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.
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.
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:
Too 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
The most concerning risks in Norway, according to the research, are:
Wild Atlantic salmon face a moderate to high risk for “genetic introgression” (cross-breeding) from escaped farmed Atlantic salmon.
About 27 of 109 farms investigated for sea lice infection indicate moderate to high risk of likelihood for passing wild salmon smolts, and 67 farms indicated moderate to high risk of mortality from sea lice for wild sea trout.
The interesting results are in what doesn’t appear to be a concern:
Despite “extensive release of virus in many areas,” screening of wild salmonids showed low to very low presence of the same viruses.
Only 2% of all farms displayed unacceptable levels of “organic loading” (fish poop and feed) below the farms; therefore the “risk of eutrophication and organic load beyond the production area of the farm is considered low.“
It’s interesting that, in Norway at least, the two points that salmon farm critics seize on the most — viruses and fish poop — are of least concern.
It’s debatable how meaningful it would be to extrapolate these findings to BC, but they raise some interesting points. Here in BC, where we have strong populations of wild salmon, which are unable to interbreed with farmed Atlantic salmon, the issue of “genetic introgression” is moot.
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.
It relies on only 14 samples of fish taken in BC.
It relies on only 10 samples of Atlantic salmon.
All of the samples were taken in 2012.
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.
In 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.
Unfortunately, Aylesworth didn’t make any effort to fact-check the claims of either Morton or the Grieg Seafood managing director quoted in the story.
“It’s a classic ‘he said, she said’ story,” Aylesworth states in the segment.
That’s a cheap cop-out and reinforces the cliche of the big company hiding something while the lone, plucky activist tries to uncover the truth. It’s also a lazy out for journalists who claim they are just presenting “both sides of the story” and letting viewers “make up their own minds.”
We don’t think that’s good enough, when a topic is being presented in a way that implies one party is lying, and that our precious wild salmon are threatened. The journalist needs to do better.
Why didn’t Aylesworth contact a real ocean biologist, say, someone at UBC or SFU, to ask for more information about plankton blooms so she can actually educate, instead of titillate, her viewers? Why didn’t she contact DFO, which regulates salmon farms, for information about the mass mortality incident, to fact-check the claims made by both interviewees? Why didn’t she contact CFIA, which regulates farmed animal health, and must be informed if any diseases of concern are found in a salmon farm?
No, what we got here is more of the same tired narrative Morton has been promoting for decades and Global TV thoughtlessly regurgitated it without question, and without any attempt to scratch the surface.
Mean girl rabble-rousing
Some interesting information has trickled back to us about Morton’s activities while filming this farm in Nootka Sound.
Apparently, she and her three friends riled up the tourists who were there to fish, inspiring many of them to boat out to the farm and abuse the farmers over the VHF radio.
Afterwards, Morton got on the radio and tried to play “good cop” by telling the farmers that she’s got nothing against them, that they are just doing their jobs. As she wrote on her blog, “Thank you to the patience of the salmon farming crew at Concepcion Point. This must have been as stressful on you as it was on us.”
How thoughtful. She works to rile up the tourists against them, starts rumours in the media that imply they are thoughtless stooges killing wild salmon and hiding disease, and then she tries to play nice.
Like the popular girl in high school spreading rumours about you, then pretending to be nice to you the next day.