Dead fish in the parking lot

In this section of the film (around the 53-minute mark) we witness a folksy Alexandra Morton cutting samples up on the ground of a parking lot outside a grocery store.

Sampling in a parking lot grease stain while your dog lies nearby? Pretty sure this isn't how you get a good sample.

Sampling in a parking lot grease stain while your dog lies nearby? Pretty sure this isn’t how you get a good sample.

Apparently she and her people have been going into grocery stores that sell farmed salmon, purchasing the fish and then bringing them into a parking lot where they sit on the ground and cut the samples up and put them into containers to send for testing.

Stirling University in Scotland is one of the most respected international universities with an Institute of Aquaculture. They have clear procedures for how to collect samples for scientific testing, and how to pack those samples.

They don’t address concerns about cutting samples up on the pavement of a parking lot, likely because this would not occur to them that someone would think this is a responsible way to approach collection and preparation of samples for testing.

Virology Samples for Cell Culture Testing

  • Prior notification before sending samples since cell cultures required to be prepared in advance. Usually 2-3 days notice is sufficient.
  • Samples should only be taken from recently killed or freshly moribund fish.
  • For individual or pooled samples (excluding fry and fingerling fish pools) the total weight from all the organs should be around 1 – 2 g of tissue.
  • Samples should be taken as quickly as possible using clean scalpel blades between different batches or pools. They should be kept cool (2-8°C) and transported immediately to the Virology Laboratory (See packaging and transport guidelines).
  • The samples must not be frozen.
Uninsulated cardboard box, Sharpie "Keep Cool" sign, yep, we're doing SCIENCE!

Uninsulated cardboard box, Sharpie “Keep Cool” sign, yep, we’re doing SCIENCE!

Let’s see. Sampling in a parking lot. Sampling fish that have been handled by an unknown number of people since they were harvested. Sampling fish that have no internal organs to test. We’re gonna get some great results with these!

Immediately after assembling these samples Morton claims that three of the samples have tested positive for ISA. There are no other details provided – not the name of the laboratory, and no mention that the early “presumptive positives” were later proven to be inaccurate.

Morton makes no reference to the fact that all preliminary screening tests for ISA virus in BC were shown to be false positives in the essential follow-up tests. DFO’s lab has successfully identified ISA virus in salmon farms in Atlantic Canada so clearly if the virus is there, they have the capacity to find it. Thousands of high-quality samples of wild and farmed salmon in BC (samples which meet the criteria defined above) have all tested negative for the ISA virus.

The film then shifts to a long list of concerns about food – and how mothers especially “should buy local stuff – go look at it.” “We’re guinea pigs in a big experiment.” Oooh, it’s all very scary but short on facts.

Is there a real doctor in the house?

Morton makes a hilariously ridiculous and broad claim about doctors and nurses telling her that disease in farm animals is one of the biggest source of epidemics in humans.

Actually, diseases in other humans are the biggest sources of epidemics in humans.

She goes on to talk broadly about people dying of “bacterial” outbreaks: listeria, e.coli, hoof and mouth disease, mad cow disease.

It’s true that people can get diseases and bacterial infections from animals, and some deadly viruses have infected humans via livestock. The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic may have come from birds and pigs. But it spread because there was a World War going on at the time. The unprecedented, massive movements of soldiers and people during the war undoubtedly contributed to the severity of the pandemic.

In more recent times, the deadliest outbreaks have come from vegetables. In the last 40 years, nearly half of the food-borne illness outbreaks in the United States were caused by some kind of vegetable, fruit or nut. The worst food-borne illness outbreaks in North America, which killed dozens of people, were because of cantaloupes and spinach.

If Morton wants to make broad, scary claims about food safety, she should include this sort of contextual information.

Canteloupes have killed more people than mad cow disease

More deadly than mad cow disease.

Her throw-away comments also show that once again, Alexandra Morton does not know what she’s talking about when she tries to scare people with hoof-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease.

Foot-and-Mouth Disease (hoof-and-mouth) very rarely ever affects humans. It is not dangerous, unless you are a cow.

It is very different from Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, a common childhood illness. The animal disease and the human disease are completely unrelated.

