Category Archives: Failed prophecies

‘Novel’ virus not so novel, after presence found in steelhead samples from 1977

A “new” virus found in BC farmed and wild salmon isn’t so new after all.

Piscine Reovirus (PRV) has been around since at least 1977, according to a new peer-reviewed paper soon to be published in the Journal of Fish Diseases, with Dr. Gary Marty as lead author.

The study tested 363 preserved samples of fish from 1974-2008, and 916 fresh-frozen samples from 2013.

None of the fish showed signs of Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), which some research done in Europe suggests may be linked to PRV.

In the past several years, PRV has been found in wild and farmed BC salmon. Last year, activist Alexandra Morton used this to launch a lawsuit against Marine Harvest Canada, alleging that the company put “diseased fish” into the ocean.

She quickly followed up the lawsuit by co-authoring a study on PRV and HSMI which suggests the version of the virus in BC diverged from the Norwegian strain in 2007, implying, of course, that somehow salmon farms in BC introduced the virus from Norway.

The study was unfortunately rather poor. Its biggest weakness is the small sample size.

  1. It relies on only 14 samples of fish taken in BC.
  2. It relies on only 10 samples of Atlantic salmon.
  3. All of the samples were taken in 2012.
  4. All of the conclusions about virus divergence are based on computer modelling.

In this study’s conclusion, it states that “Our work suggests PRV entered both Chile and western Canada recently.”

This year’s Marty study shows last year’s PRV study is wrong.

KeplerIn science, if you make a prediction about how something should work, and that prediction fails, your hypothesis was wrong and you start over.

The predictions made by the study co-authored by Morton are wrong, in light of the new Marty study.

Salmon farms did not introduce PRV to BC; it’s been here for decades and since before the first salmon farm was built, and maybe even longer.

One more tidbit: Marty’s study also showed that archived samples of Alaskan salmon carried PRV, too.

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No Fukushima radiation health risk from Canadian fish

The dangers of radiation from the Fukushima disaster have been greatly overblown thanks to things such as this image, which have wrongfully been used to represent radiation from Japan.
The dangers of radiation from the Fukushima disaster have been greatly overblown thanks to things such as this image, which have wrongfully been used to represent radiation from Japan.

A new study published this spring shows that there is no radioactive material from Fukushima in salmon and groundfish.

None of the fish samples analysed in this study contained any detectable levels of 134Cs and 137Cs under given experimental setting with a detection limit of ∼2 Bq kg−1. Fish (such as salmon and groundfish) from the Canadian west coast are of no health concern for both radiation contaminants and naturally occurring radionuclides.

As simulations predicted, in the near future, the radioactive water plume could reach the areas where these fish are rearing(1). Even in this case, it is expected that levels of radioactive contaminants in fish will remain well below Health Canada guidelines for food and likely still below the detection limit of a few Bq kg−1. Nonetheless, further monitoring of 134Cs and 137Cs, especially the long-lived 137Cs, in ocean water and seafood will help confirm these assessments and ensure public safety.

It’s safe to assume that farmed fish grown in the same waters also pose no health concern when it comes to Fukushima radiation.

Read the full study here.

Hutterite salmon farm fails

The Hutterite “Prairie Aquaculture Systems” farm in operation. Now, just two years later, the farm is shutting down and the recirc equipment is for sale.

If the Hutterites can’t do it, no one can.

We heard this week that the much-vaunted Miller Hutterite Colony land-based salmon farm in Montana has failed, after only two years.

That was just long enough to get out one harvest — if there even was a harvest, we haven’t heard.

What we have heard is that they are shutting down and selling off all their recirculation equipment.

It’s all for sale, if anyone is interested.

This is interesting news not because we are trying to gloat. We’re not. It’s just that if anyone could have made land-based salmon farming work as a real-world, viable commercial-scale operation, it would have been the Hutterites, because Hutterites work for free. They live in a communal lifestyle and don’t pay wages. There were no wage and labour costs associated with this facility. Given that profits for land-based salmon farms are extremely slim, with fluctuating salmon prices enough to drive them into the red in a blink, having no wage and benefit costs for employees could have made this more viable.

But clearly after experimenting with this system the Brethren decided it wasn’t going to work for them.

Maybe someday someone will make it work, but people keep trying — and failing.

Perhaps it’s time for land-based salmon farm promoters to stop promoting unrealistic dreams as magic bullet solutions, and realize that conventional salmon farms are here to stay.

Reads like an eco-terrorist manifesto

Wow. Not long after we posted our thoughts earlier today, musing if Alexandra Morton is crazy enough to bring ISA to BC to fulfill her own prophecies, she posts a blog that reads like an eco-terrorist manifesto.

“This is a fight – as in fighting for life.”

“Me versus the world” language. Perfect for setting yourself up as a messiah or prophet.

