Do people hold the power? If so, then why do capitalists, corporations, and their shareholders grab ever more of the wealth that used to belong to the people? Why do the forests, resources, ocean, and the wildlife become commodified or controlled by corporations?
The British Columbia capital, Victoria,1 has only one local corporate newspaper. In the Sunday edition of the ever diminishing Times Colonist newspaper, there appeared an advertisement very much unlike the standard ad that attempts to persuade a person based on its slickness, celebrity worship, or appeal to prurient senses. The ad was a full-page letter on the back of the A section entitled in bold: “BC speak now or forever lose your fish!” It is a rationally based appeal and is replete with footnotes to peer-review science journals and annual reports.
Addressed to the people of BC, it begins, “I am no longer certain that you want wild salmon, because every level of government that you have elected seems against them.” The biologist Alexandra Morton, who has been waging a battle against the deleterious effects of salmon farming on the wild salmon population, questions why voters opt for a government unconcerned with the plight of the wild salmon. British Columbians, by dint of their voting preferences, might be viewed as oblivious to the destruction of their five native salmon stocks.
For three consecutive elections, British Columbians have voted the right-wing Liberal Party, a friend of salmon-farm corporations,2 into political power in the westernmost Canadian province. These election victories have coincided with an upsurge in corporate salmon farming and catastrophic crashes of the wild salmon population.
Morton sees no mystery in the disappearance of the wild Pacific salmon: “The science is conclusive: where salmon farms exist, wild salmon and trout are in exceptionally sharp decline.”
She holds the government responsible because it has granted gatekeeper status to the fish farms in estuaries, exposing wild salmon runs that pass by to pathogens from the farms. In particular, sea lice have been implicated in the demise of juvenile wild salmon.3
Morton emphasizes that the problem is not just sea lice, and it is not just salmon that are threatened. She points out, for instance, that the “sheer numbers of IHN virus shed from farms over 100s of km from Bella Coola to Campbell River was an unprecedented threat to herring and salmon.”
So why do government allow corporations to continue farming fish along wild salmon migration routes that imperil the wild fish?4
Morton follows the money. She further asks what money there is and for who?
Citing the BC Ministry of Environment, Morton writes that fish farms brought in $365 million in landed catch value in 2007. Wild salmon brought in $1.5 billion in tourism and $288 million in sports fishing. Sport fishing is mainly owned by British Columbians while salmon farms are mainly Norwegian-owned corporations. Citing Wilderness Tourism Association figures, full-time jobs provided by fish farms were 4,000 versus the 52,000 full-time jobs that wild salmon made possible.
The figures clearly point to the far greater economic importance of wild salmon over farmed salmon.
The evidence points to politicians colluding with the flow of money into the pockets of a few foreign corporatists against the economic well-being of many Indigenous and local people.
As Morton knows well, there are other corporatists who would like wild salmon to go away. Salmon do not just stand in the way of salmon-farming corporations:
Because wild salmon require functional habitat from the tops of mountains, down through richly forested watersheds, along the coastal shelf and out to sea, politicians can’t bear the consequence of taking a stand to protect them. They would say “no” to the loggers who want to take the most valuable trees now standing in the last thriving watersheds, “no” to those who scheme to dam, divert, and sell BC’s fresh water, “no” to miners wanting to dump tailings into the rivers, and most importantly, “no” to the oilmen greedily eyeing our coast. To these politicians, farm salmon means a salmon that means no habitat. It is a good deal for them.5
Sometimes making money can get in the way of having one’s fun.
The ex-Norwegian, now Cypriot, tycoon John Fredriksen, an avid fisherman, reached a conclusion that contradicts his 30% ownership in Marine Harvest, the world’s largest salmon-farming corporation: “I am worried for the wild salmon’s future. Fish farming should not be allowed in fjords with salmon rivers.”6 The world traveller Fredriksen seemed primarily concerned for his homeland’s Alta River: “Neither Iceland or Canada can measure up to Alta. Management of the river, with its exclusive and peaceful fishing spots, is special here.”7 Fredricksen also pointed to a global threat to wild salmon: “Sea lice, infectious diseases and genetic and ecological interactions of escaped farmed salmon with wild salmon are a serious threat to the future of both wild Atlantic and Pacific salmon.”8
Marine Harvest Canada’s communications director Ian Roberts — who once complained, “I believe people are starting to get a little weary of this type of Doomsday prophecy”9 — must have felt befuddled by Fredricksen’s Doomsday prophecy.
