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Sustainable aquaculture – The science Is On Our Side

Sustainable aquaculture - The science is on our side

Patrick Moore
May 22, 2004

The continuing attacks by anti-aquaculture activists against British Columbia’s sustainable salmon farming industry are unprecedented in both their disregard for scientific accuracy and their contempt for reasoned public debate.

Despite mounting scientific evidence showing salmon farming is a sustainable industry that takes pressure off wild stocks and provides consumers with a healthy, nutritious and economical food product, activists are bent on the complete destruction of the industry in B.C.

To accomplish this goal, they are resorting to nothing short of a campaign of fear-mongering based on misleading information.

The latest example comes from anti-salmon farm activist Alexandra Morton. With assistance from the David Suzuki Foundation and its billion-dollar U.S.-based funders, Morton is alleging that wild salmon are “infested” with sea lice from salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago.

Her allegations have been headline news in the media for more than a year, despite the fact she has little scientific evidence to prove her claim and what evidence she does possess comes from questionable research methods.

Contrary to Morton’s allegations, the most recent scientific study from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans which sampled 20,000 fish — the most extensive study ever conducted in the Broughton — did not show a link between salmon farms and sea lice on wild salmon.

The study found that 76 per cent of the fish sampled were completely free of lice and even those that did have lice were perfectly healthy (sea lice are natural and salmon have survived with sea lice on them for millions of years).

Morton’s assertion that fallowing a main migration corridor would allow juvenile salmon to move uninfected from fresh water to open ocean was also demonstrated to be incorrect because the DFO found pink and chum salmon throughout the Broughton and Knight Inlet.

Even more importantly, the DFO study found that 62.5 per cent of wild salmon with lice were infected with Caligus clemensi (a species rarely found on farmed salmon), while only 37.5 per cent were infected with Lepeophtheirus salmonis (a species commonly found on wild and farmed salmon.)

Yet Morton never makes any distinction in her research between the species of lice found on farmed salmon and the different species found on wild salmon. In her opinion, farmed salmon are the cause of all ills.

Such blatant misrepresentations are sadly all too common in the work of Morton and other activists. I think the aim of their research is to create a sense of fear, to irrevocably tarnish the salmon farming industry — and if the scientific evidence does not fit with their agenda, then the science is dismissed.

Less than a week ago, Morton was still at it — this time spreading false alarms in an e-mail by alleging mainland pink and chum salmon stocks in the Broughton were infected with sea lice at the “highest rate” documented to date and that she was witnessing “an extinction.”

The latest DFO data have proved her dead wrong, but I’m holding out little hope that she’ll change her tune.

What is most disappointing in all of this is the media’s reporting (or lack thereof) of the DFO results. While the activist’s unscientific fear mongering often makes front-page news, DFO’s detailed scientific analysis gets relegated to the back pages, if it’s reported at all.

The latest DFO study, for example, showing the falsity of activists’ claims, was reported on page B8 of last Friday’s Vancouver Sun.

With growing evidence demonstrating the inaccuracy of activists’ claims, it is high time the media started reporting the real story by questioning the activist agenda and presenting the public with an accurate representation of the facts.

With regard to Morton, her alarmist conclusion about an “extinction” of wild salmon is not the only issue in doubt.

I have repeatedly written to her requesting she publicly verify her academic credentials to do this kind of research. She has yet to do so.

Morton needs to prove she has the academic expertise to conduct the research she publicizes so heavily. Her unwillingness to do so is troubling.

There can be no doubt B.C.’s sustainable aquaculture industry is facing unrelenting, unfair and unscientific attacks against it.

At a time of diminished economic opportunity for coastal B.C., aquaculture offers the hope a brighter and more prosperous future.

These attacks directly threaten that future prosperity for many B.C. communities and first nations.

As coastal communities come together to fight back, we are comforted in knowing the science is on our side.

Patrick Moore, a founding member and director of Greenpeace for 15 years, is chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd. He holds a PhD in ecology from the University of B.C

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