Category Archives: Primary Sources

Critics still talking crap about farmed salmon poop

trashtalkycows

The entire BC farmed salmon industry produces about as much poop every year as 409 dairy cows.

That’s it. That’s barely the equivalent of two average-sized BC dairy farms.

This is important because one of the most common criticisms leveled at salmon farms is that they are using the ocean as an “open sewer.” As usual, the risks are vastly blown out of proportion.

Our favourite activist Alexandra Morton likes to say that salmon farmers are one of the only farmers that “don’t have to shovel their manure” and that we should all be very concerned and scared of farmed salmon poop because there’s so much of it and it’s full of “chemicals.”

We hear or read this one at least a few times each week. And it’s true. It’s also true that, as usual, Morton is telling half-truths distorted by her obsession with the scatology of salmon.

So how bad is it really? Well, for one thing, fish poop is a lot more benign than human poop because they eat a way healthier diet than most of us. And for another thing, recent research shows the environmental impacts are hardly noticeable.

 

Old data, old arguments

Before we get to the new data, we have to consider the old, and it’s really old. The tidbits of info you’ve probably heard are almost all certainly based on information published back when the Vancouver Canucks still played in Pacific Coliseum.

Some environmental activists still claim (without providing a source) that a farm of “200,000 fish can produce as much fecal matter per year as a city of 62,000 people.”

Others, quoting even more ancient sources from the 1980s and 1990s, claim that the waste from a farm is equivalent to a city the size of Victoria, BC.

They’re all wrong. Time to catch up to the latest science.

The Hardangerfjord in Norway produces as much farmed salmon as all of BC. Plus it makes a great desktop wallpaper.
The Hardangerfjord in Norway produces as much farmed salmon as all of BC. Plus it makes a great desktop wallpaper.

Studying the Hardangerfjord

The Hardangerfjord is the second-largest fjord in Norway and possibly the most beautiful. It’s also home to enough salmon farms to produce 70,000 metric tonnes of fish each year. That’s nearly equivalent to the total capacity of all salmon farms in BC.

According to research published just two years ago, all the salmon farms in the Hardangerfjord produce 7,000 tonnes of particulate organic waste (as well as organic phosphorus and nitrogen, included in the 7,000 tonne total); 127 tonnes of dissolved inorganic phosphorus and 770 tonnes of dissolved inorganic nitrogen.

So all the farmed salmon in the Hardangerfjord produce 7,897 tonnes of waste. Considering that the BC industry is very similar to the farms in Hardangerfjord, with very similar fish, feeding practices and almost identical feed, it’s pretty safe to assume that the BC industry produces about the same amount of waste per year as Hardangerfjord.

Fish poop vs human poop vs cow poop

The average human makes about 128 grams of poop each day (more after Taco Tuesdays). That’s 46.72 kilograms per year.

The average dairy cow produces 19.6 tonnes of poop (and urine) per year.

That means all the salmon farms in BC, all around Vancouver Island, produce as much poop as 169,028 people each year, and as much poop as 409 dairy cows. 

We can’t think of another farming industry that produces so much healthy protein with such little waste.

So next time someone tells you that one salmon farm produces as much poop as a city, you can tell them that’s just a load of crap.

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“Yellow fish” issue in farmed Chinook salmon not linked to PRV, new study shows

Three heavy hitters in BC’s fisheries and aquaculture science community have published a new study after a laboratory challenge of several different species of salmon.

The study investigated the phenomenon of yellow (jaundiced) fish from a Chinook farming operation in Clayoquot Sound; the level of Piscene Reovirus (PRV) in these fish compared to other species; and any disease associated with jaundiced fish and PRV infection.

 

Activists have made much of finding yellow salmon but research shows there's no connection with PRV or a disease only observed in Europe.
Activists have made much of finding yellow salmon but research shows there’s no connection with PRV or a disease only observed in Europe.

In our controlled laboratory exposure study, we demonstrated that PRV persisted in each of the Chinook Salmon, Sockeye Salmon and Atlantic Salmon for 5 months after ip challenge without resulting in microscopic evidence of HSMI or any other disease.