The Corporate Media, and Salmon Farming
On Friday, 31 July, actor William Shatner headlined the front page of the BC capital’s corporate newspaper with his appeal to remove the fish farms.10
Redolent with academic hubris, the TC quoted Brent Hargreaves, “a research scientist from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who has studied sea lice for six years,” as questioning Shatner’s scientific knowledge to pronounce on wild salmon. Hargreaves also accuses Morton of “a big stretch” in attributing the demise of wild salmon to sea lice from fish farms. He claims there is no evidence that sea lice cause sockeye death.
I was surprised by this media slant. Why the focus on sockeye salmon when it was the Broughton Archipelago pink salmon collapse in 2002 that rang alarm bells, and sea lice were sited as the culprit.11 It was pink and chum salmon that Hargreaves studied with his colleague Morton.
The writer of the article, Judith Lavoie, said that the editing had distorted the story, and that Hargreaves “was far less adamant than the story indicated – saying there is no evidence [for sea lice causing sockeye salmon deaths], but qualifying it with some of the studies on chums and pinks.”12
Morton replied, “Brent simply means there has been no science to prove that sockeye juveniles can be killed by sea lice. Adult salmon can be killed by sea lice, so it is only a matter of how many. Brent knows sea lice are a serious issue for wild salmon, but he can’t rock the boat. DFO policy is to support the expansion of fish farms and anyone who has a problem with that is sidelined.”13 ,14
Morton agreed she was extrapolating in saying that sockeye smolts — which grow for a year in freshwater and enter seawater fully scaled, as opposed to pinks and chums which go to sea right after hatching and have no scales — can be killed by sea lice. However, Morton says “that does not mean sockeye infested with lice will be fine and will survive and complete their life cycle. It remains, whenever I see a generation infected with lice as they go to sea… They don’t come back in healthy numbers.”13
Brent’s colleague Simon Jones says a .7g pink salmon can survive with 7.5 sea lice on it. My research and the European research found young salmon can survive with about 1 louse per gram of body weight. Who knows why the difference in findings, but one thing does jump out and that is in Jones’ work all the infected fish were sedated with a chemical early on in the experiment. Perhaps this killed all the lice or made them sluggish. I don’t know, but he does not even cite my published study nor address the difference. This is not good science, particularly because his findings are such an outlier.
In the same 2 August issue as Morton’s ad, the TC makes the case that “there is little hard information to go on” about the infestation of sea lice on wild salmon.15 Vancouver Island University professor Duane Barker, “an expert in fish diseases and parasites,” is quoted as saying: “recent research data indicates higher levels of sea lice on wild salmon caught in the open ocean away from farms.”
Morton noted that there are “tens of papers myself and others from here to Norway have published on extensive research on how this occurs and the impacts”:
Duane Barker is a making a political statement of little biological significance and it is very disappointing such a person was given 400,000 to study sea lice by the government. Sea lice biology occurs in the open ocean. There has always been more lice there than in the inshore waters. When wild salmon return to spawn, all their lice die of fresh water and so the inshore waters wash clean the parasite cycle is broken between generations.
Today, however the wild salmon infect the farm fish as they pass on their inbound migration. The farms allow the lice to reproduce all winter and infect the young salmon. It is irrelevant if there are more or less lice on them than in the open ocean…they are not at all prepared for any lice and what they are getting at the fish farms is killing them. Baker is very misguided saying there is “little hard information.” …
It is not in the public’s interest for people to be confusing [the] issue, but it is in the fish farmer’s interest. This is a variation on the theme talk and log.
No one is raising alarms about the number of lice on adult fish out in the open ocean. Dr. Baker is talking about adult fish, but the concern is regarding the juveniles just as they leave the rivers and become infected. Adult salmon frequently have 10 lice or more, but the very young salmon die of one or two.16
The salmon-farm mouthpieces defy believability.17 Does the corporate media deserve any trust18 or credibility?19 The TC is a part of the Canwest Global corporation, by no means a moral media beacon.20 Just like the corporate fish farms, the corporate media’s primary motive is profit.