As for mad cow disease, only three people in the United States have ever died in connection with it.

In 2011, 30 people in the United States died from eating bacteria-contaminated cantaloupe.

In today’s world of cities isolated from farmland, and big farms following strict food-safety policy, diseases from livestock are rare. Most food-borne illnesses we have to deal with are because of human error.

One more thing, which Morton conveniently ignores in her scary tale, is that fish are cold blooded animals. Humans are warm-blooded animals. Viruses have evolved very differently in cold-blooded and warm-blooded animals. You have more chance of dying from eating cantaloupes than you do from a fish virus suddenly mutating inside of you.

To see why this is dumb, let’s assume for a moment that the fish in the following pictures had the boogety-boo ISA virus particles in its flesh, the most virulent fish virus out there.

piece of salmon fillet

How likely is it that even one viral particle will survive this process and somehow make a quantum leap of evolution to suddenly affect human beings? That would be like dinosaurs evolving into birds in one generation.

More conspiracy theories

The film devolves into another conspiracy theory with a look at Bill 37 and the Animal Health Act, claiming they will make it a crime to report farm animal diseases. Vincent Gogolek from the provincial government states that the position of the industry and the government was almost identical –but he doesn’t say what part of the industry!

Morton leaves a perception that the salmon farming industry and government are in collusion about this. When we checked the BCSFA website though we found this update dated May 31, 2012:

Update: According to news this morning (May 31, 2012), the Bill has been pulled for further review. We leave this update here for clarification in future discussions.

There has been a significant amount of misinformation circulated about the proposed provincial Bill 37 and the potential impact it may have on reporting of animal health events in British Columbia.

Since many of these comments refer to salmon aquaculture, BC’s salmon farmers would like to set the record straight. Since December 2010, BC’s aquaculture industry has been under the regulatory control of the federal government. As such, sampling and auditing of fish health is carried out by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and federal staff. Some fish health findings are federally reportable through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. This proposed provincial regulation would not directly affect salmon farm reporting.

Let me make this clear: this Bill would have never affected salmon farm reporting. But it would affect chicken, beef, turkey, pig and other animal farmers. Morton did not contact them for comment.

The web posting from BCSFA goes on to say:

BC’s salmon farmers work hard to share information about fish health with the public over and above what is required by government. The most recent proactive communications regarding a finding of Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis (IHN) is an example of our farmers being upfront about challenges when they genuinely exist. Our farmers have shared information about findings — both confirmed and suspected — locations, actions and potential impacts each step of the way.

Our member companies understand the challenges with such open reporting about animal and farm health: providing significant amounts of information does create the risk that it will be misrepresented or used by those opposed to salmon farming to create undue fear. This is a threat we see regularly — and it is a significant challenge to overcome.

This sounds familiar – if you have watched this video in its entirety to this point you might well be concerned about this. Wonder if that has factored into industry’s decision about what information to provide?

However, we understand the public’s interest overall, and remain committed to sharing information and context to help alleviate concerns. Once again: fish health reporting will continue as it does today through the DFO and federal government offices.

More questions? Contact us at the BC Salmon Farmers Association and we’d be happy to help answer them.

Hmm, not really much there, is there? Salmon farmers are providing information and this Bill doesn’t apply to them.

In closing, here is a picture of what happens to things in your stomach.


13 Responses to “Dead fish in the parking lot”

  1. May 23, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    A shadow website intent on discrediting Alexandra Morton’s work, while maintaining your own anonymity, is rather cowardly. Do you not see the irony?

    What we know, is Alexandra Morton is educated (B.Sc.), numerously published and multiply awarded. This does not prove she is right; it does demonstrate credibility. Of you we know nothing. Please identify yourself in order to substantiate your own credibility. Otherwise this is a sham.

  2. 2 ClayoquotKid
    June 6, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    A sham?
    A nine year old girl could be posting links to correct Morton’s errors and misrepresentations and it wouldn’t change the veracity of the information provided in any way.
    The source doesn’t matter – the content does.
    Google “Confirmation Bias”.

    • July 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      Both sides can spew facts and statistics, this is always a factor in any debate. Without VERY precise context, they can both be bent to say what the speaker wants.