“I am racing an epidemic and government gave the viruses the head start.  If anyone wants to say I am wrong I have this to say:  Prove it.  Step up now and lay your reputation on the line and tell us ISA virus is not in British Columbia.”

Classic double-speak. She makes two assumptions which have no proof except her word, then before anyone notices that, she shifts the burden of proof to anyone who disagrees with her by challenging them to prove a negative! Plus, anyone who dares to “step up now” will be held up for ridicule, have their credentials questioned, and be accused of corruption and conspiracy, just like she has done to any scientists who dare to assert that there is no evidence of ISA in BC.

“Please consider supporting us before the ISA virus does what it has done in every other country that allowed Atlantic salmon farming… go viral.”

This reads like an ominous threat or a ransom demand, as if she is saying, “Fund me, or I’ll make damn sure we find ISA in BC and it’s going to go viral… as in wiping out your farms viral.”

Coupled with the thought that she might be bringing ISA to BC from the East Coast through fish samples, we have a worrying scenario. Especially since farmers in the past have found wild fish thrown into their pens, put there in an attempt to infect the farmed stock with disease.

Sorry, Ms. Morton, any respect we had for you because of your past contributions to science are now gone. You talk like a cult leader and an eco-terrorist.

Her goal since 1988 has been to get rid of salmon farms, whatever the cost. That’s always been the endgame. Science was a means to an end, a tool. Now that it’s no longer useful, she has resorted to her long-dormant messiah complex and fearmongering techniques, with a dash of eco-terrorism.

Bad form.

Context counts (and sexy graphs help)

We’ve had a lot of fun with Ms. Alexandra Morton’s ridiculous use of one particular graph to claim that salmon farms in BC brought about a decline in wild salmon productivity.

Without any context, her argument sounds reasonable.

But in context, it all falls apart as we showed in an earlier post and again in this post.

Recently, DFO released its 2012 projections for Fraser River sockeye, estimating a 90 per cent probability of a maximum run size of 6.6 million.

Their predictions are summarized in a graph, including an estimate of the productivity of this year’s run, placing it just above the average.

This is, incidentally, the same graph Ms. Morton uses, but with all the context included.

Projected 2012 Fraser sockeye returns and productivity
Projected 2012 Fraser sockeye returns and productivity

See that? 2012 will likely be an average year.

What does that mean?

It means Ms. Morton’s predictions of doom and gloom are, once again, false prophecies.

Salmon runs fluctuate, and have done so ever since we started recording these numbers half a century ago.

In fact, according to recent research in Alaska, salmon runs have fluctuated for more than 2,000 years.

Evidence from Alaska lake shows natural fluctuations in sockeye population over 2000 years
Evidence from Alaska lake shows natural fluctuations in sockeye population over 2000 years

Humans have been impacting Fraser sockeye stocks and the stocks of every other kind of salmon in B.C. for thousands of years, and our impacts have increased ever since we started catching salmon in massive amounts and damaging their habitat more than a century ago.

But it seems apparent that ocean conditions have far more long-term impacts on salmon.

But Ms. Morton and anti-salmon activists don’t care about those facts. They focus on a small window in time and on one river system, asking, why did Fraser sockeye productivity decline for roughly 20 years starting in the 1990s?

It was salmon farms, they say, answering their own question and fingering the “new kid on the block” before anyone can raise any other possibilities or use science.

In contrast to their easy answers to hard questions, a scientific approach requires we look at as many possible factors as we can find.

What did cause the decline of Fraser sockeye productivity in the 1990s and 2000s?

Was it an explosion of Alaskan ranched fish entering the North Pacific feeding grounds in the early 1990s? Take a look at this graph.

Comparison of Alaska salmon releases with Fraser sockeye productivity
Comparison of Alaska salmon releases with Fraser sockeye productivity

Was it ocean temperatures? The ocean has gotten hotter since the 1950s. Interestingly, the decline in temperatures in the 1960s could be correlated with the dip in Fraser sockeye productivity at the same time. But the rise above average (0) since about 1990 can also be correlated with the decline in productivity in the 1990s and 2000s.

Ocean heat content 1955-2007
Ocean heat content 1955-2007

Was it The Pacific Decadal Oscillation? The natural fluctuation of ocean temperatures, which changes every 15-30 years? Interestingly, the brief change in the 1960s can be correlated with the decline in Fraser sockeye productivity at the same time, and the major shift from a long-term trend in the 1970s and 1980s to quick fluctuations in the 1990s and 2000s can be correlated to the long-term stability of Fraser sockeye productivity in the 1970s and 1980s, and the wild fluctuations and decline in the 1990s and 2000s.

Pacific Decadal Oscillation observed monthly values 1900-2011
Pacific Decadal Oscillation observed monthly values 1900-2011

Was it any of these things? All of these things? None of these things? We don’t know. We haven’t even included catch data in this post, that has to be considered as well. But it sure looks like ocean conditions have way more impacts than a few salmon farms ever could.