Our study supports the hypothesis that exposure to PRV is not solely responsible for the development of Jaundice Syndrome. It may be possible that the presence of PRV is not contributory towards jaundice in Chinook but rather that its association is merely a reflection of the ubiquitous presence of PRV in wild and farmed salmon species of BC.

The research supports the conclusion that in Pacific waters, PRV is not connected to the Heart and Skeletal Muscular Inflammation (HSMI) disease, and that there is no connection between PRV and the jaundice phenomenon in farmed Chinook salmon.

 

Salmon aquaculture virus study leaves one big unanswered question

A study by Norwegian researchers published late last month is apparently ” the first study confirming the presence of virus-infected escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in a nearby river shortly after escaping.”

The study makes some interesting speculations:

The recapture of the infected escaped salmon in nearby marine sites highlights the potential contribution of escapees in virus transmission to other salmon farms in the area.

…little is known about the effect of viral disease outbreaks in aquaculture on the wild salmonid populations. Disease outbreaks in salmon farms may lead to a substantial increase in infection pressure on wild fish in the surrounding area.

…escaped salmon may disperse over long distances, may enter rivers and may interact with wild conspecifics in their habitats. Therefore, an infected escapee may spread pathogens from the sea to wild fish populations in both sea and rivers distant from a disease outbreak.

That’s interesting, but there’s one big problem, which the researchers acknowledge.

…baseline data from the river regarding these viral infections in salmonids are lacking.

They cannot answer the question: how do the levels of viral loading on farmed salmon escapees compare to the natural viral loads in wild salmon?

As Yoda once said:

ControlToo bad this flaw doesn’t stop their speculation.

This could have been an excellent study if the researchers had taken some time to get data on wild fish in the rivers where escapees were found and sampled. Of course, wild fish sampled from these rivers post-escape would not provide any valuable baseline data, but they could at least provide information about viral loading in wild fish.

And the researchers could have also gotten some control data from other similar rivers where no escapees are found.

But it seems that in the rush to be able to declare this paper the “first” at something, or because it was outside the scope of the finding grant, they decided to sacrifice context in favour of speculation.

At least it does provide some good information about viral loading in escaped farmed salmon in Norway. It will undoubtedly be valuable to the researchers that decide to investigate natural viral loading in wild fish in Norwegian rivers.

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.

Eco-lawyers get sucked into personal vendetta in nuisance lawsuit

Ecojustice is a charity which exists to file environment-related lawsuits against corporations and the government. Once again, they’ve set their sights on the topic of salmon aquaculture at the behest of Alexandra Morton.

But what the idealistic and eager team of lawyers hoping to sink their teeth into the next “Erin Brockovitch” case might not realize is that they, and everyone who donates money to them, are being sucked into one woman’s personal vendetta against someone who once made her look foolish.

scumbag_morton_1

The Case

Ecojustice is suing the College of Veterinarians of British Columbia for, it says, “refusing to investigate a complaint Ms. Morton made against a government aquaculture veterinarian. The lawsuit seeks to force the College to investigate the complaint.”

Ecojustice, and Morton, allege that in 2007 the provincial aquaculture veterinarian, Mark Sheppard, misled the provincial Minister Of Agriculture and Lands with incorrect information about the ISA virus and Atlantic salmon egg imports into BC. They are filing the lawsuit to  “investigate whether the veterinarian’s erroneous advice amounted to professional misconduct.”

The nut of it is that in the memo signed by Sheppard, the grammar structure of one sentence suggests he is saying BC doesn’t, didn’t, or never has (the grammar is unclear) imported Atlantic salmon eggs.

That’s it.

This lawsuit is as pedantic as they come.

But the 2007 memo isn’t even what it’s really about.

It’s personal.

The Background

In 2007, Dr. Mark Sheppard joined the provincial government as its aquatic animal health veterinarian. He served there until a court challenge by Morton resulted in aquaculture regulation responsibilities moving from the province to DFO.

