Anti-fish farm activists leave taxpayers with hefty bills

Another government review, costing $100,000, dismisses claims by anti-fish farm activists in British Columbia

By Fabian Dawson

More often than not, when scientists debunk the claims that fish farms are causing the decline of wild stocks, their work is labelled as bought and paid for by the aquaculture industry.

The emotionally-charged but fact-deficit anti-fish farm lobby, much of which is funded by foreign interests, also mounts campaigns to discredit the scientists who counter their claims.

The end result is taxpayers having to fork out tens of thousands of dollars to investigate the false claims put forward by the anti-fish farm activists.

This was the case with Dr. Gary Marty, the senior provincial fish pathologist at the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, whose published research has been branded by eco-activists as diminishing the seriousness of fish-farm diseases.

Marty, who has long been a target of the anti-fish farm groups, was discredited on CTV’s W5 show last October when Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist Kristi Miller accused him of potential conflict of interest because he had worked with a veterinarian from fish-farm company Marine Harvest on a scientific report.

Miller, fueled by the rhetoric of aquaculture opponents, then took her concerns directly to Agriculture Minister Lana Popham, whose anti-fish farm sentiments are well documented. Popham wasted no time to publicly cast aspersions on Marty.

As a firestorm ensued around Popham’s perceived political interference, Premier John Horgan ordered an independent review of the B.C. government scientific laboratory for its work on farmed fish.

This week, after a $100,000 review, the claims by Popham, Miller and the anti-fish farm militants were dismissed unequivocally.

Don Wright, Deputy Minister to the Premier, who led the review said: “I am satisfied that the Animal Health Centre operates with strong professional, scientific and ethical integrity. My review process found no evidence of “dubious data or conflict of interest.”

The Animal Health Centre, he said, is “an institution of which the Public Service can be proud.”

Deloitte, which conducted the review concluded; “Our independent assessment of the AHC (Animal Health Centre) did not identify any evidence of financial or technical conflict of interest regarding the diagnostic activities of the AHC.”

When confronted with the findings, Popham blamed the CTV news program W5 for airing the accusations against Marty and described the review as “a good news story in the end” and the $100,000 tab as “money worthwhile spending.”

As for the anti-fish farm lobby, they have pressed the mute button for a while.

This is not the first time that taxpayers had to foot the bill because of false claims against the fish farming industry.

In 2011, anti-fish farm activist Alexandra Morton, who has faced several challenges of ethics breach from members of the Association of Professional Biology, published a paper entitled “lethal Atlantic virus found in Pacific salmon”.

That finding, triggered government reviews at the taxpayer’s dime, was proven to be false.

The laboratory that did the screening work for Morton, was stripped of its international accreditation.

The B.C. government and Fisheries and Oceans Canada issued statements confirming that the reports were false, harshly criticizing the authors. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans stated, “Because some have chosen to draw conclusions based on unconfirmed information, this has resulted in British Columbia’s fishing industry and Canada’s reputation being put at risk needlessly.”

More recently, last December, Morton and the discredit lab published another paper not supported by data. Here they claimed correlational data to make some very strong conclusions regarding the transfer of the piscine orthoreovirus (PRv) from farm-raised salmon to wild salmon, and the consequences to those wild salmon.

This paper was again another example of a deliberate activist campaign that clouds the important work being done by world renowned scientists in labs in Canada and other parts of the world.

The bottom line after decades of research, including the findings by the Cohen Commission, is there is no science that states salmon farms kill wild stocks.

The debate around fish farming in BC is an important one and impacts the livelihoods of thousands of people.

Taxpayer dollars should go towards improving the science around the industry and better monitoring of our oceans resources not on unwarranted reviews of anti-farm propaganda authored by discredited activists.