A new poll reveals that the falsehoods about salmon farming, precipitated by well-funded campaigns to destroy BC’s most valuable seafood export, has taken hold in the province.
By Fabian Dawson
“It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything.”
These words by American comedian and political commentator, Stephen Colbert, shine through a new poll that claims most British Columbia residents believe that our natural salmon stocks are at significant risk due to open-net salmon farming.
The poll from Insights West funded by The Pacific Salmon Foundation and Wild First, both of which vociferously oppose open-net salmon farming in BC, also states that most of those polled believe growing salmon in their natural environment needs to be transitioned to land-based pens.
“Our polling results show that perceptions of open-net pen fish farms are very negative, and the vast majority would like to see the transition to land-based fish farming in BC,” said Steve Mossop, President of Insights West.
This poll, which also touches on other issues like habitat destruction, climate change, and predatory seals triggering salmon declines, bolsters the science deficit decisions by Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to oust open-net salmon farmers from BC oceans in exchange for votes in the upcoming federal election.
Minister Jordan has consistently sidelined her staff and their scientific recommendations opting for “social licence and acceptability” to benefit the anti-fish farm lobby.
Last December, she announced the removal of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands’ which will see BC losing almost $390 million in annual economic output with $87 million less in annual salaries and benefits, and 1,535 fewer jobs, mainly in coastal communities of Vancouver Island.
That decision flies in the face of nine-peer reviewed scientific studies that found farmed salmon pose minimal risks to migrating wild stocks in the Discovery Islands – a pre-requisite by the Cohen Commission for the continued operations of the farms in the area.
The fish farmers applied for a judicial review of the minister’s Dec 17th decision and won an injunction allowing them to continue transferring their salmon into the ocean farms pending a Federal Court ruling on the entire planned phase out. This hearing is scheduled for October.
“The only evidence before me is that today, salmon aquaculture in B.C. poses no more than a minimal risk to wild salmon” said Mr. Justice Panagiotis Pamel, in granting the injunction.
Minister Jordan then suddenly changed the policies governing the transfer of fish in BC’s Discovery Islands, to thwart the court order and keep denying applications by the fish farmers.
More recently, a new scientific study at the University of British Columbia has dismantled a key bogus claim by the anti-aquaculture activists, that the piscine reovirus (PRV) is a salmon killer and will devastate the iconic species in British Columbia.
The study, like the ones before, refutes core fearmongering by the activists who tell their mainly urban followers that PRV allegedly spread from fish farms, cause diseases in wild salmon stocks.
PRV has long been present in wild salmon in Pacific Northwest waters and has been detected in healthy fish, showing that its presence does not mean disease occurs.
So far virtually all claims and the pseudo-science trotted out by the anti-fish farming lobby in BC, have been discredited, dismissed and corrected without the media fanfare that accompanied their original dire announcements.
But their social media campaigns and the promise of urban votes for the Liberals have been effective to create the negative perception about salmon farming in BC.
The central pillar of the anti-salmon farm activists in BC is that any science that runs counter to their observations, should not be believed because it is bought and paid for by the aquaculture industry.
This claim, like several others made by the same people have been investigated and found to be false by independent authorities, costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The key takeaway words from this new poll are “perceptions” and “transition”. It capitalises on the perceptions created by the anti-salmon farming activists to get the desired result for the transition to land-based tanks.
Several of the questions in the poll lack clarity or context and in some cases are downright wrong in their phrasing.
Here are some examples;
There are a number of reasons that are believed to be contributing to the decline of wild Pacific salmon stocks. How much do you personally agree or disagree with the following reason? Sea lice coming from open net pen salmon farms.
