Science blogger’s take on the film, my blog and Dr. Gary Marty

Stephen Bocking at Trent University blogs about environmental science, and recently did a post about the Salmon Confidential film.

He followed up with some great information from Dr. Gary Marty about the errors in science in the film.

He makes some very valid points about the film, and about this blog:

…the film provides a ready demonstration of how flat-footed an industry can be when it tries to respond to an activist like Alexandra Morton.  Science is only part of Morton’s argument: her real target is government obfuscation as it seeks to support an industry that, in her eyes, has no place on the coast.  But the salmon farmers at salmonconfidential.com focus on picking away at Morton’s scientific techniques – apparently oblivious that these techniques are a kind of theatre, aimed at dramatizing the failure of government to do the tests that she is thereby forced to do herself.  With such a clumsy response to criticism, it’s no wonder the BC salmon farming controversy is now in its fourth decade.

I agree, Stephen. This blog is a clumsy attempt at responding to this film. We as an industry could have done much better. But that’s not my call. Instead it was left to me, and a few others who helped me, to do what we could with limited resources. And like I said in my comment on your post, I’m not interested in being seen as a cheerleader for the government that regulates my industry. It’s not up to me to address the issue of government obfuscation, as frustrating as it is to see her spin ridiculous conspiracy theories around that topic. If DFO doesn’t respond and address the criticisms about them, there’s not really anyone else who can, and still be taken seriously.

And I am quite aware that her scientific techniques are theatre. The only avenue available to me is to pick apart the lies of the charlatan, which is rarely effective when the charlatan is selling a story and a feeling. But at least the facts are out there for people who haven’t made up their minds or bought into the story.

The core of the problem, as I described in this post, is that the debate over salmon farming isn’t about science and facts and actually measuring impacts and actually looking at data for the loudest opponents. It’s about emotions and spirituality and a feeling. Believing whatever Alexandra Morton says about salmon farming “feels right” for her devout followers and they are hostile to any challenge to the information she uses to make her claims.

She has devoted her life to getting rid of BC salmon farms. It is a personal crusade for her, her life mission. It has become a religious and spiritual mission. She views herself as the Jane Goodall of salmon, and basks in the adulation of her followers.

Religious figures are always divisive. How do you respond to someone who is selling feelings, and whose followers are hostile to any information which contradicts what their icon says?

Take, for example, the example of Rob Ford, Toronto’s mayor. The man has been shown time and time again to be a liar and buffoon, but he still has strong supporters. Why? Because they desperately want to believe in him.

Likewise with Morton, she has been caught in numerous lies since she started opposing salmon farming publicly, but those are quickly forgotten because people so desperately want to believe in her story of one woman in the wilderness fighting against evil corporations.

It’s all about the story. The facts don’t even enter into it.

But for me, facts matter. A lot. And I hope they matter for other people, too.

They are who this blog is for.

5 Responses to “Science blogger’s take on the film, my blog and Dr. Gary Marty”

  1. February 2, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    The strategy in British Columbia is clear: Increase production of environmentally irresponsible but profitable farmed salmon; extirpate wild salmon from most of their native range; as wild salmon numbers plummet, use that as an argument that B.C. needs More salmon farms; once virtually all the wild fish are gone, use that as an argument that it is ok to go into the forest habitat they previously used to extract timber and minerals. The scheme is not sustainable, but it will make politicians, salmon farmers and CEO’s in extraction industries wealthy until the whole thing collapses.

    • February 3, 2014 at 10:03 am

      That’s ludicrous. Wild salmon contribute more value to the provincial economy than salmon farms in terms of tourism dollars and jobs. No one wants to lose that. Mining and forestry has taken place in salmon habitat for more than 100 years, that’s one big reason why so much salmon habitat was destroyed prior to the 1970s. It’s only in the last 40 years that this province has become more responsible in logging and mining, and has restored a great deal of salmon habitat. Salmon farming has also become far more responsible than when it started 30 years ago. The Cohen Commission showed that farmed and wild salmon can and do co-exist in the same ocean.

      • February 3, 2014 at 3:52 pm

        “In a massive three-volume document, Judge Cohen called for a freeze on fish-farm development in the Discovery Islands, says farms should not be located near salmon migration routes, and raises the possibility that salmon farming could be banned completely if research shows the industry poses an unacceptable risk to wild stocks.”
        What’s “ludicrous” is the bill of goods you and other salmon farmers are attempting to sell. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s respected, scientifically determined recommendations continue to list farmed salmon as a seafood to avoid.Meanwhile, although B.C. has corrected some of the very worst ecological practices of the past, it is still permitting wild salmon habitat to be degraded. The bottom line is this: B.C. wild salmon stocks are in overall decline. Farmed salmon appear to be among the causative factors. As we say, the trend and overarching scheme seems to be: 1) increase the number of salmon farms; 2) allow wild stocks to continue to decline (while paying lip service to and taking inadequate half-measures on behalf of their restoration; 3) pave the way to increased timber and mineral extraction.
        A few isolated habitat restoration projects do not counter the overall trends affecting wild salmon in B.C. And no, we do not expect you to yield to fact and science when it means your wallet will suffer.

