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.

Don’t like GM plants? Too bad, they’re going to feed the world, and aquaculture too

This genetically-modified camelina plant could be the harbinger of a new revolution in feeding aquaculture farms, and the world.
This genetically-modified camelina plant could be the harbinger of a new revolution in feeding aquaculture farms, and the world.

So much hate and fear has been directed at genetically modified plants in the past couple years you’d think that eating one would make your head explode or give you instant cancer.

But the truth is that genetically-modified plants are no more dangerous to humans than any other kinds of plants.

Every living thing on this planet, plants included, have evolved to avoid being eaten, or to turn their tastiness to their advantage. Plants are the product of millions of years of biological warfare, evolving new survival strategies to avoid being eaten or to make themselves tastiest when their seeds are fully developed (and can be conveniently deposited in new locations, fertilizer included, in the dung of their eaters).

People forget this. Mother Nature is all about living things eating other things to survive and plants are no different.

But there is a loud public opposition to genetic modification, in which humans bypass millions of years of slow evolution to give plants traits that help them survive in modern conditions. Plants such as papayas that don’t get ringtail disease, corn that is resistant to drought, rice that has an added vitamin which is crucial to human nutrition have all been engineered in recent years with the intent of providing more food with fewer resources for more people.

Sounds good, but a lot of people are scared of this evolution in farming.

It’s normal to be fearful of change, every technological advance humans have been criticized by detractors. But in the end, if it’s a truly valuable advancement, we collectively get over it and add it to our growing toolbox of civilization.

Genetic modification of plants is one of those tools that’s going to be a big part of humanity’s future. The current toolbox isn’t adequate to feed us all in the future.

Aquaculture is already part of it, but as it grows, responsible aquaculture farmers realize they can no longer depend on fishmeal and fish oil from wild fisheries.

That’s where genetic modification comes in.

From FIS today:

Oil from genetically modified (GM) camelina plants – developed to produce essential omega-3 fatty acids in their seeds – has been found to be suitable for feeding Atlantic salmon, aiding the development of an alternative feed for the aquaculture industry to help preserve wild fish stocks and maintain nutritional value of farmed fish for humans.

In a collaborative research project between the University of Stirling and Rothamsted Research, scientists developed GM plants to produce high levels of essential omega-3 fish oils.

This significant development enables the plants to produce up to 20 per cent of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the two omega-3 nutrients conferring human health benefits, while preserving wild fish stocks.

It’s going to happen. It has to happen. Otherwise, we will all have to take a giant step backwards, eat less fish, eat less meat, eat non-modified plants (good luck finding enough farmland to grow them all), based on nothing but fear of the unknown.

Can you bang a drum? Dial-a-protester needs you!

While reviewing video from a recent farmed salmon protest in the Lower Mainland last week (published on Jan. 26), we noticed a couple curious things.

For one thing, the “science” spouted by the personalities in the clip is total nonsense, urban legends and old wives’ tales crafted to scare people. There’s no evidence for anything they say.

That’s not the curious part, that’s just normal for this crowd. The curious part was that no shoppers were listening. Maybe they don’t like people banging drums and shouting at them for some reason.

The other curious thing was the appearance of one particular individual, Audrey Siegl, who also appeared in another video published this week.

Audrey Siegel protests farmed salmon at Costco in Vancouver Jan. 24.
Audrey Siegl protests farmed salmon at Costco in Vancouver Jan. 24.
Audrey Siegl helps disrupt a private dinner party for Vancouver Wharves employees on Jan. 24.
Audrey Siegl helps disrupt a private dinner party in North Vancouver for Vancouver Wharves employees on Jan. 24.

It was a busy day for Ms. Siegl! Protesting farmed salmon in the afternoon, then crashing the wrong dinner party to protest pipelines in the evening!

Guess the motto “have drum, will travel” is taken seriously by this group.

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.

Recycling your old iPhones… with salmon semen

This story was too weird to pass up:

“Japanese scientists have discovered that salmon semen from industrial fish farms could help to recycle rare earth metals.

Researchers led by Yoshio Takahashi from the University of Tokyo, found that salmon semen, known as milt, can be used in a process to extract certain rare earth elements that are used in products such as catalysts, alloys, magnets, optics, lasers and notably mobile phones.”

Only from Japan: salmon semen can help recycle electronics. Apparently.
Only from Japan: salmon semen can help recycle electronics. Apparently.

Apparently the semen, known as milt, “has the capacity to bind to positively charged ion material” making it a potential replacement for many caustic and dangerous chemicals currently used in the electronics recycling process.

The craziest part about this story is that there is a huge source of material available.

According to the paper, “More than 10,000 tonnes per year of milt from salmon, trout and others have been discarded as industrial wastes from fishery industries in Hokkaido, Japan.”

Again that’s

10,000 TONNES OF SALMON SEMEN.

BC salmon farms only raise about 70,000 tonnes of fish per year. There’s no way that there’s that much milt being used, let alone discarded, in BC. Japan doesn’t farm salmon on any significant scale, certainly not enough to produce that much milt.

This milt must be leftover from Japan’s massive “salmon ranching” aquaculture enhancement projects, which release more than 1 billion Pacific salmon from Hokkaido Island (referred to in this study) each year.

Kokanee salmon infected with IHN virus in BC, Montana

kokanee_in_stream

Kokanee salmon are a type of sockeye salmon that do not have an ocean phase in their lifecycle.

They were introduced to Montana in 1914 as an exotic species for fishing. Since then, they have become widespread in the western part of the state.

But now a fish virus common in native sockeye and kokanee populations in BC has made it to Montana, too.

Boaters are being asked to clean and disinfect their boats and equipment when they travel between lakes, but that almost never works. Looks like Montana is stuck with IHN.

So far it hasn’t caused any problems, but the virus can be a problem in dense populations of salmon, such as in a hatchery or a salmon farm. Trout farmers in Idaho have struggled with it for years.

The virus is carried by sockeye up and down the west coast of North America, and its prevalence waxes and wanes with little discernible pattern.

What’s interesting about this article is that it makes reference to the APEX IHN vaccine and states that this vaccine is not approved for use in the USA.

Guess that means none of the salmon farms in Washington State are vaccinating against IHN?

All BC companies have been using the vaccine since 2012, when IHN was detected in three farms. The companies quickly culled all fish on those farms before the virus could spread, and strict biosecurity protocols were implemented until the winter.

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.”

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