Plus, there is actually evidence to suggest that ocean conditions do have impacts (in contrast to the speculations and simplistic correlations anti-salmon farming activists use to support their claims).

But we can’t say for sure.

One thing we know for sure, however, is that, given all these factors which could affect Fraser sockeye productivity, suggesting that “salmonfarmsdidit” is a facile conclusion to the mystery, especially when we don’t even have a body.

The “corpse” of wild salmon is still swimming strong, despite all the predictions of doom and gloom, and with an average run predicted for the Fraser, exceptional runs predicted for the Alberni-Clayoquot region and good returns expected elsewhere in BC, we are confident in saying that all the evidence shows that wild and farmed salmon can coexist together in the same ocean with negligible risks to either species.

Farmed versus wild is a false choice.

Choose both.

No ISA in BC. Again.

Once again, follow-up testing of sketchy samples has shown that there is no ISA virus in BC.

And no fish are suffering from the Infectious Salmon Anemia virus either.

It’s not here. Salmon farms are not killing wild fish (and let’s not forget that if the disease and/or virus was here, it would be killing farmed salmon, not wild, which have been proven to have an immunity to the disease.)

Will this stop the conspiracy theories? No. There will always be zealots who believe crazy things, and the lack of evidence only strengthens their beliefs.

But judging how no one is paying attention to this latest cry of ‘wolf!’ from anti-salmon farming activists, it would seem people are less interested in prophecies of doom and more interested in good science.

We agree. Enough junk science. Time to realize salmon farms are here to stay, and if we work together we can make BC salmon farms the best and most progressive in the world.

Alexandra Morton and Korean Fan Death

That sounds like a great line-up for an alt-rock concert, doesn’t it? “Alexandra Morton and Korean Fan Death, with special guests Urban Legend!”

We’d pay a $5 cover charge to see that.

Hopefully someone laughed at that. We promise to try harder next time.

Before we go on, we must state again that we are not out to assassinate anyone’s character. But ridiculous statements and anti-scientific claims cannot go unchallenged. So all apologies to Alexandra Morton, we’re sure you are a very nice person, but the things you say about salmon farms are nonsense.

And although the people who believe her anti-aquaculture sermons and take them to heart are a fringe minority, that group includes a number of doctors, scientists and generally smart people.

That shouldn’t be surprising. Even smart people can believe stupid things.

And even a lot of smart people can believe stupid things.

Take, for example, the phenomenon known as “Korean Fan Death.”

Korean Fan Death
In Korea, it's "common knowledge" that sleeping with a fan on could KILL YOU. Really, we're not making this up. This warning label is required on electric fans.

One of our contributors is a fan of the “Skeptoid” podcast, which recently did a show on this strange belief.

Apparently, it is a widely-held belief in Korea that if you go to sleep with a fan running in your room, you could die. The belief stems from several instances in which people were found dead, with a fan running in the room.

It’s a case of “correlation is causation” gone wild.

The wide-spread panic over this belief has prompted warnings, reams of coverage in the Korean press and even prompted some scientists and doctors — including emergency room doctors and at least one Western doctor — to warn people about the danger of fans.

And the panic has snowballed to include government agencies, such as the Korean Consumer Protection Board, to issue warnings and other agencies to require warning labels and stickers on fans suggesting that “this product could cause hypothermia and death.”

To our western minds it seems ridiculous, and we can easily see that there is no scientific basis to conclude that fans had anything to do with the deaths.

But the urban legend persists, fueled by a few scientists and agencies who perpetuate it.

Morton’s myths about salmon farms are the same. How many times has she predicted, backed by a few scientists, that wild runs are going to be made extinct by salmon farms? How many times has she been right? How can people continue to believe these stories, after decades of research showing no definitive connection between salmon farms and fluctuations in wild salmon populations?

Even the wild salmon don't believe Alexandra Morton anymore
Even the wild salmon don't believe Alexandra Morton anymore, after 20 years of failed predictions.

And yet she and some well-known scientists hold to this myth, continuing to prophesy that salmon farms will kill wild salmon someday, we’ll see, and then we’ll be sorry we didn’t listen to them.

They are so desperate to be right that they seize on every little piece of correlative evidence they can to scream that salmon farms are doing harm.

Pink run not so great this year? It MUST have been because of salmon farms when the fish went out to sea, or when they came back.

Sockeye run fantastic this year? It MUST be because salmon farms are pressuring salmon to spawn in massive numbers to avoid their impending extinction.

When you have your hypothesis already in hand, it’s easy to find facts to fit it. All you have to do is discard the ones you don’t like.

And like Korean Fan Death, maybe all you have to do is make something innocuous sound scary, cloaked in scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo, to get people to believe you.

Hopefully people trying to understand the interactions between farmed and wild salmon are wiser than to believe that.