The People’s Right to Know

The salmon farming industry continues to attempt to elude bad publicity (stemming from its horrendous effect on the environment and ecosystems, in particular, catastrophic plunges in wild salmon numbers) through name calling and questioning the sources funding wild salmon advocacy.1

Vivian Krause, a former employee of the salmon farming industry, and Terence Corcoran, a journalist, continue to obfuscate the issue by focusing on funding of wild salmon advocates. They maintain the public has a right to know. I agree.

Recently, Krause took issue with wild salmon advocate Alexandra Morton’s concern about sea lice from salmon farms.2 She refuted Morton’s research by appealing to Terence Corcoran who wrote: “Morton’s research doesn’t show what she says it does.” Krause and Corcoran like to refer back to each other in a feedback loop for support. It is a bizarre tautology in which a former salmon farmer refers back to a journalist and a journalist refers back to a salmon farmer to refute science.

Furthermore, Krause accuses Morton of accepting money from American sources and commercial fishing companies to do her research. “Commercial fishing entities have an obvious interest in discrediting farmed fish and thwarting aquaculture,” stated Krause.

Obviously, commercial fishers have an interest in protecting the wild salmon from which they derive their livelihoods, and if salmon-farming operations are implicated in massive declines in wild salmon numbers, then yes, they have an obvious interest to protect.

Next Krause engages in conspiracy theorizing: “Is Morton’s research part of a sophisticated marketing campaign paid for by U.S. foundations to protect U.S. trade interests? The public has the right to know. If Morton has nothing to hide, why doesn’t she disclose the origins of her U.S. Funding?”

Krause even takes a shot at the science. She states that researchers Martin Krkosek and Mark Lewis of the University of Alberta, issued a press release claiming that “fish farms kill wild salmon” … This quotation does not appear in the press release.3

Corcoran, Krause’s bookend, also takes exception with the press release.4 He writes that the release “claimed the study … proved that pink salmon populations have been rapidly declining for four years.” He then quotes from the release: “The scientists expect a 99% collapse in another four years or two salmon generations, if the infestations continue.”

Corcoran claims:

Nothing of the sort has happened. Today, officials report high levels of wild pink salmon in the areas of B.C. where a crisis supposedly loomed. The level of sea lice, a natural parasite, is also declining in both wild and farm salmon. The great salmon farming scare proved to be a false alarm.

If Corcoran were a bona fide science journalist, then he would know that in science nothing is proven. Scientists attempt to disprove the null hypothesis. Besides, the press release does not use the word “proven.”

One is led to surmise that Corcoran is either lacking in understanding of the situation he writes about, or he is being disingenuous since he did quote the press release correctly (unlike Krause) wherein the researchers stated “if the infestations continue.” This conditional clause failed to register with Corcoran. In the years following the pink salmon crash, the salmon farmers have treated their farmed salmon for sea lice with sub-lethal doses of the toxin Slice® in spring to give the rivers’s out-migrating pink smolts a chance. The obvious conclusion is that sea lice are a threat to pink salmon.

Morton denied the allegations of Krause.5

Is she implying we are all cheating for money? Interesting. I think her point is that research into the impact of salmon feedlots should not be done, nor published.

Morton’s reply has merit. Bizarrely, wealthy, foreign salmon-farming corporations are trying to spotlight foreign money to wild salmon advocates. This is despite Norway’s wealthiest man, John Fredriksen, a part-owner of Marine Harvest, the world’s largest salmon-farming corporation and an avid fisherman, admitting: “I am worried for the wild salmon’s future. Fish farming should not be allowed in fjords with salmon rivers.”6 Herein lies a quandary for corporate salmon farming: some of the corporatists enjoy having wild salmon in the world.

Morton has a problem with salmon-farming operations that are destructive of the marine environment and ecosystem, but she is not opposed to aquaculture done right. Opposition would diminish immensely to land-based salmon farms. Morton wrote, “Canada could be a leader in sustainable aquaculture with abundant wild salmon. The longer the industry resists change, the more fragile it becomes.”

Closed Containment in Canada?

The Norwegian ambassador to Canada, Else Berit Eikeland, spoke on closed-containment.7 Eikeland said, “I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen. It’s probably technically possible, but it’s not economically feasible. There have been experiments in Norway, but it’s not possible.”

