Category Archives: Opinion

One key to preserving our planet will be eating more farmed seafood, less pork and beef

US seafood consumption

“If 3 billion people move up into the middle class between now and 2050 and they are eating primarily beef and pork, the planet is going to be in a lot of trouble. The growing middle class should be eating seafood, rather than terrestrial animals. Aquaculture provides a clear way to scale and meet these growing demands.”

That’s one of the many excellent points in favour of aquaculture in a white paper prepared for the upcoming SeaWeb Seafood Summit in New Orleans next month.

The paper, titled “Aquaculture’s Prominent Role in Feeding a Growing Global Population,” was written by two heavy-hitters involved in aquaculture and seafood research: Dr. Michael Tlusty, director of Ocean Sustainability Science at the New England Aquarium, and Neil Sims, co-founder of Kampachi Farms LLC.

Reputation

The paper points out that aquaculture has suffered a bad rap in the past but people need to take another look.

“Aquaculture today is far different than it was 30 years ago because there is better rule setting and environmental monitoring,” the paper states.

Farms depend on clean environment

And the paper reminds us all that many fish farmers depend on a healthy environment — it’s in their best interests to keep the ocean environment clean, despite the claims of anti-aquaculture activists that net pens pollute and promote disease.

“In many cases, aquaculture involves farming species that haven’t been domesticated. They are inextricably linked to their environment, which is why we must pay such close attention to that environment. Because when we start tipping that balance towards too much production, the farms will lose money because they will lose animals. This also leads to environmental impact.”

Read the whole paper by registering at Seafood Source.

Alternatively, download it here.

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Avian flu outbreak in Fraser Valley threatens Christmas turkey supply, but where are the compensation critics?

Several years ago, two BC salmon farming companies experienced outbreaks of disease which resulted in the cull of all fish at three farm sites.

The outrage from the usual small group of anti-salmon farming clicktivists resulted in several news stories and blog posts condemning the CFIA’s policy of compensation for farmers who are ordered to destroy their stock.

This month, avian flu has once again hit poultry farms in the Fraser Valley, the second time in a decade, but there is not a peep from the “Wild Salmon Warriors.”

This group is happy to hitch its star to issues about pipelines, mine spills and whatever their Illustrious Leader posts about. Oh, they’ll bring the outrage, you better believe it, prompting some of the laziest journalists in BC to include their perspectives in the name of false balance.

But avian flu? Forget about it.

Unless you live in the Fraser Valley, you probably don’t even know that hundreds of thousands of birds are being destroyed, and that farmers will rightly be compensated for it.

Because that’s the law. It’s the Health of Animals Act.

It’s intended to encourage farmers to report serious outbreaks of illnesses, and it works.

As salmon farmers, our sympathies are with the poultry farmers and hope that this is resolved quickly, with minimal loss of livestock.

And for all those who complain about compensation, yet have the audacity to ask for lower taxes, welfare, higher minimum wages, better benefits and a massive infrastructure so you can drive to Starbucks? Give yourself a reality check. Your precious opinions are just that: opinions. If you can’t admit to yourself that they might be wrong, they’re not worth anything in the first place.

More complaining about salmon aquaculture compensation is unmerited

Yet again Blacklocks Reporter resurrected their story about compensation paid out to salmon farmers in Canada last week.

But there isn’t anything new here. They’ve reported this story several times already, but it must have been a slow news day.

Predictably, it again raised the ire of the anti-salmon farming crowd on social media, giving them something to Tweet about on a slow news Monday.

Yes, it’s true salmon farmers in Canada received around $93 million over three years in compensation for being ordered to destroy salmon infected by, or in close proximity to fish infected by, ISA virus and IHN virus.

The market value of those fish, however, would have been at least triple that amount. Nobody made money off compensation; at best, it meant people didn’t have to be laid off because of a massive gap in production. After all, farmed salmon grow for up to two years in the ocean. A chicken takes only eight weeks to grow to harvest, so it’s not nearly as big of a hit if a chicken farmer has to cull a herd.

All farmers get compensation

Compensating farmers for having to destroy their stock is nothing new.

2014-09-30 10_41_06-Livestock Diseases Prevention, Control and Compensation Schemes_ Prevention ...

In 2004, BC chicken farmers received $71 million in compensation for destroying nearly 14 million birds.

From 2002-2010, cattle, sheep and chicken farmers received $115 million in compensation for disease outbreaks, costs covered by the Canadian taxpayer.

