Here we get to what appears to be intended as the “turning point” of the film, where the plucky protagonists decide to “do something about it.”
However, like the protagonist in the film “Memento,” the main characters in this documentary are deliberately deluding themselves into believing something that isn’t true, and trying to get other people to believe it too.
The narrative here is that “there must be something out there killing wild salmon, it must be coming from salmon farms, and anyone who says otherwise must be covering it up.”
To support this narrative the film has to rely on conspiracy theories that get wilder and wilder. At first the filmmakers just believed it was salmon farmers covering up the “truth.” Then it was salmon farmers and DFO. Now it’s salmon farmers, DFO and CFIA, the agency responsible for ensuring Canada’s food supply is safe. Just like in “Memento,” the conspiracy has to grow to support what he so desperately wants to believe.
There are several heavy topics in this section of the film, and to the film’s credit, the first piece draws attention to an uncomfortable issue for salmon farmers that should be resolved.
Alexandra Morton and some of her followers go to grocery stores to buy the worst fish they can find. And they succeed. The film parades a procession of deformed fish, mutants, poor performers and fish with open sores. They are repulsive to look at and Anissa Reed remarks, “You just gotta laugh… this is actually a food source?”
I’m going to say something here that will probably upset some people in the salmon farming, processing, wholesale and retail businesses.
It’s shameful that these fish were ever allowed to make it to market.
It’s shameful that someone can go into a grocery store seafood counter, ask for a whole fish and get one of these placed in her shopping basket. This should never have happened.
These are utility-grade fish, which make up a small percentage of salmon farmers’ total harvest. However, someone confronted with these wretched fish in a grocery store display case isn’t going to know that. It’s quite likely a wholesaler bought these utility fish from a farm, and then turned around and sold them as a higher grade to make a bigger profit. This is not cool.
But it’s not the norm, however the film portrays it.
The reality is, the vast majority of fish grown and sold by BC salmon farmers are premium grade and are great-looking fish. Utility fish, like the ones shown in the film, do exist but are intended only for secondary processing, i.e. cutting off the good fillet portions, smoking them or making other value-added products.
Because there’s nothing wrong with the meat on these fish. It’s all safe for human consumption, and has met all health and safety standards. These fish are not sick or diseased, they are just ugly to look at.
Again, let me stress this point: salmon farmers do not sell sick fish. Whatever they may look like, these fish were not sick and are perfectly safe for human consumption.
But I understand why no one would want to eat something that looks like that. But remember, deformities in nature are a natural occurrence. In the wild, deformed animals tend to get picked off by predators. But farming changes that dynamic by keeping all animals safe and that’s not a bad thing. It is a more efficient use of our limited food resources.
And before you turn your nose up at farmed salmon because of this, remember that delicious free-range organic chicken you had for dinner last night might have come from a deformed bird for all you know. But it was safe, nutritious and delicious, no matter what the bird may have looked like.
Morton and friends use their grocery store experience to take another whack at the ISA pinata of lies. They claim to have received more “positive” results, but offer no proof.
These are again likely preliminary “positive” results which were proven in follow-up tests to be negative, just like the ones they mention in the beginning of the film.
If they had actually got positive results in follow-up tests, you can bet every dollar you have that the news would have been trumpeted across the world and that you would be able to go on the CFIA and OIE websites and see the results listed there.
But they aren’t.
That’s because again, what we have here is Morton and friends trying to trick people into believing that preliminary screening test results are definitive. They are not. Again, would you go make out your will if your doctor said you had some rare fatal disease based on one blood test? Or would you go for follow-up testing?
The film goes on to claim that grocery store fish test positive for “European” viruses, i.e. viruses which are known to occur in fish in Europe but not on the Pacific Coast of Canada (like ISA). They claim to have found Salmon Alphavirus (but offer no proof for this claim).
The film repeats misinformation about this virus which Morton posted on her blog months ago. It was corrected by the BC Salmon Farmers Association who state that scientists have tested BC farmed salmon for this virus and have never found it; also, farmed salmon have never exhibited signs of illness associated with this virus.
The film also claims to have discovered PRV, Piscine Reovirus (again, no proof is offered).
Inaccurate claims about this virus were dealt with months ago by salmon farmers but the film continues to repeat them.
In this case, the film offers the counterpoint of Dr. Gary Marty (previously presented in a negative light), who explains that he found PRV in both healthy and sick fish, did follow-up testing and didn’t consider the virus to be a threat.
Morton responds with this.
“…an incredibly careless attitude towards wild fish. It’s a huge threat.”
Really? Marty’s careful scientific approach is a careless attitude? Because what he described was genuine concern and a proactive plan to better understand the status and effect of this virus on both farmed and wild fish in British Columbia – years before Morton decided she was suddenly a fish disease and virus expert. Where Dr. Marty questioned, assessed, analyzed and critiqued, Morton only makes claims.
She goes on to pass a moral judgment, a statement based on feelings, not science.
“We know a lot about salmon, we know a lot about disease and we know this is wrong.”
Actually, even after decades of research, we still don’t know a whole lot about disease or about salmon. Experts at the Cohen Commission talked about how little we know about what happens once salmon move into the North Pacific, what the effect of warming ocean temperatures are, and what kind of natural diseases they could be battling. This is why both DFO and CFIA have undertaken extensive surveillance programs on BC salmon, and why organizations like BC Genome are leading research projects that look at a wide range of viruses and pathogens to determine what’s out there, how long it has been there and what effect it may be having.
Deformities in fish are gross but natural, but should have never been sold in a grocery store. Still, they are safe to eat and salmon farmers sell no sick fish. ISA virus was NOT found. There’s no proof presented for Salmon Alphavirus or Piscine Reovirus, which are not necessarily “European” viruses. In the case of PRV, there appears to be no threat associated with it in BC.