Or? Later she corrected herself: “Everything is possible… but the investments would be a lot.”

With this came a warning: “But the next question is, if it’s going to be closed containment, will the industry stay here, or will the industry move closer to markets?”

It is all laid bare by the diplomat. Corporations seek to maximize profit and, therefore, seek conditions in which they can maximize profit. Open-net fish farming maximizes profit. This leads to what all salmon farmers studiously avoid answering: does the precautionary principle hold — that before an industry or technology comes into operation that it be deemed safe for people, the environment, and ecosystems.

Transparency

Eikeland called for transparency, openness, and research – “key factors for the industry.”

Yet, secrecy still shrouds salmon farming data on sea-lice infestation.8

The call for transparency comes from an industry that sees fit to hire notorious PR flaks.9 Cascadia Communications Associates asks:

In a properly working open society, the media would report the story, people would read the evidence, environmental groups and foundations would tell their side of the story, and the public would decide what is true and whether it matters. Right?10

I agree. All sources of funding should be made public. How much was Cascadia Communications Associates paid? Hill and Knowlton? Where does the funding of the BC Salmon Farming Association come from? Where do wild salmon advocates receive funding? The public has a right to know which politicians are supported by money from salmon farming corporations.

People has a right to access the data collected by their government about salmon farming: sea-lice infestations, viral outbreaks, waste produced by salmon farms, effects on the environment, escapes from fish farms, successful spawning of farmed salmon in rivers and streams, amount of antifoulants such as emamectin benzoate — Slice® — and other anti-parasitics used, antibiotics used, type of feed, number of seals and sea lions killed by fish farmers, contamination of marine environment, etc.

Consumers have a right to know if the fish in the supermarket is farmed or wild. In the restaurant, diners have the right to know whether the salmon on the menu is farmed or wild. Furthermore, the consumer who chooses to buy farmed salmon has a right to know if that farmed salmon was treated with the toxin Slice®, pumped up with antibiotics, fed Canthaxanthin (E161g) (artificial coloring), was genetically modified, etc.

Final Comments

There is, indeed, plenty of evidence of environmental NGOs collaborating with corporate interests, but it is somehow perverse for a corporate entity like salmon farming or its acolytes to complain about this. Nonetheless, people should maintain some level of skepticism toward environmental NGOs. People should be apprised about the amount of funding and how those funds are used by environmental NGOs. These conditions must apply equally to corporations and governments.

Wild salmon advocates are dedicated to the preservation of the wild salmon and its habitat. Money received by wild salmon advocates should have no influence on this goal. So the right-to-know-funding complaint of the pro-corporate salmon farming sector is nugatory. Nonetheless, transparency would remove this distraction and adhere to the principle of the people’s right to know.

  • Self-disclosure: I receive no funding whatsoever from any salmon-related interest group.
    1. See Kim Petersen, “Salmon Propaganda,” Dissident Voice, 3 September 2003. []
    2. Vivian Krause, “Money trail gets fishy,” National Post, 3 July 2010. []
    3. See “Fish farms drive wild salmon populations toward extinction,” ExpressNews, 13 December 2007. []
    4. Terence Corcoran, “Junk Science Week: This science is fishy,” FPComment, 17 June 2010. []
    5. Alexandra Morton, “Land-based salmon is the answer,” National Post, 8 July 2010. []
    6. 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. []
    7. Grant Warkentin, “Norway’s ambassador calls for transparency in salmon farming,” Campbell River Mirror, 6 July 2010. []
    8. David M. Lawrie, “What’s the government hiding on sea lice?Times Colonist, 8 July 2010. []
    9. See Kim Petersen, “Farmageddon and the Spin-doctors,” Dissident Voice, 29 March 2003. []
    10. Home page, “The dirty little secret of the campaign against salmon farming,” Cascadia Communications Associates. Accessed 8 July 2010. []

    Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.

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    1. bbarnett said on July 12th, 2010 at 8:59am #

      Great article. For a little more on the science issue, here’s an excerpt from our recent blog post:

      “Pink salmon in the Broughton Archipelago no longer appear to be on an extinction trajectory because of changes in how salmon farms manage their sea lice. The result of farm management changes – coupled with all other published science on the issue – clearly demonstrate that farms can harm wild salmon populations.”

      http://blog.farmedanddangerous.org/2010/07/epicentre-sea-lice-controversy-canada/