCH _ How Cults Work

Activist Alexandra Morton lies on national TV

CBS’ famous 60 Minutes program recently aired several segments about salmon farming, and they were actually pretty fair.

The show was a generally fair representation of salmon farming in BC. I especially liked how the segment showing the seafloor beneath a fallowed salmon farm showed the seafloor was crawling with prawns.

My only two concerns were:

  1. Letting Alexandra Morton get away with a bald-faced lie when she talks about the ISA virus and says, “There’s nobody actually looking at the wild fish carefully.”

This is COMPLETELY false and it’s a shame 60 Minutes did not challenge her on this lie.

There were thousands of wild fish tested in Alaska, BC and Washington specifically for this virus in the past four years.

ISA surveillance fact sheet

Washington ISA test results

BC test results

Maybe she doesn’t think that thousands of properly-conducted scientific tests are “careful” compared to her method of sampling sick and dying spawned-out fish off riverbanks.

The problem with this is that as soon as Pacific salmon return to freshwater to spawn, they start to die. Their bodies rot around them. Their goal is to live long enough to reproduce.

Spawning fish will be infected with all sorts of things, many of which have similar symptoms. Their ravaged bodies will also be a very poor source of tissue for testing purposes.

As well, Morton’s statements about virus and “genetic markers” show her willful ignorance as she chooses to ignore how virus testing actually works, in favour of telling the story she wants to tell.

  1. Ending with a useless interview with a lawyer who refuses to say whether or not ISA is in BC.

I mean come on. A lawyer isn’t going to say anything definitive about a scientific question. This question should have been posed to a scientist, or several scientists, who could have provided a more responsible answer.

And they have — except 60 Minutes chose not to use it.

Calling shenanigans — again — on Morton’s junk graph

Alexandra Morton has decided to make 2014 the year of the Salmon Food Scare, and she’s trying as hard as she can to stir up the masses using half-truths and emotion.

She’s no doubt trying to recreate the panic from 2004, when one highly-publicized study was used to suggest farmed salmon was dangerous to human health. Ah the good old days, eh Alex? When the gullible masses would believe anything you said without checking your claims? Must be tough these days, judging by the “DONATE NOW” button on every one of your websites. 

For a good overview of how that 2004 panic all shook out, including an enlightening look at the millions of dollars invested in slagging farmed salmon, we recommend you read this opinion piece by Vivian Krause.  

Oh, and by the way, there’s no reason to be concerned about dioxins or PCBs in any food sold in North America. None.

Eat a balanced diet, get some exercise and be excellent to each other and you’re shiny.

But that’s not stopping Morton, who knows how to play on people’s fears like a cheap fiddle.

A while ago we blogged about a ridiculous graph she is using to try and claim that farmed salmon contains dangerous levels of dioxins.

Apparently, ashamed to have been caught in the act of deliberately misrepresenting the facts, she has revised this graph with an explanation in the fine print on her new website. She says:

Please note the source data for salmon is provided in pg/g wet weight, while the other values were provided in pg/g fat. NIFES reports farmed salmon is 15.6% fat and so the conversion to pg/g fat = 41.6

Yeah, no. This is just stupid, Alex.

Wet weight is a common distinction made in weighing fish, because so much fish sold is smoked, cured, salted or dried. Wet weight is merely a measurement of fish with the water content in, i.e. before being processed. The non-fish products on this list are always weighed with their water content included: their default measurement is wet weight.

What you’re doing here is like assuming that if your car can go 160 km/h before the governor kicks in, and the speed limit is 80 km/h, it should only take you half an hour to get where you’re going.

But since you aren’t inclined to provide people with facts, we’ll do it for you.

Here’s a comparison of the limits on dioxins in food set by the EU, versus the amounts that are actually in said food.

dioxin_limits_vs_actual

Facts hurt, don’t they Alex. There’s no reason to avoid any of these foods because of dioxins.

Want to check our math? Feel free. Here’s the data table we used to make this graph, complete with comprehensive citations.. Which is more than activists like Morton will give you.

Oh, and by the way, if the anonymity on our blog bothers you? Feel free to check all the links in the document above and retrace our steps. Thinking for yourself: does a body good.

Activist math, contaminants and the art of fear

We’ve been sitting on this one for a while because we wanted to see how far it would go. Apparently, our favourite scaremongerer is pretty serious about it so we figured it was time to expose this.

In a poor attempt to scare people about food contamination, Alexandra Morton has created a graph that people might assume shows that farmed salmon is contaminated with PCBs.

Mortoncantdomathgraph

Oooh, scary, right? Two things though.

1) These numbers, as shown in the EU regulation cited by Morton as the source of information for this graph, DO NOT represent ACTUAL amounts of dioxins and PCBs in ANYTHING. They are limits set by the EU on what is a safe amount in those foods. Morton neglects to point this out, giving a false impression.

2) This “41.6” number on Morton’s graph comes out of thin air. The actual limit for salmon and all other fish, as set in the EU document source for the other numbers on the graph, is 6.5.

Check it for yourself, it’s on page 4.

Because 6.5 doesn’t have the sort of shock value Morton was hoping for, she did some of her own math and came up with a greater number, conveniently forgetting to show where in the world this number comes from, and also neglecting to explain that these numbers represent the limits set by the EU, not actual test results.

But that’s all boring, right? Who cares, Morton raises a valid point, a scary story about how farmed salmon are more contaminated, right? Who cares that she just made up a number and misrepresented what her source actually says, she’s just getting the truth out there right? We’re sure someone will comment here saying something like that.

That’s the art of fear in action, and Morton is damn good at it. She starts with a scary story, and then manipulates data to make it look like science is on her side. By the time people like us come along and pull back the curtain, it doesn’t matter because people really want to believe in Oz.

People believe in stories, not facts.

But we’ll keep bringing our readers the facts, in the hopes that they will learn how to pull apart these anti-salmon farming stories and see that they are something much more vulgar: manipulative lies.