      Thus, the need for credibility with which to weigh both. An adult with a B.Sc. and years of field and lab experience, versus a nine year old girl (using your example) prevails hands down in credibility especially as opinion enters in (and it always does).

      Google credibility.

      • 4 Steve
        July 15, 2013 at 8:41 pm

        I agree that context is important. That is what is one of the things missing from Salmonconfidential. For instance, did you know that Dr. Miller findings are not fully represented in the film? Why do you think that might be? Farm critics were complaining that Miller was being muzzled, but in the end, Miller ended up being muzzled by the same people that were championing her results (falsely representing actually). Where are Dr. Nylund’s findings and Dr. Kilbenge? If you go to the U.PEI AVC website you will see what Dr. Kilbenge says about ISAv and ISA:

        “It is important to note that the presence of ISAv sequences in tissue samples does not necessarily mean that the actual disease, ISA, is present in the subject fish or that ISA is present in the area where the fish were collected,” said Dr. Kibenge. “Viral material can be present in animals without them actually having the associated disease. In order to confirm whether an infectious viral disease is present, further testing is required.”

        Why isn’t Morton (or even the film’s producer) taking the advice of Dr. Kibenge in this circumstance? Better yet why is this missing from the film? Do you think it might be important to provide context to the issue? Dr. Kibenge sure thought so. What about you?

        As for credibility on this issue it is fairly simple. Morton’s targets have years of experience in virology, fish pathology, molecular biology and/or histology. Dr. Gary Marty is board certified fish pathologist with many publications. Dr. Kristi Miller….well….if you read the Cohen Final Report you will see she is a leading authority in molecular biology. These individuals, including Dr. Kyle Garver, Dr. Are Nylund, Dr. Fred Kibenge and Dr. Simon Jones all provide testimony at the inquiry which does not align with Morton’s theories if you actually read the report. On the other hand, Morton has no experience in either virology, fish pathology, molecular biology and/or histology. Doctor of what? It was an honorary degree – she did not have to defend a thesis like the other scientists I have mentioned above. How does whale research translate to being an authority on virology and fish pathology? She has lab experience doing what? I can tell you it does not involve the fields I just mentioned. Yet, this is not preventing her from interpreting data incorrectly and making false conclusions on fish viruses and diseases. Have you read Dr. Kibenge’s results – do they map on with what Morton is saying? See the film’s biggest fib on this site.

        If she is such a credible fisheries biologist why would she allow the segment by Jody Erickson in the movie where he was calling salmon carcasses with white gills suspicious for ISA. Apparently, a dead fish is suppose to retain its red gills or it is suspicious. No mention that migrating salmon undergo putrefaction and cell autolysis and that this is accelerated once the fish is dead and is exposed to the elements. No, instead let’s jump right to something suspicious with no evidence and blame salmon farms. Did you care to see where those fish Jody Erickson was sampling came from? What about when she says that Harrison Sockeye do not pass by fish farms or suffer from prespawn mortality? Both of those beliefs by Morton are incorrect. However, you still feel Morton is a still a credible person on the subject of fish diseases and viruses….or even fisheries biology for that matter?

        Google delusion

  3. 5 Dave McW
    July 13, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Yes, it would be good to know who you are.

    Do you have a good explanation of the large numbers of dead wild salmon shown in the film? Do you think she faked that?

    • 6 Steve
      July 15, 2013 at 9:25 pm

      I do agree that some recent prespawn events do fall outside the norm. We need to look at this more closely – no doubt about that. However, the approach by the film (by Jody Erickson) is the wrong way to go about this. I don’t think the dead fish were faked, but the interpretation that resulted from those surveys are sketchy at best – that’s the issue. Did you happen to see where those salmon carcasses came from during Mr. Erickson’s examination?

      First, prespawn mortality is not a new concept and is not abnormal. All salmon runs will experience some degree of prespawn mortality which can vary from year to year. Environmental conditions through the Fraser can be a big factor in some years (with Early Stuart Sockeye). Some migrating salmon will die enroute while others will die in the terminal area (i.e. prespawn mortality). What usually happens is that you get prespawn mortality on the front end of the run, but gradually as you approach peak of spawn the spawning success will get much better. Harrison Sockeye, contrary to what Morton will have you believe, can experience high prespawn mortality on the front end of the run; however, in November in December spawning success surpasses the number of prespawns.