Range cattle at risk from BSE? Why not just put them all in bags, then, how dare you expect taxpayers to bail you out.
Range cattle at risk from airborne diseases? Why not just put them all in bags and helmets, then, how dare you expect taxpayers to bail you out.

Yet there’s no moral outrage over that. No calls for chicken farmers to hermetically seal their barns to prevent airborne diseases from entering. No calls for sheep farmers to create massive domes over their pastures with airlocks to keep airborne diseases out. No calls for cattle ranchers to equip each cow with hazmat suits to keep viruses out.

Yet when it involves salmon farms, people think it makes perfect sense to conclude that the solution MUST be moving farms out of the ocean.

It isn’t.

The ocean is the best environment to farm fish. And although farmed fish are more susceptible to viruses because they live in closer proximity to each other than wild fish, they still are generally very healthy. More than 90% of the fish entered into the ocean live up to two years to harvest, and that’s with a minimal use of antibiotics, a pittance to what chicken farmers use to keep their herds alive for just eight weeks.

Missing the point of compensation

Farming is hard work. Farmers do not want the hassle — and costs — that come along with a disease outbreak.

Many farmers are tempted to follow the terrible advice of Canada’s biggest-ever boob of a premier Ralph Klein, who said during the mad cow disease crisis in Alberta that any “self-respecting rancher would have shot, shovelled and shut up.”

Can you imagine what would happen if salmon farmers, faced with a reportable disease diagnosis, just sat on the fish, quickly harvesting them in the hopes that the disease wouldn’t spread too fast? The outrage there would be!

Oh wait, that’s EXACTLY what happened more than a decade ago, before salmon farmers were eligible for compensation, when IHN virus spread all around the BC coast because farmers didn’t immediately cull their fish.

Dozens of companies went out of business. Hundreds of workers lost their jobs.

And although no one’s quantified what potential risk the outbreaks posed to passing wild fish (which carry IHN naturally, that’s where it comes from) it’s certainly never been higher than it was in those three years.

Compensation is intended to encourage farmers of all kinds to act quickly and co-operate with authorities.

“It reduces the time lag between an outbreak and containment actions, and hence diminishes the overall cost of control. “

Disease and disease control is just a part of farming. It’s the price farmers of all animals — and even vegetables — have to pay for grouping creatures and plants close together.

Nature has always been a battlefield of creatures and viruses trying to find their niche. Within the last 10,000 years we have radically altered that balance by developing agriculture.

It’s the price we pay for civilization.

The key is that we do it properly, with as few environmental impacts as possible. Salmon farming has made great strides since it began just 40 years ago towards being one of the most sustainable forms of livestock production on the planet.

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.

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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.

 

We’re back, baby, plus a thought about Neil Degrasse Tyson

imbackbabyAfter a nice two month summer vacay, we are ready to resume regular postings.

We’ve got a gem from our favourite activist we can’t resist, and will be publishing it later today.

But first, we want to draw attention to something which happened recently to Neil Degrasse Tyson, one of the world’s greatest spokespersons for science and critical thinking.

Tyson has risen in public consciousness thanks to his sense of humour, ability to explain complex topics in simple terms, and because he is a great speaker. He recently hosted the hugely-popular revival of “Cosmos,” carrying on Carl Sagan’s legacy.

But recently Tyson made some comments about genetically-engineered crops (GMO) that sent thousands of people to their keyboards to angrily bang out anti-GMO screeds on dozens of articles.

Here’s what he said:

NDT_GMO

Suddenly, the same people who had been praising him for his comments about religion, space exploration and critical thinking turned on him like a pack of yellow dogs.

“Stick to your telescopes, Neil.”

“Shill!”

“I wonder how much Monsanto just donated to the Hayden Planetarium.”

Those are just a few examples of the hundreds of hostile comments posted directed towards Tyson since he expressed his opinion about GMOs.

The whole episode reinforces something we’ve observed for years in aquaculture: opinions are more important to people than facts.

So many times we have met and conversed with people who are dead-set against salmon farming. We can provide fact after fact showing that their concerns are unfounded. But it’s rare that someone with a strong opinion will change it based on new information.

People will work desperately to preserve the integrity of their opinion by dismissing anything that disagrees with it, even if that means inventing conspiracy theories and shooting the messenger and turning so quickly on someone who they trust to explain other topics they don’t understand.

It’s hypocritical, but unfortunately, it’s human nature.

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.

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Seafood Watch flip-flop on farmed salmon clearly based on politics, not science

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide claims to be science-based, but is actually quite shallow.

The Seafood Watch guide, holy grail of seafood guides, appears to be operating on some pretty sketchy double standards.