      • February 4, 2014 at 10:22 am

        Hang on. Instead of quoting someone else’s take on the Cohen Commission report, why don’t you go read it for yourself. Because it doesn’t say what you seem to think it says.

        “…data presented during this Inquiry did not show that salmon farms were having a significant negative impact on Fraser River sockeye…” (Volume 3, page 24).

        “I am also satisfied that marine conditions in both the Strait of Georgia and Queen Charlotte Sound in 2007 were likely to be the primary factors responsible for the poor returns in 2009. Abnormally high freshwater discharge, warmer-than-usual sea surface temperatures, strong winds, and lower-than-normal salinity may have resulted in abnormally low phytoplankton and nitrate concentrations that could have led to poor zooplankton (food for sockeye) production.” (Volume 3, page 59)

        As a precaution, Cohen did recommend no new sites in the Discovery Islands region near Campbell River while more research is done. He did not make any prohibitions about farms elsewhere on the coast.

        Yes, wild salmon are on the decline in BC since the 1980s, and they are on the decline from Alaska to California where there are no salmon farms for thousands of miles. Why is that?

        Also, it’s important to remember, that the 1980s and 1990s saw the highest catch levels of salmon in BC ever recorded. (See Figure 2).

        Maybe measuring the decline of a naturally cyclical species from the highest point ever recorded in history isn’t a great way to see the big picture.

  2. 5 Anonymous
    May 6, 2014 at 12:24 am

    Open net fish farming is akin to the Tar Sands, Asbestos mining and the worst of clear cut logging. The net pens clog up beautiful bays precluding them from any other use, the effluent kills the bottom, the smell is awful, massive layers of dead fish scales coat the waters for miles around and dead fish bits tend to get everywhere. Open net farming uses antibiotics on the fish about which the World Health Organization states: “Overuse of antibiotics in agriculture — to promote livestock growth — and in hospitals quickly leads to proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria…” which in the case of open net farming goes into the adjacent ocean effecting everything and particularly making non viral pathogens more drug resistant. We humans worry about flushing that stuff down the sewers and out into the environment. Why is this not a worry with open net fish farming?

    Justice Cohen stated that the Minister should shut down fish farms immediately when more than a minimal danger to wild (Fraser River Sockeye) salmon stocks is established. What was not established was what minimal meant. The commission’s mandate was only for the Fraser River, only for one species and took no other rivers, migratory routes, eco systems or species into consideration. Justice Cohen recommended more measurements and science be conducted. Great idea if we are talking about a copper mine. There are new regulations for recreational boaters about holding tanks and sewage discharge. Governments are worried about water pollution. It would seem to me that the open pen net system dumps rather more sewage into tidal waters than a few sailboats and power cruisers possibly could during the summer season. What’s the difference?

    What is minimal? If we, the public, had waited for more science or more industry planning Meares Is would be Meares Rock. The Great Bear Rainforest would be the great clear cut and Haida Gwai woiuld be well into its 3 generation growth. We the public are dead tired of government and industry pronouncements about protecting our environment. From the renewable forestry hearings in 1948 to the latest Run of the River PPP’s that will have no negative impact on fish species (because of our great laws) I have watched the catapillers grind up the salmon rivers to make logging roads squeezing the eggs out through the tracks. I have seen enforcement personel disappear from the ground, I have seen the Native Food Fish caught and left to rot, I have seen the total disappearance of small trollers on the south coast, I have seen the great dragger fleet get bigger, I have seen the logs get short bucked and then exported ‘raw’, and I have seen the salmon unable to spawn in rivers washed out by adjacent logging. What is minimal? Whatever it is, it is NOT MINIMAL ENOUGH!!!! The mere suspicion that something might be harming our oceans and fish should be minimal enough. In the big picture open net fish farms with all inputs considered and not the least of which input are the government subsidies for failed harvest, just makes zero sense.

    I know that there are real people who work hard within the fish farming industry. They have mortgages, children, a way of life on the coast and above all take great pride in what they do and where they do it. They have dreams and plans, lives and lovers. I embrace them. I want their success. They need to win.

    In conclusion, I contend that given the advent of proven land based fish farming technology that all open pen net farms should be closed and removed. Like sawmills of old (which had to be built on the forrest license bringing prosperity to remote communities), new closed circuit, land based systems be approved only in remote coastal areas, BC Hydro be provided at a subsidized rate for 20 years (BC has excess) and all the failed harvest compensation (averaged forward for 5 years) be offered for start-up funding of these new facilities. And most importantly, those who currently work in the industry be carried forward into new jobs (by law).

    I don’t want get off on a rant, but……

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