Chum salmon jumping

The BC Salmon Farmers Association new ‘independent’ sea lice report 

The opinions that follow belong to the people expressing them and are not necessarily shared by Cortes Radio, its board, staff, producers or listeners.

The BC Salmon Farmers Association has just released what they claim is an independent study of ‘Sea lice in the Discovery Islands.’ 

Their study is filled with terms like – “independent data,” “independently collected data,” “independent professional biological consultants,” “independently collected and analyzed scientific data,” “independent monitoring,” “independent sampling,” and “independent biologists” – but does not say who actually did the research. 

Photo credit: screenshot of Brian Kingzett taken during the interview

When I asked the BC Salmon Farmers Association, they emailed back ‘Mainstream Consulting.’ 

There are links to Mainstream Biological Consulting’s monitoring reports in the study’s footnotes, and under two graphs, which lead to documents “Prepared for MOWI Canada West, Cermaq Canada, and Grieg Seafood BC Ltd. “

These are the three largest salmon farming companies in British Columbia.

So I told Brian Kingzett, Director of Science and Policy for the BC Salmon Farmer’s Association, “When I hear the word ‘independent,’ I don’t think of someone who’s hired by you, but of somebody who’s totally independent.”

To which he replied,” I would argue that being independent also means not having an agenda.”

Kingzett’s name is the only one on the front cover of the BC Salmon Farmers report, as the contact person. 

He explained there are two components to the work flow. Mainstream Biological Consulting collected the raw data.

“The only thing I’ve done, in this, is I’ve taken the datasets for five years that have been produced on an annual basis. And I have summarized them together. So basically, that’s all I’ve done. That’s my role in this whole thing. So the analysis of the existing data is mine, and the literature review is mine,” said Kingzett. 

In the course of our conversation, Kingzett made a number of references to the Salmon Coast Field Station in the Broughton Archipelago.

So I reached out to two of the station’s directors, both of which are scientists with numerous papers published in peer reviewed publications.

Sean Godwin said, “It’s pretty obvious that it’s not independent at all. Mainstream Biological Consulting is hired by the salmon farming industry itself every year, they perform this monitoring program with the data going directly to industry. The company [ ie Mainstream] and the people running it depend on this work from industry.”

The BC Salmon Farmers Association report mentions an anti-salmon farming activist posting the image you see above on her facebook page.

“The following day [actually four days later, on May 31], Cortes Currents quoted that “sea lice numbers had plummeted 95% in the Discovery Islands.” 

Kingzett did not mention that the ‘anti-salmon farming activist’ is independent biologist Alexandra Morton. (He cut the excerpt off at the point where one normally states who is being quoted.) Aside from the footnotes, where her name appears as one of the authors in three separate research papers, Kingzett does not mention Alexandra Morton at all.

Shortly after the conclusion of our hour-long-interview, I realized that Kingzett had once again managed to talk about Morton’s research without actually using her name. 

In the Cortes Currents article Kingzett cites, there was also a chart showing the results of Morton’s preliminary survey of sea lice in the Discovery Islands.

“That data was never released that we can find, we’ve actually requested that data,” he said. 

Kingzett added that when industry looked at their data for the Discovery Islands, the sea lice numbers at all these sites have been consistently low and have not changed. 

He showed Cortes Currents a chart from the Fisheries and Oceans website, which shows the average number of lice per fish rarely exceeds three and this has not occurred for three consecutive months since late 2016/ early 2017.

“We actually see the same thing in the recent data report that came out of the Salmon Coast Field Station in the Broughtons as well,” said Kingzett.

Average sea lice abundance in the Discovery Islands – courtesy Fisheries and Oceans Canada using industry numbers.

This is an overview of industry statistics for all the salmon farms in the Discovery Islands.

The data for individual farms is different. For example, the Shaw Point farm went over the 3 lice limit every month from January to August in 2020, and reached a high of 20.94 lice in the count taken on March 24, 2020. This farm’s high count during July, the month Morton reported 7 lice per fish in the Discovery Islands, was 5.05. However the nearby Okisollo fish farm’s count was 8.25.

