Tag Archives: sketchy

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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New salmon aquaculture-bashing film looks like it’s gonna be a humdinger of a crockumentary

There are a lot of films we would like to see made.

Like “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”, or “Ernest Goes to Hell” (RIP Jim Varney).

Don't know about you, but, we'd watch the HELL outta this, hur hur hur!
Don’t know about you, but, we’d watch the HELL outta this, hur hur hur!

 

On a more serious, latte-sipping intelligentsia-wanna-be note, there are a lot of documentaries we would like to see made.

Like a documentary about where the hell ISIS came from, or about the Vancouver Island Marmot.

Instead we got this.

Another fawning stroke for Alexandra Morton's already planetoid-sized ego.
Another fawning strokey-strokey for Alexandra Morton’s already planetoid-sized ego.

Yes , nobody asked for this but apparently Scott Renyard decided to assist our favourite activist in reliving the glory days, when she sort-of walked down Vancouver Island to hang around on the Leg lawn and wave signs and shout at The Man with a bunch of her friends one afternoon.

The role salmon farmers play in "The Pristine Coast" because the filmmaker apparently can't handle the thought of allowing different viewpoints.
The role salmon farmers play in “The Pristine Coast” because the filmmaker apparently can’t handle the thought of allowing different viewpoints.

Not surprisingly, the list of co-stars is all the usual suspects, who have made nice careers out of opposing salmon farming. No salmon farmers were invited to participate.

What do these usual suspects actually do to help wild salmon? Not much other than talk.

So expect this movie to be a bunch of talking heads, Morton walking along riverbanks while soothing music plays in the background, closeups of dead fish while alarming music plays in the background and nonsensical conspiracy theories, fading to black only after a helicopter long shot of our “Pristine Coast” masterfully timed to avoid any scenes of deforestation, log dumps, cargo barges full of cheap Chinese crap heading north to the Anchorage WalMart and giant barges of gravel and coal heading back to China.

It’s not ever going to be a “famous documentary” but it would certainly fit on this list of “Famous Documentaries That Were Shockingly Full Of Crap.”

This crockumentary will never make out it out of small-time film festival purgatory, but if you do get a chance to watch it, leave a comment here and let us know what you think.

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.

 

Activist Alexandra Morton lies on national TV

CBS’ famous 60 Minutes program recently aired several segments about salmon farming, and they were actually pretty fair.

The show was a generally fair representation of salmon farming in BC. I especially liked how the segment showing the seafloor beneath a fallowed salmon farm showed the seafloor was crawling with prawns.

My only two concerns were:

  1. Letting Alexandra Morton get away with a bald-faced lie when she talks about the ISA virus and says, “There’s nobody actually looking at the wild fish carefully.”

This is COMPLETELY false and it’s a shame 60 Minutes did not challenge her on this lie.

There were thousands of wild fish tested in Alaska, BC and Washington specifically for this virus in the past four years.

ISA surveillance fact sheet

Washington ISA test results

BC test results

Maybe she doesn’t think that thousands of properly-conducted scientific tests are “careful” compared to her method of sampling sick and dying spawned-out fish off riverbanks.

The problem with this is that as soon as Pacific salmon return to freshwater to spawn, they start to die. Their bodies rot around them. Their goal is to live long enough to reproduce.

Spawning fish will be infected with all sorts of things, many of which have similar symptoms. Their ravaged bodies will also be a very poor source of tissue for testing purposes.

As well, Morton’s statements about virus and “genetic markers” show her willful ignorance as she chooses to ignore how virus testing actually works, in favour of telling the story she wants to tell.

  1. Ending with a useless interview with a lawyer who refuses to say whether or not ISA is in BC.

I mean come on. A lawyer isn’t going to say anything definitive about a scientific question. This question should have been posed to a scientist, or several scientists, who could have provided a more responsible answer.

And they have — except 60 Minutes chose not to use it.

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.

Antibiotics in aquaculture: getting the facts straight

Over Christmas, a strange science article was published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The lead author, an economics professor from the University of Calgary, proposes a user fee for antibiotics in agriculture and aquaculture.

An economically rational solution is to impose a user fee on the nonhuman use of antibiotics. Every use of antibiotics increases selective pressure, thus undermining the value for other users. In effect, each antibiotic can have only a limited amount of use, so it is appropriate to charge a fee, just as logging companies pay “stumpage” fees and oil companies pay royalties.

It’s an interesting idea which got a lot of attention from the media in the post-Christmas doldrums, when media will traditionally desperately publish anything even remotely controversial to keep eyeballs on pages and screens (for the ads, of course!) until after New Year’s Day. However, the facts the author uses to back his premise are skewed.

A veterinarian working in salmon farming in BC took a look at the article and had numerous criticisms. Here’s what they pointed out.