Interestingly, despite the Supreme Court of BC decision, aquaculture on the East Coast of Canada still remains under provincial jurisdiction.

The Testimony

In 2010, after a poor return of Fraser River sockeye in 2009 prompted a flurry of public concern and a federal commission of inquiry, both Morton and Sheppard spoke to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in Ottawa.

Morton spent her audience with the committee congratulating herself on how easy it is to study sea lice (her words) and predicting environmental doom because of salmon farms.

Two days later, Sheppard spoke to the committee, which posed many of Morton’s concerns to him as questions. He clearly explained why Morton was wrong, and why some of her statements were “misleading and quite frankly, irresponsible.”

He went on to definitively pin her to the wall.

“Some people–who are not qualified to make comments on it in my
opinion–have decided to put forth a wildly speculative conclusion… That case in itself is just a matter of someone who either doesn’t understand the science or simply prefer to move forth with a perspective to suit their agenda.”

The Vendetta

Morton was left looking like a hysterical fool by Sheppard’s factual, honest testimony. And as we’ve seen with the Character Assassination of Simon Jones, she holds grudges against anyone who exposes her scientific ignorance and her predilection to manipulate science to her own ends.

After DFO took over BC salmon farming regulation, Sheppard went to work with DFO as lead veterinarian for aquatic environmental operations. He recently left DFO to pursue a private veterinary practice in Campbell River.

And that’s when Ecojustice and Morton dredged up this smear campaign. If Sheppard gets dragged into the case, he’ll have to do it all on his own dime, since he no longer works for the government.

It’s a mean-spirited vendetta by a woman ruthless in her pursuit to be right.  It’s going to be a waste of time and money for the College of Veterinarians, and it’s a smear on the reputation of a man who was conscientious, careful, and most of all committed to protecting the environment while he served both the provincial and federal governments.

Anyone who donates to Ecojustice should be embarrassed their money is being spent on nuisance lawsuits like this.

BONUS: Why opinions in BC about salmon farming are polarized

During his testimony to the standing committee, Sheppard accurately described why salmon aquaculture in BC is perceived as a controversial issue.

“It is frustrating. There appear to be two different stories, but I think that’s largely because the silent majority, the credible scientists who bring a modicum of objectivity to this entire topic, don’t appear in the newspaper or on the Internet. They publish their articles, they’re factual, and the average Canadian citizen doesn’t read them. It’s very technical information. So communication is one problem.

I think there needs to be better communication from the industry,
better communication in lay terms from the scientific community, and from the provincial and federal governments.

Instead what we hear is the vocal minority who, quite frankly, are not aquaculture specialists. Rather, they are anti-aquaculture specialists. They’re very good at what they do. They’re very
intelligent people, very passionate people, and they’re very good at communicating to the media and to the Internet. For the majority of Canadians, that’s what they hear. Of course, that’s what
they will believe because they’re only hearing one side of the story.

…there is a tremendous amount of collaboration on the go in
British Columbia right now between the industry, fish farmers, and the ENGOs who are willing, of course, wanting things to improve, as the farmers are, and as the province is. There’s always room for improvement, but there is a tremendous amount of collaboration that is happening: joint funding, joint projects, both looking at the same things, comparing notes. There is an awful lot of transparency and communication between those groups. Again, that’s the helpful group.

There is another faction that is just quite simply anti-aquaculture, and that’s where the transparency stops. That’s where the information is not generally forthcoming because, in many
cases, the information is abused.”

Aquaculture antibiotics study needs more context

A new study about antibiotics in aquaculture was recently published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, and although it provides some good, useful data, it doesn’t mean much without more information.

Study highlights

  • 5 out of 47 antibiotics were detected in shrimp, salmon, tilapia and trout.
  • Oxytetracycline is the most commonly detected antibiotic compound.
  • Antibiotic resistant bacteria in seafood increase >8-fold in the last 3 decades.
  • We report a low risk of drug exposure from consumption of U.S. seafoods.
  • We recommend vigilance toward stemming microbial risks.

