Lousy Disinformation

Norwegian Multinationals Threaten Existence of Wild Salmon

Halfway up the east coast of Vancouver Island, in the unceded territory where Coast Salish and Kwakwaka’wakw nations met, lies Campbell River, a small town that bills itself the salmon capital of the world.

The salmon capital of the world even hosts salmon farming. I write “even” because salmon farms are implicated in the collapse of wild salmon populations around the world.

One bane to salmon is the parasitic copepod called a sea louse. Sea lice attach themselves to the salmon and feed off their host. The sea lice are known to proliferate on farmed salmon in their static enclosures. For smolts (juvenile wild salmon) that swim by, an infestation of sea lice can be deadly.

Biologist Alexandra Morton and her team recently produced a video documenting the threat of sea lice in salmon farming operations. Morton warns that the threat may be spreading, and the sea lice may be developing resistance to the only known effective chemical treatment.

Just as Rachel Carson was pilloried by the chemical industry and corporate media for her clarion call in the environmental opus Silent Spring, Morton and other wild salmon advocates find themselves attacked by the salmon-farming corporations and the corporate media that shares their interests. A local newspaper, the Campbell River Mirror, also challenges Morton’s concern over the threat posed to wild salmon by salmon farms. ((Paul Rudan, “Walcan responds to sea lice allegations,” Campbell River Mirror, 4 March 2010. Mirror video also viewable.))

Morton provided videographed evidence that filtration did not prevent sea lice from emerging from salmon farm effluent.

At the top of the Mirror article is a video showing processing of salmon and mussels and then showing a 500-micron filter. The video does not deny a louse can come through the filter. An unidentified man says, “If by chance a louse is in there, it’s coming out through this screen.”

Then he shows a translucent container of water and offers a contradiction: “Things don’t get through the micron screen.”

The Mirror article does not present a link to Morton’s video.

Disinformation is easily revealed by simple analysis.

Mirror: Ray Payne of Walcan Seafood pulls out today’s sampling of sea lice from farmed Atlantic salmon and holds the jar up to the light.

A few dead lice barely cover the bottom of the small jar which were taken from a random pick of 100 fish which came in from a [Norwegian multinational] Grieg Seafood Farm located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. And during January and February, the average they found was 0.5-0.7 lice per salmon.

Analysis: Was not the Morton sample random? It is unknown when and where the sample was taken by Walcan. One would assume from water that passed through the 500-micron screen, which would refute the concluding assertion on the video:  “Things don’t get through the micron screen.”

Also, was the Walcan sample after treatment with the pesticide Slice? That should make a difference – at least until until a critical mass of sea lice become Slice resistant.

Mirror: “The impression the world has (of farmed salmon) is it’s wall-to-wall sea lice,” says Payne, Walcan’s production manager. “For perspective, when we get (wild) pink salmon in here, this jar would be filled with sea lice.”

Analysis: The video by Morton’s team depicted the side of a packer covered in sea lice.

As for pink salmon, they are untreated with Slice, and when the juveniles are near the salmon farms, they are exposed to the sea lice from salmon farms. One study stated, “We found that 90% of juvenile pink and chum salmon sampled near salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago were infected with more than 1.6 lice·(g host mass)–1, a proposed lethal limit when the lice reach mobile stages. Sea lice abundance was near zero in all areas without salmon farms.” ((Alexandra Morton, Richard Routledge, Corey Peet, and Aleria Ladwig, “Sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) infection rates on juvenile pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) and chum (Oncorhynchus keta) salmon in the nearshore marine environment of British Columbia, Canada,” Canadian Journal of Fish and Aquatic Sciences, (2004) 61(2): 147–157.)) Sea lice would presumably prefer the smolts to the farmed salmon poisoned with the Slice.

Mirror: But the company was stunned last month when a video was released by Alexandra Morton, a well-known opponent of open net-pen fish farms, showing Walcan’s effluent outflow in Discovery Passage. [italics added]

Analysis: There is an acknowledgment that the effluent from Walcan was being dumped in Discovery Passage. There is also a qualified description of Morton. Her biologist credentials are unmentioned. She is not described as an opponent of fish farms; she is described as an “opponent of open-pen fish farms.” That is a crucial difference that will be explained below.

Mirror: The video shows a dark-coloured effluent and some particulate coming from the outfall pipe, located in about 90 feet of water. The narrator describes it as “blood and fish guts,” and what alarmed Walcan was the allegation that live sea lice were emerging from the outfall with the effluent.

Analysis: The Mirror and Walcan do not dispute that it is “blood and fish guts,” so tacit acceptance is inferred. Neither is the presence of sea lice disputed. Walcan, as reported by the Mirror, is “alarmed” at the “allegation” — but Walcan is not denying the allegation.

Mirror: As well, Morton speculates that sea lice on Grieg’s farms in the Esperanza Inlet [on the west coast of Vancouver Island] are becoming resistant to SLICE, the only drug allowed in B.C. waters to treat naturally-occurring sea lice on farmed salmon. As a result, she believes eggs from the drug-resistant sea lice could hatch and proliferate on the east side of the Vancouver Island.

