Anyone simply looking for evidence that salmon farms could be infecting wild salmon will find enough five minutes into Twyla Roscovich’s documentary “Salmon Confidential Documentary.” The evidence is laid so convincingly that one is tempted to turn the video off. That would be a mistake. Salmon Confidential Documentary follows biologist Alexandra Morton, as she seeks the cause of the massive salmon die-offs before they can spawn. As she gets closer to the answer, the question becomes why is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans not doing something about it?
“This is the problem,” Morton said, pointing to a fish farm. “These farms are just pouring out disease and pathogens and our wild fish are swimming through it.”
That was just before she brought out the evidence that I found conclusive:
- A chart that show the abrupt crash of salmon yields after fish farms were introduced in the 1990’s
- A map of the major fish runs up the Discovery passage, with fish farm locations plotted along the route
- Another map shows that the only salmon stock that is not in decline do not pass by these farms.
When Dr Kristi Miller, head of Molecular Genetics at the DFO’s Pacific Biological Station, asked to test the salmon penned up in a fish farm, she was ordered not to. The opportunity subsequently arose when a fish farmer sought her advice as to why his fish were sick. She discovered they has ISA, the most lethal known salmon disease.
In January 2011 she published a paper called “Genomic Signatures Predict Migration and Spawning Failure in Wild Canadian Salmon” in the journal Science.
Dr Miller was allegedly not allowed to speak to reporters after that.
“I asked for interview time to be set up, never heard back,” said Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail. “So go back to the DFO and ask what is going on and I was met with this wall of silence. There is no question that the Federal Government, with orders from Ottawa, muzzled her and kept her from speaking about a science paper which had been published. It’s pretty disturbing, I think, when the Government starts to mess around with science to try and shape the picture and try to control science. Muzzling scientists is not something that should be happening in a great democracy. ”
Dr Miller was one of the four scientists asked to report their labs findings to the Cohen Commission in 2012. Are Nylund, Head of the Fish Diseases at the University of Bergen in Norway and the foremost authority on ISA in the World, Frank Kibenge, of the World Organization for Animal Health and Dr Miller all testified they found ISA in fish from the Fraser River. The fourth lab, the DFO’s Reference lab in Moncton, was sent degraded samples from a different river. The reported a weak positive result, which they said was inconclusive.
Stephen Stephens, of the DFO, dismissed the first three labs evidence saying, “The results have to be confirmed through our National Reference Laboratory and my understanding is to this date, none of those tests have been confirmed through our National Reference Laboratory.”
Kim Klotins, of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, testified “Lets say we do find ISA in BC and markets are closed, then there will be no trade.”
That was when Morton realized what they were up against. If the DFO acknowledged that BC salmon have ISA they will have to shut down the province’s salmon industry.
Dr Larry Dill, a biology professor from Simon Fraser University, said the DFO “are in a serous conflict of interest. By their mandate they are supposed to protect wild fish; By their political master, they are supposed to support the development of an aquaculture industry.”
Though the Cohen Commission concluded that Climate Change was stressing the fish, it added that “salmon farms along the sockeye migration route have the potential to introduce exotic diseases and to exacerbate endemic diseases that could have a negative impact on Fraser River sockeye.” It called for a freeze on fish farm expansion in the Discovery Islands, which straddle the migration route, and the removal of farms if the impacts are not addressed by 2020.
The Government allows fish farms to keep disease information confidential from both the public and scientists.
Dr Dill said the fact they do not allow testing is “is pretty suggestive to me. they are afraid of what will be found. If they were not concerned, as they claim to be, they would open up there farms and say come in and test….”
Morton said if she would like to walk into a fish farm and have the sickest looking salmon tested, but that is not permitted. Nor is she allowed to ask Dr Miller to test sick fish that are found in the wild. So Morton collects samples from diseased fish and has them flown to Dr Nylund’s lab in Norway.
As her investigations continued, Morton discovered two more lethal virus’ in BC salmon. As she was passing a fish farm in March 2013, she observed an eagle take one of the salmon. Morton was able to retrieve the fish and tests showed it had piscine reovirus (PRV).
“PRV is an emerging and exotic virus, red-flagged by scientists in the U.S. and Norway as a pathogen that must be contained because it spreads so easily” said Alexandra Morton. “The Minister of Fisheries should have responded to the discovery of this virus in BC with measures to protect wild salmon, but instead he has given this Norwegian company permission to expose BC’s wild salmon to an exotic virus with a nasty reputation.”
Morton also had some of the salmon being sold in a supermarket tested and found most of them were infected with PVR.
Dr Gary Marty, BC Fish Health Vet, tested 625 fish for PVR. The fact that sick and healthy looking salmon both tested positive led him to conclude that, “I could not provide any interpretation for what this meant. I decided it was probably not a major concern for our fish.”
Morton does not know if BC salmon are carrying diseases into Washington, or down the coast to California.
On May 8, 2013, Ecojustice, acting on Morton’s behalf, launched a lawsuit seeking a Federal Court order declaring that the transfer of diseased farmed Atlantic salmon into waters shared with wild fish is unlawful.
“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is standing by, while private companies put fish carrying disease agents into the ocean,” said Margot Venton, an Ecojustice staff lawyer. “We think this is unlawful. It’s definitely a serious abdication of DFO’s mandate to protect the fish and the marine environment.”
Follow this link to learn more about the lawsuit http://salmonconfidential.ca/lawsuit/
The story took yet another bizarre twist last week, when it was revealed that the Canadian Government has been quietly removing a moratorium on the expansion of BC’s fish farming sector that has been in force since before the Cohen Commission. DFO spokeswoman Melanie Carkner disclosed they are looking to expand nine existing licenses and add two new ones.