      Second, you simply cannot go to the spawning grounds and start weeding through tainted and rotten carcasses and start concluding that some suspicious killed them – like ISAv. You especially can’t do this while ignoring the basic biological processes these migrating salmon are undergoing from the time they hit freshwater. Contrary to what Morton and Erickson want you to believe, salmon carcasses do not retain red gills right up to decomposition. As I said above in the other post, migrating salmon are undergoing putrefaction and cell autolysis. They are not putting anymore energy into looking good – it is all going to migrating and gonad development. The longer they are in freshwater, pathogens (viruses, bacteria, fungus, etc.) begin to attack the fish’s bodily functions. Along with hormonal changes, these fish are programmed to die. After the fish dies on the spawning grounds, these destructive processes are greatly sped up – especially if the carcass is in warm water or exposed to the air and sun. The best fish to sample for viruses, bacteria, molecular biology or histology are fish that are still alive on the spawning grounds or fresh dead (we are talking a matter of a few hours – not a few days). It does not take long for a fresh carcass to rotten in a matter of a day or two.

      Dead salmon can be riddled with many pathogens and these can all be found by the pros examining them. However, to pick one out and say that this is what killed the fish is actually harder than what is being portrayed by the film. What many are looking at now are the changing environmental conditions – namely water temperatures which can directly impact how a pathogen impacts its host. Sex specific differences in mortality are also being looked at. Migrating females have rougher time with adverse environmental conditions than males.

    • July 15, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      Pacific salmon die upon spawning. This is a normal part of their lifecycle. Large numbers of dead wild salmon on the riverbank during spawning season is perfectly normal and one of the signs that summer is coming to an end.

  4. 8 mikearmstrong184
    July 16, 2013 at 8:10 am

    I agree: “The best fish to sample for viruses, bacteria, molecular biology or histology are fish that are still alive on the spawning grounds or fresh dead (we are talking a matter of a few hours – not a few days).” And it follows samples from the open net pens. So Steve why don’t you convince your friends at BCFSA to provide fresh random samples collected by unannounced independant visits to random farms, all bio-security and documented sample control observed. This will eliminate the parking lot argument. We can then send these fresh Atlantic pen samples to Miller, Nylund, Kebinge and Grange in Moncton. Then all the results can be verified and published by the individual experts. End of argument!!

    • 9 Steve
      July 16, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      First of all I don’t have “friends” at the BCSFA. If I have questions to ask them I email them like most members of the general public.

      Farmed salmon are already routinely tested for many endemic viruses (i.e. IHNv) as well as ISAv. There is a good reason for this (as has been explained numerous times already) because IHN and ISA are deadly to Atlantic Salmon. Not just a little mortality, but a lot of mortality. The fact is that most Atlantic Salmon on BC salmon farms survive to market size. If ISA were present we should see it on the fish farms (according to Dr. Nylund’s testimony at the inquiry). If ISA were present in BC fish farms then there should be thousands if not millions of dead Atlantic Salmon, but this is not happening. ISA is a federally reportable disease in Canada, so if it is present on BC fish farms then the industry is required by law to report it. The industry already reports another federally reportable disease – IHN. Eggs are quarantined and tested for ISAv. Salmon farmers here use brood stock from here – not Norway. In my opinion, it does not make sense to let a disease wipe out your investment without trying to detect it and take measures to prevent it from happening in the first place. The issue is that wild fish need to be sampled more – not farmed fish. Actually, most of the information we have about fish diseases is from salmon enhancement facilities and salmon farms.

      However, the CFIA is going to conduct next part of their surveillance work this year where they want to do exactly what you request – test farmed salmon. They already undertake the proper chain of custody and approved methodology for the collection, handling, and preservation of samples. The reason why your friends at Salmon Are Sacred are not being allow is probably because they are not licenced veterinarians, they have questionable sampling techniques and do not have formal study design to present. Like federal salmon hatcheries, testing and/or research programs require a formal proposal for consideration and they cannot be presented at the last minute. Saying that you are an independent scientist looking for viruses and that you are doing it because you don’t trust government or industry does not constitute as a formal plan.

