The final 15, and the film’s second biggest fib

The final 15 minutes of the film are the most painful because they play fast and loose with the facts, while playing on people’s emotions, while ending with a veiled appeal for donations. It’s like the passing of the offering plate after the missionaries visit your church and film laden with guilt.

In this segment Morton and friends claim to have sampled a farmed fish dropped by an eagle. They claim this fish had Piscine Reovirus (PRV, and yet again filmmaker Twyla Roscovich offers no lab reports to prove this, neither in the film or on the film’s website).

The film uses this as an opportunity to make the film’s second biggest fib: the claim that PRV kills fish.

It is scientifically irresponsible to make this claim and no scientists in the world make this claim. All they say is that PRV appears to be linked with a disease called HSMI.

Here are some direct quotes from Morton in the film that are false, in big bold letters.

This really horrible one called piscine reovirus, it, it gives the salmon heart attacks, it weakens the heart muscles, and people I’ve talked to in Norway don’t think a salmon can swim up a river if it has this virus.

What people? Who says this? Where is the evidence that the virus definitely causes these effects?

Piscine reovirus, one of the symptoms is a soft heart.  This one is, uh, very firm (then pushing on second fish heart) and this heart is extremely soft. (poking the tissue) This is a classic symptom of piscine reovirus, the mushy hearts.

So PRV causes soft hearts, and you found a soft heart, so clearly the fish has PRV and clearly PRV causes these symptoms! Surely it couldn’t be because you are sampling rotten fish on the side of a riverbank.


One heart is “firm,” one is “mushy.” Morton’s expert analysis is that the “mushy” one must have PRV. Because there’s no other explanation for a soft heart in a rotting fish cut up on the side of the riverbank.

Thankfully the film includes some comments about PRV from Dr. Gary Marty, albeit butchered and selectively edited to make him look bad. His comments on PRV are quite clear, however:

PRV is common in Norway and BC. In Norway PRV occurs in many fish with HSMI, and some scientists think that PRV might be the cause of HSMI. However, PRV in Norway also occurs in fish with no evidence of HSMI.

In BC we have no evidence of HSMI.

PRV and HSMI — what’s the difference?

PRV (Piscine Reovirus) is a virus. HSMI (Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation) is a disease. Viruses can cause disease, but this relationship is not a given.

Research has shown that fish which had HSMI had a larger quantity of PRV in their system than fish which did not have HSMI and that there may be a link. Further research has confirmed this and has also more closely linked PRV with the onset of HSMI.

This might mean there is a connection. But it’s not as simple as finding a soft heart in a rotten fish and declaring you’ve found a fish which died from PRV, as Morton does in this film.

Recent research in Norway has shown that just changing the diet of farmed salmon makes them far less likely to get HSMI.

Clearly, the relationship between PRV and HSMI in farmed salmon is far more complicated than Morton would like her viewers to believe.

On this coast, as Dr. Gary Marty points out in the film, PRV is present in wild and farmed fish in B.C. But, as he also points out, HSMI has not been observed in any B.C. fish, wild or farmed.

It’s also worth pointing out that this particular form of PRV is now known as ASRV — Atlantic Salmon Reovirus.

We don’t know a lot about salmon and disease

Morton makes one of the most profoundly arrogant statements of the film in this section when she states:

We know a lot about salmon, we know a lot about disease and we know this is wrong.

Actually, we don’t know a lot. We don’t know for certain where our wild salmon go and what they do out in the ocean for two years of their lives. We don’t know what sort of environmental stressors and pressures they face. We don’t know if some viruses cause disease or do nothing. We don’t know what combination of environmental, dietary and viral conditions bring on some diseases.

For Morton to make this claim is a value judgment, not based in fact or science or existing scientific knowledge about fish health and diseases.

Fine. But make it clear this is a belief statement. Because although we might not know much about salmon and disease, what we do know shows quite clearly that Morton’s claims about fish farms and disease are wrong, no matter how she tries to spin it.

Citizen science

Morton’s “call to action” at the end of the film is really just a clever way for her to pass the “offering plate” around.

Working to help wild salmon is an admirable goal. But taking poor-quality samples of dead fish and passing them on to Morton to fuel her ego (and make sure you make a completely unrefundable, untraceable and non-tax-receiptable donation via one of her many websites!) ain’t gonna do it.

Please, if you want to help wild salmon, don’t waste everyone’s time pretending to be a scientist. If you really want to help wild salmon, find the local streamkeepers’ organization or enhancement facility and volunteer restoring salmon habitat or even just picking trash out of the creek. It will have a far more beneficial impact on wild salmon than attaching yourself to the personal crusade of a woman who has shown she has no scientific integrity and is willing to bend and break the truth to tell a good story.

1 Response to “The final 15, and the film’s second biggest fib”

  1. 1 Steve
    June 6, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Of course Morton does not mention the fact that spawning Pacific salmon (that sacrifice bodily maintenance for ability to spawn) undergo internal changes like putrefaction where proteins breakdown and bacteria and other pathogens begin to proliferate and take over. In addition, enzymes inside the cells begin to dissolve and breakdown the cells. This process is accelerated once the fish is dead and is out of its cooler environment – like on a river bank exposed to the environmental elements. It does not take long for a fresh fish to quickly turn tainted then rotten. When Jody Erikson is looking at salmon carcasses with white gills, assuming something suspicious, it is pretty safe to assume that those carcasses are well on their way with the processes I mentioned above.

    This should not be new news. If any of the fish farm critics ever had the chance to partake in trip a local salmon spawning stream while in elementary school they would have found this out at a young age. It seems like Jody Erikson missed this in his childhood because it was one of the things I took from my field trips to the spawning grounds at a young age. Spawning Pacific Salmon die and decompose. It is not some suspicious story of some mysterious disease. It does not disregard the research from people like Dr. Miller; however, I am sure even she would agree that it is a fact that spawning Pacific salmon are still programmed to eventually die and that these changes mentioned above are part of the natural process. So, before “Dr.” Morton talks about mushy hearts being a classic symptom of PRV she needs to reconnect with what even elementary students already know…..and perhaps come of with some evidence for her theories for mushy hearts.

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