Are DFO scientists too dependent on funding from industry?

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) unleashed a storm of protests, when they announced that salmon farms pose a minimal risk to migrating wild salmon. One of the most telling criticisms came through an interview that the Globe and Mail had with Kristi Miller-Saunders, head of the department’s molecular genetics laboratory at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. Dr. Miller-Saunders is troubled about the assessments and the fact department scientists are depend on funding from industry.

Industry has a big lobby

“ … Putting scientists in the precarious position of being told that they need to go to industry to fund research means they are only asking the research questions that the industry agrees with,” she said.

Dr. Brian Riddell, a former senior DFO scientist and now top science adviser to the Pacific Salmon Foundation, added that she is not alone in this opinion.

Industry provides a small pot of money

Jay Parsons, director of Aquaculture, Biotechnology and Aquatic Animal Health at DFO, disagreed, “We do have a small pot of money that industry provides to our researchers … but it is the DFO researchers that independently undertake the research and that research is public and it is published and it is made available to the scientific community.”

The 2012 study of Chinook salmon

Dr MIller-Saunders believes that her 2012 study of chinook salmon suffering jaundice and anemia was not published because of disputes with the corporate funder.

One of her co-authors, Sonja Saksida, insisted, that the funder “just wanted the proper interpretation of the data.”

Fish pathologist Gary Marty said it is common for publication to be delayed, when the authors disagree.

Shortcomings of the Discovery Islands assessments

Dr Miller-Saunders also had questions about the recent assessments of the negative impact salmon farms in the Discovery Islands were having on wild salmon. Too much attention was being put on migrating sockeye salmon, which were only in the area for three weeks. More attention should be given to chinook and coho salmon, which are in BC waters for a much longer period of time. Why was the spread of sea lice not considered? 

Dr Riddell also questions the DFO’s decision to not include a risk assessment on sea lice. This is a problem with open-net aquaculture everywhere.

One of his colleagues at the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Dr. Andrew Bateman, believes DFO didn’t consider sea lice because the problem is too widespread. It would be problematic for industry.

When Cortes Currents asked the DFO about sea lice, more than three weeks ago, they responded, “The completion of ten risk assessments was not a specific recommendation of the Cohen Commission.”

Union of BC Indian Chiefs

On October 21st, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) issued a press release echoing some of Dr Miller-Saunder’s concerns. 

“It is highly unconscionable for the DFO to depend on funding from the fish farm industry to conduct research, and for them to regulate this research in order to gain few profits at the expense of the survival of wild salmon,” said Chief Dalton Silver, UBCIC Fisheries Representative.“ 

To which Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the UBCIC, added, “The DFO can no longer afford to uphold their sanitized narrative of fish farm prosperity by controlling what is said about the risks to salmon and how these risks are interpreted.”

Top photo credit: Grieg Seafood operates a salmon farm in Clio Channel, Broughton Archipelago, British Columbia, Canada, in partnership with the Tlowitsis First Nation – by David Stanley via Flickr (CC BY SA< 2.0 License)

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