      I am not sure if you are aware or not but the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted their own ISAv survalence work a little while ago. They tested more than 900 fish – from wild fish to hatchery to farmed fish. Tests so far from this 2yr study show no signs of ISAv. Recently, the CFIA completed their first year of their of their wild salmon andromous salmonid sampling in BC where they sampled 4,175 fish. One of the labs utilized for this work was the Pacific Biological Station – one of the “superlabs” mentioned by Morton. After Year 1, all samples tested were negative for ISAv.

      Now let me turn the tables on you and your friends at Salmon Are Sacred, Mike. Why don’t they publish the results of their virus surveillance in BC – the work they have been doing since the end of Cohen. I see lots of accusations being made by Morton, but no report. Where are the methods, including study design from this work? Morton says that she has 7 labs to work with so if the AVC has been removed as a ISA reference lab then there should be 6 labs left. However, both the American and Canadian governments have already announced their preliminary results. The CFIA not only published an executive summary for the public to view, but has a report available upon request. Can I get a similar report on the Dept. of Wild Salmon, Mike? If things are so dire according to Morton then surely a preliminary report should be forthcoming – shouldn’t it? Funny how governments are more transparent than Wild Salmon Warriors who are screaming that transparency is important. Have a good evening, Mike.

  5. 10 mikearmstrong184
    July 17, 2013 at 3:27 am

    Here you go Steve, is this what you are looking for? http://www.virologyj.com/content/10/1/230
    More B.S. from the other side of the fence. Now you can spend countless hours debating the merits of this work with you friend Mary Ellen. Our provincial resources are being sold off to the lowest bidder with little or no consideration for the big picture. We should be glad we are the ones with the guns! Soon there will be much bigger/hungrier creatures in our back yard/patio, on the walking trails or in our garbage cans after we destroy their food source. We can then kill them all off as a nuisance as well!

    • 11 Steve
      July 17, 2013 at 10:33 pm

      I already saw the report blasted over the blogs; however, it is not the virus surveillance report that many have been looking for. For instance, where is ISAv mentioned? Apparently, ISA is running rampant on the BC coast? The methodology on how the samples were collected is short to say the least. The report you posted talks about the divergence of PRV strains – it is not a surveillance report. The sample size is very small for a surveillance report; most of the Canadian samples were likely from farmed fish purchased from supermarkets. As for PRV you have to consider the following when reading the study:

      1. How did PRV come over to BC from Norway since there has been no direct egg imports from Norway since 1985? According to the study, the Canadian PRV diverged from the Norwegian sub-genotype 1a around 2007. What is the distribution of PRV in our waters is about one of the best questions the study raised. Do we know much about the presence of PRV in US waters, their enhancement facilities or their fish farms?

      2. Heart lesions and “HSMI” type lesions that were reported in BC farmed salmon in 2008 could also be attributed to other pathogens. Morton is famous now for identifying all these “classic signs” in Dr. Marty’s notes, but the reality is that these signs can also be attributed to other conditions. Context is important.

      3. The presence of PRV does not constitute as a diagnosis of HSMI. Healthy fish also have PRV. In fact, the virus can be present in high concentrations in fish without causing lesions traditionally associated with HSMI. There is a difference between having a virus and having a disease. Just because a fish has a virus does not necessarily mean that it is diseased. More importantly, a salmon carcass having a “mushy heart” is not a definite sign of HSMI if you consider what these fish experience as they migrate into freshwater and their bodies are gradually being broken down.

      4. HSMI typically impacts juvenile fish, so where is the evidence of HSMI in adult Pacific Salmon, such as Fraser Sockeye? Where is the evidence of HSMI in farmed salmon in BC? Were the fish that were tested in the study for PRV also examined for HSMI – especially since they are being assumed to be diseased? Where is the evidence (histological) of HSMI in those supermarket fish that likely made up most of the Canadian samples in the study? What Morton’s supermarket experiment showed was that healthy, market sized farmed salmon can have PRV. What about the cutthroat trout from Cultus Lake – where they examined for HSMI? It is one thing to find PRV but so far HSMI has not. Again, the problem many times is that it is not that easy to find cause of death from a salmon carcass that has been dead for an undetermined amount of time.