Analysis: No, Morton does not speculate. She reports. She says she “heard about” an outbreak of sea lice in Esperanza Inlet. Data indicated high levels of sea lice — 12 per fish — in September 2009, a decrease in October after Slice treatment, and then a quick rise again in November, although Slice treatments sea lice numbers are usually very low for months.

Subsequently, Morton received the below graph, which she describes at her blog, on 7 March, as “revealing extremely high sea lice levels on the Norwegian Grieg farm we visited in the video, followed by a brief decline after drug treatment (to levels still above the provincial limit) and then rapid rise again immediately. This graph strongly suggests drug-resistance.”

Sea lice on farmed salmon

Morton went and followed up. She and her team observed the sea lice; they recorded the sea lice; they performed an assay of the water, and they found many sea lice. Morton confirmed scientifically what she had heard. The Mirror article distorts the situation.

She does ask an important question about how such an outbreak could occur. Then she did what any scientist would do: form a hypothesis.

It is important to know what Slice is. Slice is emamectin benzoate – a semi-synthetic insecticide. It is also a marine pollutant. Don Staniford in A Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming quoted from a safety data sheet about Slice:  “The pesticide is toxic to birds, fish, mammals and aquatic invertebrates. Do not apply directly to water or to areas where surface water is present, or to intertidal areas below the high water mark.” ((Don Staniford, “Silent Spring of the Sea,” in A Stain Upon the Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming (Harbour Publishing, 2004): 182. See review.))

Contrary to this warning, Slice, which is toxic to salmon and other creatures, is being used in salmon farms.

Staniford writes that Slice is used now because sea lice became resistant to other chemicals such as dichloros, azamethiphos, and cypermethrin. ((Ibid, 183.))

Slice builds up in the seabed, and it also contaminates shellfish. Staniford cites one study that indicated the presence of Slice in mussels (the shellfish seen in the Mirror‘s video of the Walcan operation) up to 100 meters from a salmon farm. ((Ibid,185.))

The concern about sea lice developing resistance to Slice is shared within the scientific community. ((Sandra Bravoa, Sigmund Sevatdalb, and Tor E. Horsberg, “Sensitivity assessment of Caligus rogercresseyi to emamectin benzoate in Chile,” Aquaculture, (30 September 2008), 282(1-4): 7-12; Fiona Lees, Mark Baillie, George Gettinby, and Crawford W. Revie, “The Efficacy of Emamectin Benzoate against Infestations of Lepeophtheirus salmonis on Farmed Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar L) in Scotland, 2002–2006,” PLoS ONE (2008), 3(2): e1549; Jillian D. Westcott, K. Larry Hammell, and John F. Burka, “Sea lice treatments, management practices and sea lice sampling methods on Atlantic salmon farms in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada,” Aquaculture Research, (25 June 2004), 35(8): 784-792.))

So Morton has good grounds when she says in her video: “If the story [about a resistant sea lice infestation] is true, there’s a huge problem. I mean Grieg Seafood is having exactly this problem in Norway today. And if we’ve got it here today, we’re in trouble.”

Consider also the numerous denials by advocates of salmon farming that have been proven false:

  • farmed salmon would never escape their pens
  • farmed salmon would never be able to feed in the wild
  • farmed salmon would never enter spawning streams
  • farmed salmon would never spawn
  • sea lice would never spread from farmed salmon to wild salmon

Given all these false denials by the salmon-farming industry, given that the industry has hired the most odious of spin doctors for their cause, ((See Kim Petersen, “Farmageddon and the Spin-doctors,” Dissident Voice, 29 March 2009.)) who should the public believe?

Where lie the vested interests? For the salmon farmers, the interest is profit – i.e., money. For Morton and wild salmon advocates, the interest is the salmon, ecosystem, and the environment — not pecuniary self-gain.

Mirror: However, it’s a theory [of Morton] based largely on anecdotal stories and very little science. Dr. Sonja Saksida, an aquaculture researcher with the Campbell River-based B.C. Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences, doubts that sea lice could survive the journey, processing and then somehow make it through a screened filter.

Analysis: Now the Mirror refers to speculation as theory. What Morton did in the video was science: observation, sample collection, recording, …

Mirror: Another allegation in Morton’s video is there is no 500-micron screen at the end of the Walcan outfall. But it’s a blatantly false accusation, says Walcan president and co-owner Bill Pirie.

Analysis: This is another piece of subtle disinformation. Nowhere in Morton’s video does she state there is “no 500-micron screen.” She said that there was “no sign of the 500-micron screen.” This is vastly different than saying that there was “no 500-micron screen.”

If, indeed, there was a properly functioning 500-micron screen, then there should not have been the effusive particulate discharge viewable in the video and in the sample collected. Therefore, Morton is absolutely correct in her statement that there was “no sign of the 500-micron screen,” and the Mirror might be accused of “blatantly false” reporting.

Mirror: “They made this clandestine dive out here…if they had only asked us, we would have showed them,” he explains Wednesday during a tour of the Walcan operation.

Analysis: This is somewhat preposterous. Would a fence respond to a police request to inspect his premises by leaving stolen goods on the premises? There is nothing like giving advance warning so that a possibly rogue corporation can remove any evidence of poor/illegal operations.

As for “clandestine dive,” it was performed in broad daylight and with open-circulation scuba; this, as any diver knows, is not clandestine.

Mirror: It’s unlikely, says Payne, that sea lice or fish guts could ever make it through as he reaches into the bottom of the drum and pulls out a handful of organic waste, tiny stones, sand and other sea gunk.

Analysis: Then how does Payne explain what occurred on video? Obviously blood, guts, and scales, and sea lice were being emitted by the outfall pipe, revealed and corroborated by the collected sample. Now the Mirror asks the reader to suspend critical analysis and believe the words of a person over the documented evidence.

Mirror: “You’d be hard-pressed to find pathogenic bacteria in there,” says Murphy, who displays a container of effluent which kind of looks like pink grapefruit juice. “We’re regularly at half or less than half all the time of what we’re permitted.”

Analysis: A sleight of hand has been performed here. Attention has been shifted away from sea lice to pathogenic bacteria. Morton’s team reports the presence of a sea lice – not a pathogenic bacteria – outbreak. Murphy does not deny the presence of sea lice. He does not even deny the presence of pathogenic bacteria. He actually affirms it. He states it would be difficult to find such microscopic bacteria.

Mirror: In fact, says Pirie, Walcan is diligent in keeping effluent levels well-under minimum guidelines allowed by the Ministry of the Environment and they will continue do even more. In the next two months, the company will install a newly-developed ultraviolet system to treat all effluent, and the UV rays may also be useful to kill any sea lice eggs along with harmful bacteria.

Analysis: Sounds awfully like speculation by Walcan. The bias in the Mirror article is laid bare here. The UV rays may kill sea lice eggs and harmful bacteria. There is no scientific evidence presented to back this claim.

Mirror: In addition, Walcan hires a third-party environmental company to sample and test effluent, including liquid coming from the outfall.

Analysis: And who does the third party report to? The public? It is only last week that the BC privacy commissioner ruled that the province must make public information collected on the health of farmed salmon. ((Canwest News Service, “Fish farm information must be public says B.C. Privacy Commissioner,” Canada.com, 5 March 2010.))

Mirror: “We’re left to do the real science and we’re going to do it,” says Pirie. “We’re trying to be as proactive as we can. No industry is perfect, but we’re installing new levels of controls in order to mitigate the risks.”

Analysis: Proactive? Wouldn’t a proactive industry have first affirmed the safety of their operations and the safety of the chemicals used before full scale start-up? The salmon farmers are doing this post hoc. There is nothing proactive about it.

It sounds like the shark guarding the salmon house. By insinuation, “real science” is done by the corporate salmon farmers. The science done by Morton, a trained and published biologist, is, by inference, dismissed as unreal science.

Mirror: Valid or not, Morton’s allegations have obviously hit a nerve. In response, the B.C. Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences will begin tests this spring to determine if sea lice are becoming resistant to SLICE.

Analysis: Again, nothing proactive here. It is retroactive.

Mirror: And Pirie says Walcan welcomes innovation and scientific study in order to improve their operations.

“We have an important role. We’re a regional processor and there’s not a lot around,” he says. “We take our responsibilities seriously. We’ve never been challenged publicly and now our credibility is being challenged…we want people to know what we do here.”

Analysis: Regional processor? Walcan is supported by Grieg Seafood – a Norwegian multinational. The Norwegian multinational salmon-farming operations devastated Chile’s marine environment and economy. ((See Damien Gillis’s Farmed Salmon Exposed: The Global Reach of the Norwegian Salmon Farming Industry. Review.)) Indeed, Norway’s own marine ecosystem is imperiled.

Opponents of wild salmon advocates cannot dismiss them as anti-salmon farming because they are not. They are against salmon farming that imperils wild salmon, so they always put forward the solution: closed containment. While this would remove dangers to wild salmon, it would cut into the profit margin of salmon farmers.

As for the Campbell River Mirror, it serves the small town with a circulation of over 16,200. ((About Us, Campbell River Mirror.)) It is part of Black Press Ltd., a chain of  “suburban and urban newspapers provide readers with a superior blend of localized news coverage…” ((About Us, Black Press.))

Black Press is corporate media (relatively small fry corporate media, but nonetheless it is profit-oriented) beholden to the interests of its owners and advertisers. Corporations advertise in corporate media, wild salmon advocates are not a lucrative source of advertising dollar.

The resort to disinformation strongly suggests an agenda driven by a corporate media-salmon farming multinationals-government nexus.

Profit almost always drives the industry interest above the public interest, especially a disinformed and quiescent public. If wild salmon are driven to extinction, a market challenger to salmon farmers would be gone. The salmon farm multinationals would be poised to reap a financial windfall.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Read other articles by Kim.