Sounds pretty innocuous, but as usual, the data is already being used by third parties to suggest that antibiotic usage in seafood farming is high and a potential problem.

Not true.

Let’s clarify one thing. Seafood farming and aquaculture have different meanings. Aquaculture is a far more general term, which includes farming as well as enhancement projects.

Wild salmon DO do drugs

Let’s use the definition supplied by the American Fisheries Society.

Aquaculture is an established and growing industry in the U.S., and an increasingly important supplier of foods for U.S. consumers.

The industry also produces baitfish for sport-fishing and ornamental fish for the pet trade.

In addition, federal and state fish hatcheries raise millions of fish for stocking in U.S. waters to support commercial and recreational fisheries and species restoration efforts.

Aquaculture is an important contributor to U.S. agriculture and a cornerstone of aquatic natural resources management.

All aquaculture operations will have a demand for drugs, biologics, and other chemicals, collectively referred to as “regulated products”.

There you have it: wild salmon DO do drugs!

Unfortunately, while this new study looked at five common species, including farmed American catfish, it did not look at any aquaculture-raised American salmonids. This is a glaring oversight, considering that billions of them are raised in aquaculture facilities and released every year on the Pacific coast.

It would be very interesting to see what sort of amounts of antibiotics are used in Pacific salmonid enhancement facilities in Canada and the USA.

Antibiotic resistance predates antibiotics!

Research published in 2011 adds even more interesting context to this study.

It suggests that making judgements about antibiotic resistance in aquaculture may be difficult: DNA from 30,000 year old microbes recovered from permafrost show antibiotic resistant traits similar to their modern counterparts.

Related stories

Antibiotics in aquaculture: getting the facts straight

Alexandra Morton’s furunculosis fable

What’s better than debunking Morton myths? Seeing a real salmon scientist get international recognition!

We were going to write about the contradictions, lies and half-truths which characterized activist Alexandra Morton’s hour-long radio love-in with Ian Jessop on CFAX yesterday.

But we didn’t really want to.

The official seal of the Pseudoscience Labelling Initiative, which may soon be required by law to preface any publication by Alexandra Morton.
The official seal of the Pseudoscience Labelling Initiative, which may soon be required by law to preface any publication by Alexandra Morton.

It’s just too painful to debunk the same points over and over again. We’ve already addressed them many times on this blog, particularly her claim that the ISA virus is in BC (even though she contradicted herself on the show by admitting her results were not confirmed).

We’ve also talked about another point she raised about Piscine Reovirus, which recent research shows has been in wild fish since at least the late 1970s. This physical evidence, of course, makes her claims based on computer modelling that it must have been introduced by salmon farms in the mid-2000s moot.

A great scientist’s career recognized

So we were thrilled to read today that one BC scientist, who has been a cornerstone of fisheries science and who has published hundreds of papers crucial to understanding wild salmon, was recognized by the prestigious International Council for Exploration of the Seas.

Carl Walters
Dr. Carl Walters

Yesterday, UBC’s Dr. Carl Walters was awarded ICES’ Prix D’Excellence, an award recognizing scientists who “have contributed to the sustained use and conservation of marine ecosystems through their research, scientific leadership and/or leadership in the objective application of science to policy. Innovation, teamwork, mentoring, and objective communication with the public exemplify the career of the recipient of this award.”

Congratulations to Carl on this well-deserved award! His work over the past decade has been crucial in helping us better understand wild salmon dynamics, as well as interactions between wild and farmed salmon.

As the press release from ICES states:

“Over his career, Dr. Walters has been the most innovative scientist working in marine ecosystems and fisheries management,” remarked ICES Awards Committee Chair Pierre Petitgas at the awards ceremony during the ASC opening session. “He has also been a well-known advocate for co-operation between scientists and fishermen and has promoted cooperative arrangements between governments and fishing industries to provide improved information for stock assessment and management via methods such as industry-based surveys.”

Here is the full press release from ICES.