The newly-revised guide was published this week, and it raises some big red flags.

Why endorse certified farmed shrimp, but not certified farmed salmon?

Why does the Monterey Bay Aquarium ‘s guide consider the GAA Best Aquaculture Practices standards for farmed shrimp good enough to merit a yellow “good alternative” rating, but not the GAA BAP standards for farmed salmon?

It doesn’t make sense. Not, at least, from a science perspective.

A newly-published report by the group found shrimp farms certified as both two-star and four-star BAP met a “benchmarking equivalence” process against existing Seafood Watch-approved farmed shrimp.

This convinced the guide writers to bump farms producing 100,000 tonnes of farmed shrimp from red to yellow. This should be good news for BC BAP-certified salmon farms, right?

Wrong. Even though all farmed salmon coming from BC is now at least two-star BAP-certified that wasn’t good enough for the Seafood Watch guidemakers.

Politics, not science, driving force behind guide

It’s not surprising, really. The new guidelines have been controversial and criticized for ignoring science that the guide makers don’t like. Trade news sources Intrafish and Seafood Intelligence revealed last week that the much-vaunted Seafood Watch guide flip-flopped on farmed salmon.

A job interview at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.
Behind the scenes at a job interview at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.

These news sources require a subscription, so if you don’t have an account, here’s the highlights.

  1. The Monterey Bay Aquarium‘s Seafood Watch guide program recently released its updated standards, the first time farmed salmon has been reviewed in nearly a decade.
  2. The report has been in review for an unusually long time — nearly two years. And last year, a preliminary draft ranked farmed salmon as a “good alternative” (yellow).
  3. However, in the past year, something changed. The final report keeps farmed salmon in the red (“avoid”) category, and makes a number of astonishingly incorrect comments about BC farmed salmon.

How could they make these crazy claims?

The notes in the report explaining why farmed salmon from BC wasn’t good enough to get a “good alternative” ranking reek of political manipulation.

It must also be emphasized that salmon farming in BC continues to have a number of concerns; while arguably more efficient than other forms of intensive (terrestrial) livestock, it still consumes substantially more wild fish than it produces, it uses substantial quantities of antibiotics highly-important to human health in open production systems…

Wait, what? Salmon farming uses fewer antibiotics than any other farmed livestock. And in BC, the use of antibiotics has declined to only 17% of what it was the last time Seafood Watch revised its guide.

Why wasn’t this acknowledged? That’s an incredibly progressive reduction, but it doesn’t even get a footnote.

The only farmed salmon to get a “good alternative” rating in the guide, Verlasso, used almost the exact same amount of antibiotics per tonne of fish farmed as BC salmon farmers. That didn’t stop Verlasso salmon from getting yellow.

Clearly, “antibiotics” are a weak excuse from the guidemakers to reject BC salmon. Human beings will face more of a threat from antibiotics in open systems by using the public washroom at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Also, the claims about farmed salmon using “substantially” more wild fish than protein produced are just wrong. All BC salmon farming companies have been at nearly a 1:1 ratio for several years, and now, since their feed suppliers are sourcing fisheries byproducts which would otherwise have been thrown away, BC salmon farms produce more fish protein than the wild fish protein they use in feed.

Why wasn’t this acknowledged?

it continues to have escapes of a non-native species for which a (small) risk of establishment remains…

The risk is so small that not even NOAA thinks it’s worth worrying about. We also have a lot of info in our library here that upholds NOAA’s assessment.

…it continues to represent a source of sea lice infection for juvenile wild fish.

Again, NOAA doesn’t see any evidence that this poses any threat to wild fish. And we have loads of sea lice science in our library showing they pose no threat to wild fish.

At least one non native pathogen appears to have been introduced into the region for which the impacts, as yet unknown, remain a high concern.

What pathogen? What science is the basis for this claim? Does this refer to the thoroughly-discredited claims by Alexandra Morton about ISA in BC? The claims that were refuted by thousands of tests done by Alaska, BC, and Washington State?

If baseless activist claims are what Seafood Watch is using to make decisions, they cannot claim they are making decisions based on science.

Not worth the cardstock it’s printed on

Monterey Bay had a real opportunity here to show how dedicated its program is to good science, and that it can look at the incredible changes salmon farming has undergone in the past 10 years and give it a fair second look.

But they blew it.

It’s obvious that despite the reams of science showing that BC farmed salmon is AT LEAST as good as Verlasso, someone decided to hold BC farmed salmon to an even higher standard.

And that shows the process is based on politics, not science.