(Note in July 2020, when Morton reported 7 lice per fish in the Discovery Islands, the Okisollo count was 8.25) Click here to access data on the Government of Canada website The fish farm was gone, but there was a beach seine sea lice count in this area in 2021 (below)
(Note than in July, when Morton reported 7 lice per fish, the high at Shaw Point was 5.05)
Click here to access data on the Government of Canada website
(Note than in July there was less than 1 louse per fish, this is roughly a 78% decrease from when Morton did her tests in the Discovery Island the previous July.) Click here to access data on the Government of Canada website

Godwin pointed out that the underlying data of the BCSFA report, for testing wild salmon, is on the salmon farms website and corroborates Morton’s data. 

The approximate locations of the 29 beach seine sea lice monitoring sites in the Discovery Islands.” (Note pre-exposure sites on Marina Island as well as between Read and Cortes Islands in the map’s bottom left corner) – Fig 7 in Sea Lice in the Discovery Islands
Note that Mainstream consulting’s 2020 numbers for the prevalence of sea lice on Chum tested at these beach seine sites are both below the 3 lice per point limit allowed on a salmon farm, but there is no ‘limit’ for wild salmon. – graph by Roy L Hales

“What they found is that in 2020 on chum salmon, at the same sites that Alexander Morton sampled, 71% and 79% of the fish have lice on them. And in 2021: 7% and 10% of the fish. So it’s about a 90% decrease. So it’s pretty much the same story, just carved up in different ways for different agendas.”

He also had a response when Kingzett suggested the number of sea lice increased in the Broughton Archipelago after salmon farms were pulled out.  

“It’s just one year; there are still farms. It’s also a warm year with increased lice numbers as well. There are still farms with uncontrolled sea lice outbreaks that had to do a lot of treatments this year to get their last numbers down. And that was right at the start of the salmon migration.”

The percentage of fish with at least one sea louse (prevalence) and number of lice per fish in the Broughton Archipelago – courtesy Sea lice on juvenile wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago, British Columbia (2021 Report)

Kingzett says the Salmon Farmers Association did ‘an informal peer review’ of their report, asking ‘a bunch of people’ for their responses.

Godwin said,”The sampling design would be fine if they analyzed the data properly, but they didn’t, and that’s why this analysis would never get published as a peer reviewed paper.”

Data for the Okisolo Channel and Owen Bay from the beach seine testing 2021 report, which Godwin pointed out is about 90% less than what Mainstream reported in 2020. – graph by Roy L Hales

For example: industry data shows a similar drop in the Okisollo Channel’s sea lice to what Morton reported, “but this is washed away by averaging across other sites, further away from the farms.”

Amy Kamarainen, Executive Director of the Salmon Coast Field Station, questions the way the data was collected, “They’re sampling with beach seines and not necessarily catching the fish that have actually come through the Discovery Islands. You can tell that from some aspects of the size of the fish.”

Godwin explained, “You’d expect those fish in the post exposure region to be bigger than the ones in the pre-exposure region, but on average they’re smaller. So a lot of those fish will be from local stocks, not Fraser River fish that have migrated through the Discovery Islands.”

Kingzett claims that 1,500 people are losing their jobs because the DFO made a decision based on social license, “that was what the minister said.” 

In the press release in which she announced her decision, the Minister said, “These facilities are some of the oldest sites on the West Coast and are located on the traditional territory of the Homalco, Klahoose, K’ómoks, Kwaikah, Tla’amin, We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations. Consultations with the seven First Nations in the Discovery Islands area provided important guidance to the Minister and heavily informed the decision. This approach also aligns with the Province of British Columbia’s land tenure commitment that all aquaculture licenses as of June 2022 require consent from local First Nations.”

Godwin said, “There isn’t just one thing that is imperilling wild salmon. It is death by a thousand cuts and some things we can’t change. We can’t really change habitat loss due to development and cities. We can’t change climate change. But there are some things that we can change and salmon aquaculture is one of them.”

Top photo credit: Chum salmon leaping – photo by K. Mueller, USFWS via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

The web version of this article was posted on November 28 and further materials added on November 29th and 30th.

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