Whither Wild Slamon?
“Fundamentally,” fish farms are unconstitutional argues Morton “because they attempt to privatize ocean spaces and own schools of fish in the ocean.”
Morton offers many solutions. The sine qua non solution is simple, and it has been known for a long time: closed containment systems for fish farms. Writes Morton, “Feedlots belong in quarantine, because they break the natural laws that prevent disease epidemics.”
Morton is giving people a chance to make their collective voices heard. She believes people power can protect the wild salmon and is behind an online petition where people can register their vote for wild salmon. The logical choice is clear: a vote for the preservation of wild salmon is a vote for ourselves.
- Victoria is the imperialist designation, the indigenous Songhees called it Camosack. British Columbia is also an imperialist designation, which some people trace back to Christopher Columbus. Kathy Pelta, Discovering Christopher Columbus: How History Is Invented (Lerner Publishing Group, 1991): 50. Delno C. West and August Kling, “Columbus and Columbia: A Brief Survey of the Early Creation of the Columbus Symbol in American History” Studies in Popular Culture, 1989, 12(2): 45-60. [↩]
- The BC government has also offered BC wilderness — including salmon-bearing streams — for the profit of private interests. See Melissa Davis, “Deciphering the truth about the B.C. Energy Plan,” Georgia Strait, 20 April 2009. [↩]
- Martin Krkošek, Mark A. Lewis, and John P. Volpe, “Transmission dynamics of parasitic sea lice from farm to wild salmon,” Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, 7 April 2005, 272 (1564): 689-696. [↩]
- See Kim Petersen, “Capitalism and an Impending Wild Salmon Apocalypse,” Dissident Voice, 22 December 2007. [↩]
- Alexandra Morton, “Dying of Salmon Farming” in Stephen Hume, Alexandra Morton, Betty C. Keller, Rosella M. Leslie, Otto Langer, and Don Staniford, A Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming, (Harbour Publishing, 2004): 235. This book is scathing indictment of the salmon-farming industry. See review. [↩]
- “Steng fjorden for oppdrett,” Altaposten, 19 June 2007. Jeg er bekymret for villaksens fremtid. Det burde ikke vært tillatt med oppdrett i fjorder der det finnes lakseførende elver. [↩]
- “Steng fjorden for oppdrett,” Altaposten, 19 June 2007. Verken Island eller Canada kan måle seg med Alta. Forvaltningen av elva, med eksklusivitet og ro ved fiskeplassene, er spesiell her. [↩]
- Severin Carrell, “Fish billionaire in plea to save wild salmon,” Guardian, 29 September 2007. [↩]
- Bjørn Erik Dahl and Agnar Berg, “Marine Harvest Canada boss attacks Science article writers [but not Frericksen],” Intrafish, 18 December 2007. [↩]
- Judith Lavoie, “Shatner’s latest mission: remove fish farms,” Times Colonist, 31 July 2009. [↩]
- See Kim Petersen, “The Great Auks, Wild Salmon, and Money,” Dissident Voice, 15 December 2004. [↩]
- Personal communication, 4 August 2009. [↩]
- Personal communication, 3 August 2009. [↩] [↩]
- On the complicity of the DFO in the mismanagement and non-conservation of wild salmon, see Hume et al., A Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming and Kim Petersen, “The Great Auks, Wild Salmon, and Money,” Dissident Voice, 15 December 2004. [↩]
- “Professor wins grant to study sea lice,” Times Colonist, 2 August 2009: A6. [↩]
- Personal communication, 2 August 2009. [↩]
- Kim Petersen, “Farmageddon and the Spin-doctors,” Dissident Voice, 29 May 2003. [↩]
- Kim Petersen, “Disinformation: A Crime Against Humanity and a Crime Against Peace,” Press Action, 17 February 2005. [↩]
- Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 2002). [↩]
- David Beers, “Marc Edge on ‘Asper Nation,’” The Tyee, 13 November 2007. The associate professor of journalism at Sam Houston University makes the case that CanWest Global is “Canada’s Most Dangerous Media Company” because of its ownership editorials that attempt to set the political agenda and influence democracy. On Canwest’s flagship newspaper, see Kim Petersen, “The Corporate Media and Critical Thinking in Education,” Dissident Voice, 20 August 2009. [↩]