      5. Are we only seeing the samples that tested positive for PRV? Were there any samples that tested negative for PRV? Is the total sample size for Canada represented in the report?

      6. Genetic information for the virus outside of Norway is limited.

      7. PRV is associated with HSMI; however, it has not been determined to be the causative agent for HSMI.

      I am not saying that nobody should be looking for PRV because it is no big deal; however, we shouldn’t be pressing the panic button like Morton is doing. She is implying that HSMI is causing mushy hearts in adult salmon with zero evidence. I am all for more surveillance for PRV to see if it impacts salmon in another way. As for humans with guns….well….look at Florida….nuff said.

  6. 12 mikearmstrong184
    July 19, 2013 at 10:19 am

    So Steve: you are saying neither the “lethal” or “non lethal” variant of the ISA virus exists here in the province. Is that correct?

    • 13 Steve
      July 19, 2013 at 9:33 pm

      Ok…now we are back to what we were talking about before…lol. From Cohen, Dr. Miller’s retroactive testing suggested that a virus similar to ISAv from Europe does exist, but she said that further work was needed to see how similar. She also believed that it could have been here longer than 1986 (Volume 2; Chapter 4; page 60). Dr. Nylund, on the other hand, was not so convinced of these findings by Dr. Miller and offered his explanations. Dr. Kibenge suggested they may be ISA sequences or “ISA-virus like” during the inquiry. Pacific Salmon are thought to be relatively resistant to ISAV according to the literature. When it comes to testing Pacific Salmon for ISAv we may or may not be taking the right tissue for finding the virus as most of what we know is from Atlantic Salmon. Clearly, there was no clear consensus amongst these experts, but they did all agree that more work is required and that whether ISAv is present here or not it has not been confirmed in BC before the December 2011. That’s why I support Cohen’s recommendations on this as well as the recent CFIA surveillance study and the Miller/Riddell/Genome BC study proposed. That’s why I believe it is a good thing that we are starting to look at wild salmon more and not focus most of our resources on farmed salmon. The BC fish farm industry is actually ahead of the game by routinely testing farmed fish for ISAv.

      It is possible that an asymptomatic (non-virulent) virus that is similar to ISAv does exist here and has been here for a long time, but we really have not been looking for it in wild fish until recently. If this is the case, then we need to stop automatically assuming that farms here brought in ISAv and are presently spreading it to Pacific Salmon and killing them. Some of the things being said by fish farm opponents in regards to this do not make any sense. One fellow suggested that the reason BC fish farms cannot find ISAv was because they killed them for market before they died of ISA; if they lived longer they would have eventually die of ISA. Really? ISA is a deadly disease for Atlantic Salmon – they would have died before they reached market size. It does not make any sense if critics are using Chile as an example. Another theory from another fish farm opponent was what if the ISA strain were an altered strain (something viruses do, he said) – that affected wild stocks, but was not as bad for Atlantics. The problem with that is that it conflicts with what fish farm critics have been long saying about ISAv being spread by egg imports from Norway to Chile to here. So, am I to assume that ISAv was spread here by egg imports from Norway (the same thing that happened to Chile that killed millions of farmed Atlantic Salmon), mutated into a strain that was no longer highly pathogenic to Atlantic Salmon and only affects wild salmon off BC. That is one magic virus – like the magic bullet theory in Dallas, TX a long time ago. Not only is this theory not supported by any evidence, but it runs contrary to what we already know about ISAv and ISA.

      One thing is for certain which anti-fish farm people cannot deny: If ISAv or ISA was present and was virulent we would likely see on fish farms first and it would cause huge mortality – not something that can be covered up very easily or passed off as nothing. We need to start burying the hatchet and get back to some real science which the public deserves; however, under the current government back east that could be a challenge. It is also a challenge when films, such as Salmon Confidential, totally distort the findings and recommendations of an inquiry paid for by same people they claim to be looking out for.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: