Fishy “Journalism”

The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente has a penchant for pronouncing on matters as if she were an expert. It often lands her in hot water for causing offense, as when she posed as an expert on First Nations culture and history and wrote that “natives” were “savages.”1

From her desk in Toronto, Wente recently waded into the turbulent waters of the farmed salmon controversy. Disinformation has been a hallmark of salmon-farming advocates.2

The newspaper columnist begins her September 4 article by insinuating that there is nothing special about salmon.3

She writes of this summer’s sockeye salmon run on the Stó:lō (Fraser River) that “the fish are practically leaping into the boats. It’s the biggest sockeye run in a century.” She concludes, “So much for sea lice.”

What would one expect from a non-scientist situated 4400 kilometers from the west coast? Of course, a journalist might easily commit a science faux pas by deducing causation from correlation. But why would a self-respecting journalist write about something she doesn’t know about?

An email from Paul Kershaw, the Area D Gillnetters President, explained the 2010 sockeye run:

FYI- The lowest levels of sea lice were recorded during the out-migrating sockeye smolt period of this year’s record run of sockeye. That year was 2008 when the Pacific Salmon Forum study reported that only 4%–7% of the Chum and Pink salmon fry, tested in the Broughton [Archipelago off northeast Vancouver Island], were infected with sea lice compared to 2007, where up to 70% were infested. Other data collected in 2008 had sockeye with 1.8 lice per smolt compared to 7-9 lice per smolt tested in 2007 and 2009. In fact, it actually looks like how the salmon farms manage their sea lice, so go our south coast Wild salmon returns. Open net fish farming can hardly be vindicated by this year’s return, rather the data makes for a good case for the salmon farmers to move to closed containment so we can have Wild Salmon returns like these in the future.

Our association predicted a large return of Sockeye partly due to the low levels of lice in 2008. The data is readily available for anyone to look at …

In her piece, Wente even quoted one of the former “savages,” Darren Blaney of Homalco First Nation: “It’s kind of ironic that we sit here and talk about the declining Fraser stocks when there’s a record run.” What that comment is supposed to illustrate vis-à-vis salmon farms or sea lice is unclear.

She then engages in the effete tactic of criticizing environmentalists for maligning salmon farms. Wente does not, however, deal with any of the myriad charges against salmon farming-operations.4

“At first,” she writes, “environmentalists said farmed salmon contained dangerous levels of cancer-causing PCBs and shouldn’t be consumed by pregnant women – until it turned out that wild salmon (declared safe by Health Canada) has even higher levels of PCBs.”

On September 5, I wrote an email to Wente asking for evidence that wild salmon had higher levels of PCBs than farmed salmon because the preponderance of evidence indicates otherwise, including a peer-review article in the academic journal Science.5 Wente did not reply to any emails. Ergo, Wente asserts. This is what might be expected from a non-scientist. Readers are invited to do an online search for evidence that supports Wente’s assertion (try: PCBs + farmed + wild + salmon).

Wente: “Then they warned that escaped salmon would interbreed with wild salmon and produce Frankenfish.”

Wente either does not know the concerns expressed by environmentalists and wild salmon advocates or she distorts their position.

Important is what Wente does not mention. She does not mention that farmed salmon is predominantly Atlantic salmon, and it is a non-native species to BC waters. She does not mention the claims of salmon farmers: that farmed salmon would never escape their pens – they do; that farmed salmon would never be able to feed in the wild – they do; that farmed salmon would never enter spawning streams – they do; that farmed salmon would never spawn – they do. Given the many previous false assertions of the salmon-farming industry, caution would befit other salmon-farming pronouncements.

Nevertheless, as any scientist would know, that interbreeding has not been demonstrated to have occurred yet between farmed Atlantic salmon and wild Pacific salmon, does not mean it has not happened or that it never will happen.

Furthermore, the term Frankenfish is best applied to the genetically modified Atlantic salmon itself.6 And since salmon farmers advocate openness and transparency, it is expected that if such Frankenfish are sold to the public that they will be labeled as GM fish.7 Yet, the pronouncements of salmon farmers — who resort to spin doctors — demonstrates dissembling because their actions seldom match their rhetoric.8

Wente: “The scare that finally stuck was sea lice (even though there’s no good evidence that sea lice are a problem).”

Wente provides no evidence for her assertion.

Scientists have a different take:

The peer-reviewed primary scientific literature on sea lice interactions between wild and farmed salmon in British Columbia makes the following conclusions: (1) infection rates on wild juvenile pink salmon were greater in salmon farming regions than in regions without salmon farms; (2) within a salmon farming region most lice on wild juvenile pink and chum salmon originated from farmed salmon; and (3) transmission of lice from farmed to wild salmon leads to population growth and spread of lice in wild salmon populations. Salmon aquaculture likely has negative impacts on wild salmon populations and the next scientific challenge is to quantify this impact.9

Readers can evaluate the assertions of the non-scientist “journalist” against the research of scientists.

Wente acknowledges that aquaculture has “had its share of growing pains, and is by no means problem-free. Still, it brings considerable economic benefits to British Columbia, as well as local sustainable jobs to first nations [sic] up and down the coast.”10

Marine biologist and wild salmon advocate Alexandra Morton has followed the money. She asked what money there is and for who?

Citing the BC Ministry of Environment, Morton noted 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.11

Says Wente: “But many in the [salmon-farming] industry have put their expansion plans on hold because of the mounting pile of regulations and dreadful PR.”

Wente discards the precautionary principle – that a product must be tested and determined to be safe for consumers and the environment. In Wente’s world, consumers and the environment would be guinea pigs for whatever corporations choose to produce and sell.

Wente: “Yet, even if the salmon return again next year, and the year after that, aquaculture is the future. As the world’s population soars, global food needs are soaring, too. Our oceans are shockingly fished out (a far more urgent problem than global warming). Like it or not, farmed fish will soon be vital to feed a hungry world.”

Wente claims prescience, and based on that offers some ill-thought conclusions. She asserts aquaculture is the future. Wild salmon advocates are not anti-aquaculture. Most would accept closed containment systems for salmon farms, although some would question the rationale of the negative protein exchange (that is, more protein in used in feed than is produced by the salmon; thus defeating a solution “to feed a hungry world.”)

Wente does not distinguish between farming predator species such as salmon with herbivorous species such as tilapia. She does not explore solutions such as marine reserves, protected areas where fish can replenish their wild populations.

Wente claims certainty. Yet her writing is replete with disinformation, logical lacunae, and prejudice. In her world, species are for corporate exploitation. The preservation of wild species, safety, scientific results, and caution be damned.

  1. Ben Powless, “What Wente Wrote was Really Dumb – and also Racist,” The Dominion, 26 October 2008. []
  2. See Kim Petersen, “Farmageddon and the Spin-doctors,” Dissident Voice, 29 March 2003; “Disinformation and Salmon Farming,” Salmon Farm Monitor, July 2004; Kim Petersen, “Lousy Disinformation: Norwegian Multinationals Threaten Existence of Wild Salmon,” Dissident Voice, 8 March 2010. []
  3. Margaret Wente, “B.C.’s fishy salmon science,” Globe and Mail, 4 September 2010. Fellow right-wing corporate media newspaper the Financial Post chimed in similarly day earlier. Ruth Salmon, “Tall fish farm tales,” FP, 3 September 2010. []
  4. See Stephen Hume, Alexandra Morton, Betty Keller, Rosella M. Leslie, Otto Langer, and Don Staniford, A Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming (Harbour Publishing, 2004). []
  5. See Kim Petersen, “Toxic Farmed Salmon,” Dissident Voice, 11 January 2004. []
  6. Robin McKie, “Why the case for GM salmon is still hard to stomach,” Guardian, 27 August 2010. []
  7. See Kim Petersen, “The People’s Right to Know,” Dissident Voice, 12 July 2010. []
  8. See Dan MacLennan, “Information gap infuriates fish farm opponents,” Campbell River Courier-Islander, 6 August 2010. []
  9. 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 B, 30 March 2005. []
  10. The use of lower case for “First Nations” is revelatory. It is always spelled with capital letters. It speaks to Wente’s concern for jobs for Indigenous peoples. []
  11. See Kim Petersen, “Whose Ocean? Whose Wild Salmon?: Corporate-Government Chooses Profit over Wild Salmon; What Do the People Choose?Dissident Voice, 6 August 2009. []

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

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on September 11th, 2010 at 8:14am #

    After the ‘nobles’ devalued nonpatricians; enslaving some and enserfing all others, they began also to devalue nature and increased their denaturing of nature; particularly since begining of 20th century or even earlier.

    Yes, yes, yes, damn it– ‘zionists’ do that also, but had teachers!

    Denaturing was called modification, because the latter label sounds musical, but practisionaires of this craft devastating the nature more than ever.

    They grew immaculate lawns;used poison to kill some natural life; built zoos, pens, chicken boxes, pools for mariners, cars, escalators [for Sitting Bulls and Cows], elevators; growing fruit that goes unspoiled for days or weaks; brought bought-souls on TV to glorify the ‘progress’ and telling us we need to wage wars also in order to defend such great civilization and ‘progress’.

    Of course, just like shit, cancer just happens. How cld have ‘progress’ ever cause cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart ailments, said ‘our’ experts.And they were everywhere, save mines, oil rigs, farms and the like.

    Wars, like cancer are the will of god and until god[s] act, we just have to be patient, but hurry like never before with ‘progress’ and defense buildups.

    And some of us unbought, unwashed, untaught, unsane cldn’t even cry about that to own wives or children for fear of being ejected as loonies. tnx

  2. Don Hawkins said on September 11th, 2010 at 8:58am #

    (a far more urgent problem than global warming). Wente

    That depends I’ll bet 50/50. After watching the leaders so called here in the States talk today where I guess they just respectively disagree get some boot’s.

  3. mary said on September 11th, 2010 at 9:01am #

    This American (born in Illinois to a wealthy family*) rent-a-gob has a lot to say on many topics.

    I dislike the racial undertones about Muslims in her previous piece.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/a-hate-filled-product-of-poverty-or-a-ball-hockey-playing-doctor/article1690662/

    *Wikipedia

  4. bozh said on September 11th, 2010 at 10:57am #

    Don, we talking about wente. This is what we say: we told my wife, who’s now 80 youngold: u do have the right not to listen to anyone; u have the right not to learn anything any more; u have the right to ‘be stupid’.
    But she’s very intelligent and never gets insulted by insults. tnx

  5. shabnam said on September 15th, 2010 at 1:17pm #

    Thank you for exposing a fishy business, Kim. It is not surprising to see Margaret Wente goes against the environmentalists to protect the interest of the far right business groups. She is with the right wing against the environmentalists. She chooses her lines to support her politically motivated views to fool others when she writes:
    {At first, environmentalists said farmed salmon contained dangerous levels of cancer-causing PCBs and shouldn’t be consumed by pregnant women – until it turned out that wild salmon (declared safe by Health Canada) has even higher levels of PCBs.}

    Then, Kim Petersen sent an email demanding explanation, where she did not return his email because she knows is lying. She uses her ‘pen’ to expand the interest of most racist groups pro market economy American style. These are Zionist neocons and their agents who have infested the political life of every major city in the world. She is on record to call the indigenous people of Canada SAVAGES, who should have been wiped off the land since their culture was an obstacle against the civilizing mission and the American exceptionalism. Margret Wente Writes:

    {North American native peoples had a neolithic culture [sic] based on subsistence living and small kinship groups… They had not developed broader laws or institutions …, evidence based science …, or advanced technologies… Until about 30 years ago, the anthropological term for this developmental stage was ‘savagery’,}
    She has similar view against Palestinians and supports genocide in Ghaza. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry writes:
    {A tiny minority is speaking out and organizing in response to Israel’s crimes against humanity, such as: the siege of Gaza; aggression against Palestine, Syria and Lebanon; and pressure on the U.S. to launch a contrived, pre-meditated attack on Iran, much like the one against Iraq.}

    He even gives an example of a Zionist Jew who has joined the people who are against the Killing of Palestinians by the apartheid state of Israel, but Margaret Wente and Kenny are strong supporters of genocide in Ghaza , with the excuse of Israel has a right to defend herself from the ‘savages’. Mr. Elmasry continues:

    {Despite this trend among Zionist Jews, though, some Canadians are working so hard to excuse Israeli terrorism that they are more Zionist than the Zionists! The “More Zionist than the Zionists” group includes two prominent Canadians. The first is Jason Kenney, minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism in the Harper government. The second example is Margaret Wente, a columnist for The Globe and Mail. Wente in her Aug. 13 column “How Israel became South Africa” Wente insults the United Church of Canada for its decision to boycott Israeli universities, and offers up apologetics for Israeli “democracy”}

    Margaret Wente is a Zionist propagandist who spreads misinformation to protect the interest of the racists and neocons. She is in the business of fishy ‘Journalism’ in many areas where her interest is intertwined with the interest of the war mongers, the Zionist neocons. She spreads misinformation against Iran. She receives her information from an Iranian ‘left’, a member of the Workers-Communist party of Iran, MARYAM NAMAZIE, A ZIONIST AGENT, who happens to be a spokesperson for EX-MUSLIM ,branch of Britain, where is part of the ISLAMOPHOBIA INDUSTRY supported by members like Ibn Warraq, a secularist of Pakistani origin who founded the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society (ISIS). He is one of the fools who are working closely with Zionist warmongers in support of the PHONY ‘WAR ON TERROR’ against Muslims in the world.

    Maryam Namazie not only works with Ibn Warraq but also with Ayan Hershi Ali, Manji and other Zionist war mongers such as BERNARD HENRI LEVY. Margaret Wente in her August 12, column “It’s a crime to be a woman in Iran” writes:
    “As Ms. Namazie puts it: “It’s a crime to be a woman in Iran.”

    She like other Zionist propagandists spreads lies about Sakineh Ashtiyani who was on trial for masterminding her husband’s death to be with her lover, who also was present at the time of crime, according to the News. Her trial turned into a campaign by the zionist agents, like Maryam Namazi publicized by zionist neocons like Wente through their columns to fool both Americans and Canadians against Iran, to divert attention from the killing of Muslims on the daily basis in the occupied lands by the US forces and Western occupiers including CANADA and in Palestine by the Israelis. She receives her information from Maryam Namazie, a Zionist agent and a liar who is part of the neocon warmongers. These Iranian ‘leftists’ believe the ‘secularist’ apartheid state of Israel should be supported against Muslim ‘savages’. The People of the region and especially Iranians, who know Namazie and her associates like HARRY’S PLACE, reject Namazie and her phony ‘worker communist party of Iran as stooges of the ZIONISM/IMPERIAISLM.

    Please remember these names and expose them when you get the chance. These Zionist war mongers have many platforms and unlimited financial resources to fool people into party of war where are active on behalf of Zionism and imperialism. Don’t sell yourself cheap like Maryam Namazie and her associates do.

    Harry’s Place is a British blog founded in November 2002 by ‘Harry Hatchet’ to support the invasion of Iraq that was then in the offing. Harry’s Place has a strong pro-Israel orientation and its bloggers were later among the founders of the Euston Manifesto network, a key centre of the ‘pro war left’.[4] Its activities include mainly attacks on critics of Israel, with a special focus on the left and mainstream Muslims organizations.
    ‘Democracy Promotion’ in Iran

    On 5 August 2009 David Toube posted photos and videos of himself wearing a T-Shirt which reads ‘I’m blogging for Iranian democracy’ with a link to Harry’s Place underneath.] The website has been aggressively promoting Iran Solidarity, a new organization set up by Maryam Namazie of the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, with support from an assortment of New Atheist luminaries, neocons, and some British and international liberal voices.
    Relying exclusively on Israel lobby’s regime-change brigade (Kenneth Pollack, Patrick Clawson, Michael Rubin), Michael Ezra of HP tried to cast doubt on the legacy of Mohammad Mossadegh — the popular Iranian prime minister overthrown in the 1953 CIA coup — questioning his democratic credentials and the causal links between the coup and the Islamic revolution of 1979.
    http://www.powerbase.info/index.php?title=Harry's_Place

    Please remember these names and expose them when you get the chance. These Zionist war mongers have many platforms and unlimited financial resources to fool people and bring them on board on behalf of Zionism and imperialism. Don’t sell yourself cheap like Maryam Namazie and her associates do.