This question gives the impression that farms are the source of sea lice. In fact farm-raised salmon are free of sea lice when they are entered into the ocean, but during the migration season wild salmon pass sea lice to farm-raised salmon, which can then be transferred back to the wild fish. Studies have shown that, in B.C., regardless of the presence or absence of salmon farms, there is wide variability in sea lice prevalence in coastal locations. Research over the past decade shows lice levels are significantly linked with ocean conditions and variations in wild hosts. Salmon farm employees in B.C. are required by regulation to examine their fish every two weeks, at a minimum, for regular sea lice counts during March 1 to June 30, to coincide with ‘Out Migration’ of wild salmon. If those counts show an average of three motile lice per fish, companies are required to take action to reduce the absolute lice count over subsequent weeks. This means either treating the fish or removing them, if a harvest is planned.
A study last year by DFO and the Atlantic Salmon Federation concluded that wild salmon returning to their home rivers don’t show any increased rates of infection after passing open net-pen aquaculture sites. Sea lice are naturally occurring parasites found on many species of marine fish, pose no risk to humans
There are a number of reasons that are believed to be contributing to the decline of wild Pacific salmon stocks. How much do you personally agree or disagree with the following reason? Disease transfer from open net pen farmed salmon to wild salmon.
First off the Cohen Commission, found there is no science that states salmon farms kill wild stocks. Specific to salmon farming and sockeye, Cohen concluded that “data presented during his inquiry did not show that salmon farms were having a significant negative impact on Fraser River sockeye.” A key false claim by the anti-fish farming activists is that PRV (piscine reovirus), allegedly spread from fish farms, cause diseases in wild salmon stocks. PRV has long been present in wild salmon in Pacific Northwest waters and has been detected in healthy fish, showing that its presence does not mean disease occurs. This has been reinforced by several peer-reviewed scientific studies, including the latest one last month from UBC. There are millions of viruses in every drop of seawater. Viruses are carried by all living things and most never cause disease. Other reoviruses have been found for decades in wild fish and never associated with disease. In British Columbia, there is no link between the presence of PRV and any disease. Nine scientific studies by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) have found that the marine operations of salmon farmers pose less than a minimal risk to wild fish.
What is your overall impression of each of the following? – The transition away from open net pen fish farms needs to happen immediately.
Again no context. Several studies, from government, industry and independent scientists on this issue, have shown transitioning all open-net fish farms in British Columbia to land-based salmon farms operations requires the use of large amounts of land, water, and power, and thus has a significant environmental footprint, in particular greenhouse gas emissions.
Other challenges to land based RAS grow-out facilities include the global shortage of a trained workforce, fish health, broodstock development, stocking densities, and financial risks, according to The State of Salmon Aquaculture Technologies study released in February 2020.
Currently, B.C. ocean-based salmon farms emit only 2.2 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every kilogram of edible fish produced. That is less than half of any animal raised on land, including 5.1 kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of chicken, 6.4 kilograms for pork, and 37.2 kilograms for beef. Should British Columbia succumb to the demands of anti-fish farm activists to move all ocean-based salmon farms to land based operations, the province will see a whopping increase of 22,881,000 kilograms of Greenhouse Gas (GhG) emissions, according to an independent study by RIAS Inc. Raising land based salmon also costs 12 times more than ocean farming, the studies have shown. Tellingly, there is no record of any new investments for large land-based Atlantic salmon grow-out facilities in BC, despite the claims of the activists. However, there is one group linked to the anti-salmon activists, some of whom are behind this poll, which is seeking a million tax dollars to grow fish on land.
Do you support or oppose the Canadian government decision to mandate the transition from open net pen salmon farming to closed containment by 2025?
There is no such mandate. Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan has said the 2025 deadline in her mandate letter is the date to create a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia.
According to Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, the transition, does not necessarily mean ousting fish farmers from the oceans to land-based operations.
He has said the future of salmon farming in BC could involve a range of technologies including hybrid grow-out operations, closed and semi-closed containment systems in the ocean together with an area-based management approach.
All in all this poll shows that the anti-fish farming activists have been successful in creating a negative perception about salmon farming in BC with their misinformation campaigns.
Because if the perceptions were a reality, there would be no need for this poll.
(Image courtesy of Grieg Seafood)