No mention of pets

The article says that 80% of all antibiotics used in the USA are consumed by agriculture and aquaculture. But the graph in the article shows the bigger picture:

2014-02-27 09_40_41-Preserving Antibiotics, Rationally — NEJMIn the entire USA, aquaculture uses only 150,000 kg of antibiotics: the same amount as pets. But oddly, there is no mention of pets at all in the article. Why not? The author’s greatest concern is that “this profligate distribution of antibiotics around the world is contributing to the development and spread of resistant organisms” which may evolve and threaten human health. But he makes no mention of pets, which live with us, sleep with us, eat with us and share our space, every day.

The usage of antibiotics in pets should be of far greater concern than aquaculture. How many people come in contact with fish farms compared to pets? Yet this is not mentioned at all.

Aquaculture in context

The article specifically targets salmon farms (“Antibiotics are…added to food pellets and dropped to salmon in cages in the seas”), but farmed salmon production in the USA is a fraction of the whole, at about only 18,000 metric tonnes annually.

Catfish farmers in the USA produce nearly 272,000 metric tonnes of fish per year in freshwater ponds.

Aquaculture in the USA is dominated by catfish. On average, US catfish farmers produce 272,000 tonnes of fish per year. Farmed rainbow trout is the second largest aquaculture industry in the USA. Farmed salmon in the USA The total annual American aquaculture production is about 500,000 tonnes.

Aquaculture in the USA is using only about 300 grams of antibiotics per tonne of seafood produced.

Salmon farms in both the USA and Canada use even less than that average, ranging from 50 grams per tonne to as little as 5 grams per tonne of fish produced. 

That’s less than what people use. Going by this article’s numbers, the USA uses 11 grams of antibiotics per person, per year.

Other farmed animals use much more. The USA produces roughly 152,755,000 metric tonnes of livestock, poultry, dairy products and eggs each year. They all use antibiotics; however, this article only refers to livestock, which account for 33,000,000 tonnes per year.

Going by the article’s numbers, then, US livestock are using 410 grams of antibiotics per tonne produced.

Big assumptions miss the mark

The author shows a remarkable ignorance of agriculture and aquaculture in his list of reasons why he thinks a user fee for antibiotics would be a great idea.

He suggests that monitoring the actual usage of antibiotics would be challenging for farmers. Well guess what: BC salmon farmers already do this.

He also suggests that “veterinary oversight” would be a problem for “remote farms.” BC salmon farmers do this too. Regularly. Every treatment must be approved by a vet, who writes a prescription for medication.

According to the author, antibiotics are overused because they are cheap, $25 per kg by his reckoning. Not so. Antibiotics for aquaculture are more like $350 per kg. We like to use them as little as possible.

And finally, he suggests that a user fee on antibiotics would encourage farmers to look for antibiotic substitutes. Waaaay ahead of you there, pal. We’ve been using vaccines for years, along with good farming practices, good genetic stocks and top-quality feeds.

The goal is to keep our fish healthy throughout their lives. Unlike chickens, which only take about two months to grow to harvest, salmon take three years to reach harvest. While some chicken farmers may pump their animals full of medicine throughout their short lives as a precaution, this would never work on salmon farms. Using antibiotics constantly over three years would be expensive, would lead to resistance and would eventually become ineffective.

As much as possible, we use drug-free methods to keep our animals healthy. It’s economically viable, and the responsible way to farm salmon.

For more information about antibiotics used in aquaculture. the BC Salmon Facts website has some good facts and a video. 

 

Activist math, contaminants and the art of fear

We’ve been sitting on this one for a while because we wanted to see how far it would go. Apparently, our favourite scaremongerer is pretty serious about it so we figured it was time to expose this.

In a poor attempt to scare people about food contamination, Alexandra Morton has created a graph that people might assume shows that farmed salmon is contaminated with PCBs.

Mortoncantdomathgraph

Oooh, scary, right? Two things though.

1) These numbers, as shown in the EU regulation cited by Morton as the source of information for this graph, DO NOT represent ACTUAL amounts of dioxins and PCBs in ANYTHING. They are limits set by the EU on what is a safe amount in those foods. Morton neglects to point this out, giving a false impression.

2) This “41.6” number on Morton’s graph comes out of thin air. The actual limit for salmon and all other fish, as set in the EU document source for the other numbers on the graph, is 6.5.

Check it for yourself, it’s on page 4.

Because 6.5 doesn’t have the sort of shock value Morton was hoping for, she did some of her own math and came up with a greater number, conveniently forgetting to show where in the world this number comes from, and also neglecting to explain that these numbers represent the limits set by the EU, not actual test results.

But that’s all boring, right? Who cares, Morton raises a valid point, a scary story about how farmed salmon are more contaminated, right? Who cares that she just made up a number and misrepresented what her source actually says, she’s just getting the truth out there right? We’re sure someone will comment here saying something like that.

That’s the art of fear in action, and Morton is damn good at it. She starts with a scary story, and then manipulates data to make it look like science is on her side. By the time people like us come along and pull back the curtain, it doesn’t matter because people really want to believe in Oz.

People believe in stories, not facts.

But we’ll keep bringing our readers the facts, in the hopes that they will learn how to pull apart these anti-salmon farming stories and see that they are something much more vulgar: manipulative lies.