The trouble with marine biology today is that it is filled with academics so desperate for grants and funding that they divert from scientific objectivity and become corporate whores, or as I like to call them "biostitutes."  Canada has its share of them, mostly employed by the Canadian Department of Fishy business otherwise known as the Federal Department of Fisheries and Ocean (DFO).

We now have this recently published paper that is to salmon farming what the global warming deniers are to climate change. In other words, with the majority of scientific papers and studies on one side of the scale claiming environmental damage by sea lice, the industry places a single study on the other side of the scale and issues media releases saying, 'see we now have "scientific proof" that salmon lice do not harm wild salmon.'

This report, by Gary Marty of the University of California, Davis, Sonja Saksida of the British Columbia Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences, and Terrance Quinn resource management specialist of the University of Alaska, states with authority that there is no direct correlation between the number of lice in salmon farms and the decline of wild salmon populations.

In other words sea lice from salmon farms on British Columbia's Coast are not to blame for a dramatic collapse of wild salmon populations on the West Coast. How did they arrive at this profound conclusion? They were given "industry data" previously not available to scientists.

That is so...shall we say, amazingly convenient!  Of course the salmon farming industry is understandably delighted that these "findings" have been published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

One study, in contrast to the many, represents a dramatic departure from the increasingly growing body of research that has pinpointed sea lice from fish farms as prime suspects contributing to the decline of wild Pacific salmon in British Columbia.

Industry representatives are crowing that this paper will change the attitudes that the public has demonstrated of concern for the impact of salmon farms on wild salmon.  The lead author, Dr. Marty, said the researchers got unprecedented access to detailed fish health and farm productivity records from 26 fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago, off the northeast shoulder of Vancouver Island.

The data, which the industry has previously refused to release to researchers, covered ten years of health information and 20 years of productivity, and were compared to 60 years worth of records showing the returns of wild pink salmon to nearby rivers.  I wonder where this data has been all these years and if it is so good for industry arguments, why was it kept secret from real researchers other than the scientific darlings of the salmon industry? How come this data was never shown to Dr. Alexandra Morton for example?

"The data from Broughton Archipelago pink salmon populations and sea lice experiments best fit the conclusion that the majority of pink salmon deaths are caused by something other than sea lice, and our farm data supports the conclusion that farm lice did not significantly decrease pink salmon productivity over the past decade," states the paper, edited by Carl Walters, a fisheries researcher at the University of British Columbia.
Dr. Walters claims to be an advisor to resource managers and in his own words has said, "I mainly work on fish population dynamics, fisheries assessment, and sustainable management."  He has also said that he believes the heart of fisheries is how to manage the harvest, "The main thrust of my research is to figure out how to design management systems that are robust in an area of really high uncertainty."

Well, we can see where he is coming from so ok, let's take a look at the words in the study.  I'm not a scientist, but I am a writer and I deal with words often and a couple of them pop right out as red flags. Such as "something other" with no definition of what that "something other" is, and "did not significantly decrease pink salmon productivity," what exactly does the word "significantly" mean? It does not say that salmon lice do not harm wild salmon, in fact it suggests they do but not "significantly." This is like saying that bullets fired randomly in a schoolroom "did not significantly destroy the student body, just killed a few of the students."

Of course Dr. Marty, who has worked for the fish farming industry in the United States (what a surprise!), said the finding means environmentalists' demands that fish farms be moved away from the migratory routes of wild salmon are not justified.  But he clearly forgot to mention the chemical, hormonal, and fecal pollution given off by these farms, or the escape of exotic salmon into the ecosystem or a few dozen other concerns leading the reader to believe that only salmon lice are of any consideration, and once recognized by them as insignificant, then hey problem solved so get Dr. Morton off our ass.

I was also not terribly shocked to discover that Sonja Saksida of the British Columbia Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences also works for the salmon farm industry. Of course I'm sure that is merely a coincidence. "Based on the lack of evidence for a significant negative relationship between farm fish and pink salmon productivity, the data do not support the hypothesis that separating farm fish from wild fish will increase pink salmon marine survival," she states.

I wonder when the checks will be arriving in their respective mailboxes.

The paper however found that fish farms grow a great many sea lice, with two farms having an estimated 18.7 million lice in one monthly check up. That's a lot of damn lice! I know that if I were walking through a room full of lice infested people, I would be just as concerned as I am for the young salmon that have to swim by these horror show farms where lice can attack them. Dr. Marty admits that there is little doubt that sea lice move from farms to wild fish in the spring, when juvenile salmon migrate past on their way to the open ocean.

The paper does not mention the impact of salmon louse or lice on a juvenile salmon nor the fact that young salmon can die from lice infestation (instead he blames wild salmon for spreading lice to salmon farms.) Nor does the paper explore the possibility that sea lice may be the vector for spreading pathogens that kill salmon through disease, similar to the lice on rats that spread the black plague to humans. While it may not be the lice themselves, it may be the pathogens that are carried by them.

I wonder if people who eat these chemically treated, hormone raised fish realize that the flesh of these salmon are artificially dyed pink with food dye in their feed pellets and that they are raised in horrifically crowded conditions where they are infested with lice. This visual is about as appetizing as finding maggots in your burger or worms in your sausages.

The "scientists" of course claimed they had no idea of what is causing the decline in wild salmon but evidently that is not their concern. All their clients need to have is some sort of "scientific credibility" no matter how weak, for their ecologically damaging industry.

Strangely enough Dr. Saksida contradicted her own report by stating, "Sea lice are one component to consider, but we need to have a broader look at what is going on."  No one has ever suggested that sea lice are solely responsible for the decline of wild salmon numbers. Environmentalists have always said that sea lice are a contributing factor and here we have the industry scientists saying the same thing but in different words so as to satisfy the demands of the industry for some sort of scientific validation.

Dr. Alexandra Morton, a researcher and environmental activist who has published papers in science journals about the negative impact of sea lice on wild salmon, has stated that she is not convinced by the research and that the findings run dramatically contrary to her findings.  "I did an extensive study on the impact of sea lice on juvenile wild salmon and I watched these fish die. You can't convince me otherwise. It's something I have observed," she said.  "I think any fish pathologist would look at these fish [infested with sea lice] and say they are heavily compromised. And so this paper really should have given us some clue as to what killed these fish. To just put out that it was something different I think is, well, not credible," Ms. Morton said.

Clare Backman, director of environmental compliance for Marine Harvest Canada, British Columbia's largest aquaculture company, is not going to let Dr. Morton rain on her parade and has stated, "the study is welcome good news for the fish-farming industry." Oh we bet it is Clare!

"This paper does turn the argument around quite significantly," said Mr. Backman, whose company is responsible for more than half the 80,000 tons of fresh salmon produced in B.C. each year.  Do I hear a refrain of conflict of interest echoing down the corridors of academia? Oh yes I do - loud and very clear, like a death knell for wild salmon.  "This report provides a counterargument to the simplistic statement that sea lice from salmon farms are the cause of the decline of some of the Pacific stocks," he said.

Now Mr. Backman, repeat after me, "No one said that salmon lice are the SOLE cause of the decline of wild salmon. We are saying that salmon lice are a major contributing factor."

Not that it will do any good. He has a board of directors and shareholders to answer to. Oh and a few checks to issue for a job well done by this trio of "biostitutes" who shamelessly still refer to themselves as "scientists."

Sea Shepherd
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