Politicians, media and the public are being plagued by untruths about BC’s salmon farmers.
By Fabian Dawson
If scaremongering were an Olympic sport, British Columbia’s anti-salmon farm activists would dominate the podium as they have mastered the art of spreading untruths.
Fueled by questionable science, they’ve found allies among politicians, businessmen seeking government handouts, and a brainwashed horde howling to demonize one of the world’s most sustainable protein-producing industries.
Recently, they fueled their protests with youthful antics in MPs’ offices while presenting a misrepresentation of BC’s salmon farming industry at a parliamentary hearing.
MPs at the hearing were invited to look at the naval operations in BC for themselves but have so far declined, fearing they will lose the votes of activist constituencies based primarily in Liberal-held urban areas.
According to Fleetwood-Port Kells Liberal MP Ken Hardie, the current hearing concerns “the way the Department for Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) conducts research and how it uses research results to inform the Minister in her decision-making process.” .
“Following your questions, no, I have not yet visited an aquaculture facility, but just this week I received an invitation to do so along with the rest of the Standing Committee,” Hardie told SeaWestNews.
“Nevertheless, the mechanisms of scientific activity are studied at the DFO, so a visit to an aquaculture farm, while useful in every respect, would not feed into our report or recommendations in this study.”
The activists and their scientists have claimed, without a shred of evidence, that DFO covered up studies showing open-net salmon farms pose a threat to wildlife populations.
For their part, MEPs have given them a friendly ear without questioning their conspiracy theories or their discredited science.
The media has reported on the claims without holding the activists to the truth or questioning their lack of qualifications to speak out on the issue.
All of this comes as the federal government is about to make a decision on 79 salmon farming licenses that expire on June 30th.
“In recent weeks, a coordinated, activist-led campaign spreading these misinformed claims has created confusion and fear in Indigenous and non-Indigenous coastal communities,” said the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA).
“These claims are false,” the association said.
Here is a summary and fact check of what the activists are hitting our MPs, the media and the public with.
IS PRV a threat to wild salmon? Answer: NO
Wild and farmed salmon are exposed to PRV after being immersed in salt water, and wild salmon can also be exposed by their parents after spawning. Farmed salmon are tested and PRV-free when transferred from freshwater hatcheries to offshore farms. Viruses are the most widespread biological entity in the oceans, a teaspoon of seawater typically contains around 50 million viruses. Most viruses are harmless and infect bacteria and control bacterial abundance, affecting marine communities and forcing biogeochemical cycles. However, marine pathogens make up a very small fraction of marine viruses.
There are several forms of piscine orthoreovirus worldwide. The form of PRV found in BC, PRV-1(a), does not cause transient heart and muscle inflammation (HSMI) in Atlantic salmon or jaundice syndrome in Chinook and is not considered clinically significant by fish health professionals. In BC, smolts are screened for the presence of PRV before leaving hatcheries. PRV is not associated with any health concern in humans.
Over the past decade, many scientific studies have confirmed this lack of clinical significance of PRV.
In 2016, laboratory researchers found they could not induce jaundice after injecting PRV from jaundiced Chinook salmon into Chinook, Atlantic, and sockeye salmon.
In 2015 and 2019, assessments by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) concluded that PRV attributable to Atlantic salmon farms in the Discovery Islands area poses minimal risk to Fraser River Sockeye Salmon abundance and diversity.
A 2020 US-based study injected juvenile chinook, coho, and rainbow trout with PRV extracted from Atlantic salmon and resulted in no significant disease or mortality.
Other work in 2020 examined the global distribution of PRV in farmed and wild fish and found that there are multiple PRV genotypes. The paper summarizes ten studies on the virus:
A 2021 study found that the virus posed a “very low risk” to BC’s wild Pacific salmon population. The salmon remained physically fit with no change in respiration ability, even when infected.
Has PRV been introduced to BC from farmed salmon? Answer: NO
A 2015 study using archival samples dating back to 1977 found that PRV existed in BC long before salmon farming and is believed to be an endemic (commonly occurring) virus.
A 2018 survey of wild salmon in Alaska and Washington state (places that don’t have salmon farms) found that PRV was widespread in wild populations.
Has DFO repeatedly suppressed, ignored and misrepresented scientific evidence of harm to its own decision makers? Answer: NO
In 2011, Tofino-based chinook salmon farmer, Creative Salmon, initiated a proactive study of jaundice (a yellowing of the abdominal and/or periorbital regions) in a very small number of farmed chinook salmon. The researchers included Dr. Kristi Miller, DFO, who studies the molecular identification of viruses, Dr. Gary Marty, BC Animal Health Center (Vet/Certified Pathologist) and Dr. Sonja Saksida, Private (Veterinarian/MSc in Veterinary Epidemiology).
PRV was identified from samples of jaundiced fish and control fish that were not jaundiced. But there was no definitive link to causality between PRV and jaundice. All fish showing jaundice were PRV positive. Although the study showed that there was a significant association between PRV and jaundice, causality could not be established.
At the end of the study, the report’s lead authors could not agree on the interpretation of the data and conclusions drawn by Dr. Miller, who is neither a virologist nor an epidemiologist by training. This disagreement among the authors is an important point. According to generally accepted ethical standards for the publication of scientific research, all authors must agree to the content of the work and be responsible for all aspects of the work. All salmon farmers support the dissemination of sound scientific knowledge published in the context of a peer-reviewed publication.
Demonstrating the presence of a virus does not mean that a disease is present, as highlighted in a review of studies published in April 2022. New advanced molecular techniques are more sensitive than conventional methods in detecting the presence of infectious agents, but the biological significance of these new discoveries are difficult to interpret. This important review notes that “Fish health specialists from several of these agencies and organizations advise that any policy changes should only be made after further investigation, to avoid wasting resources monitoring organisms that are not important to fish health, or non-infectious genetic material that does not represents viable [disease causing] agent.”
The non-publication of this one study is far from conspiracy or news. The information has long been public.
In 2011, Dr. Miller made her findings public during the Cohen Commission. As part of the 2016 court case, Namgis vs. Minister of Fisheries, a summary of Miller’s study was filed by attorneys representing the Namgis (now public documents). Without permission, Dr. Miller shared data from the study in another article on PRV that she published in June 2017.
Copies of the draft project report and manuscript appear to have been leaked to the Pacific Salmon Foundation in 2017, and that same year Dr. Miller one of the co-authors of the conflict of interest. This led to an investigation by the BC Province Diagnostic Laboratory (AHC). This investigation acquitted the co-author and his laboratory, noting that there was “no evidence of financial or technical conflicts related to AHC’s diagnostic activities” and that “AHC operates to the highest standard”.
The Globe and Mail wrote about this study in a 2020 article. This article led to other articles about the co-authors’ lack of agreement about the original study
dr Miller has repeatedly stated that she believes PRV poses a threat to wild Pacific salmon, particularly Chinook and Coho, and that there is a risk of transmission between farmed and wild salmon. However, additional research prepared and reviewed by other DFO and non-DFO scientists does not support this claim.
In today’s world where food security is paramount, these activists with their abort culture continue to make outrageous claims and allegations against DFO, respected scientists and fish health professionals inside and outside of Canada.
They attack assessments by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) which have concluded that salmon farming poses minimal risk to the abundance and diversity of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon.
“Baseless and outrageous claims only divisive communities, create confusion and distrust, and do nothing to develop better outcomes for BC’s shores,” the BCSFA said.
(Image of salmon farm courtesy of Cermaq)