Tag Archives: badscience

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.

Alexandra Morton jumps on the anti-vaccine crazy train with funding campaign that insults donors

Alexandra Morton has just self-shredded any last vestiges of credibility she may have had with her cynical new ad campaign, in which she tells tall tales while pandering to the lowest common denominator of stupidity.

With the two ads shown so far (below) she’s jumped on the anti-vaccine crazy train AND got a first-class ticket in the Food Woo Clown Car up front. Her ads assume that the people who will read them are stupid, gullible suckers. She is insulting the very people from whom she is soliciting donations.

Insult #1: Consequence-free fundraising

The campaign hasn’t launched yet, but she’s panhandling for money through a crowd-funding website. The kind of fundraising site that doesn’t issue tax-deductible receipts for the charitable causes it hosts.

Crowdfunding has a positive place in the charity landscape, but it is also ripe for abuse.

So guess what she’s going to do, suckers. She’s going to fool you. You’ll never know exactly how she spends all the consequence-free cash you’re giving her. She has no obligation to ever tell you. All you have is her word.

There’s no action plan attached to the campaign. The only commitment is to “make a high impact advertising purchase to run a series of ads.”

That could mean anything.

Sure, you might see a few billboards in Vancouver, or a newspaper ad in the Sun. But you’ll never know the true cost of the ad campaign. You’ll never know if she’s pocketed the leftover cash.

Here’s a tip: if you donate, ask her to publish all receipts related to the campaign on her blog. After all, if she’s so trustworthy, she’s got nothing to hide, right?

Insult #2: Anti-vaccine crazy train ad

Oooh, a scary syringe, evoking fears of needles, something unnatural, something BAD!
Oooh, a scary syringe, evoking fears of needles, something unnatural, something BAD!

First of all, look at how this ad is attributed to “Department of Wild Salmon” and the deptwildsallmon.org website. Currently that link forwards to alexandramorton.ca, Morton’s personal website and the heart of this campaign. But isn’t it interesting that if this campaign takes a turn that’s not in her favour, she could simply disconnect that link between the sites? Clever, n’est pas?

Second, the ad implies, through the use of a syringe, that farmed salmon are injected with drugs for delousing.

 WRONG.

Sea lice treatments are provided in feed. Guess a dog food-like pellet doesn’t make for a scary image though.

The only time farmed salmon ever receive injections is when they are vaccinated at the hatchery against common ocean diseases.

Morton knows this. She knows sea lice treatments are given only in feed.

We can only conclude that by attempting to link injections, salmon and scariness, Morton is putting herself in the same camp as anti-vaccine idiots, and she’s doing it wilfully. That’s cynical, and could possibly even be seen as libelous, if anyone feels like getting litigious over these ads.

PS – Organic chickens are vaccinated, too.

Insult #3: “You are what you eat” malarkey

By implying that eating something that eats "unsavory" ingredients, Morton also rules out organic mushrooms, which derive nutrients from horse manure.
By implying that eating something that eats “unsavory” ingredients is bad, Morton also rules out organic mushrooms, which derive nutrients from horse manure.

Yes, salmon feed can contain protein from hogs. So what? Mushrooms grow in horse manure. And guess what. Organic poultry eat feed that includes fishmeal. Chickens would never eat fish in the “wild,” so if farmed salmon eating hog and chicken protein is bad, then so is organic chicken eating anything but bugs and grass.

Salmon convert pork protein into salmon protein. Mushrooms convert manure nutrients into mushrooms. It doesn’t mean that if you eat mushrooms you are eating manure (unless you don’t wash them) and it doesn’t mean that if you eat salmon you are eating pork.

You are NOT what you eat, unless you break it down to the very basic levels of proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Morton is banking on the ignorance of the general public when it comes to farming animals, nutrition and food. Ignorance is one thing, which is easily corrected. But Morton is also banking on the hopes that her audience will be too stupid and gullible to carefully consider her claims.

That’s the insult.

Insult #4: Implying negative health consequences

In the text on her crowdfunding page, Morton stops short of saying that eating farmed salmon is bad for your health, because she knows there’s no proof for that statement (but plenty to the opposite). But you can tell she really wants to when she says “Meanwhile controversy is boiling over in Norway on the health risks of eating farmed salmon echoed by the premier US business news service Bloomberg.

But that’s not true, either. The Scientific Steering Committee of the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety recently published nearly 300 pages of independent, unbiased research showing that seafood, including farmed salmon, is safe to eat regularly for all ages.

There’s hardly a controversy. Unless one or two unqualified people disagreeing with hundreds of qualified people counts as “controversy.”

If you want to give money to this woman, it’s your wallet. But beware. She’s showing an alarming lack of scruples in this latest campaign.

Footnote: Just like Food Babe

Dr. Amy Tuteur, who blogs as the Skeptical OB, has posted a fascinating piece this month looking at the Food Babe and selling fear.

If you haven’t heard of the Food Babe, she’s a self-proclaimed expert who has made a name for herself, and a huge following, by examining, criticizing and condemning the ingredient lists on food packaging.

As Tuteur shows, she is also banking on a gullible, uneducated audience to promote herself and make a living.

Morton seems to be taking the same approach.

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.

 

‘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.

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.

 

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.