Fact checking Morton’s diatribe about BC salmon farms
In a rambling conspiracy-laden letter, anti-salmon farm activist Alexandra Morton, accuses Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans of being a criminal organisation
By Fabian Dawson
BC’s loudest anti-salmon farm activist has ratcheted up her conspiracy-laden rants accusing Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) of being a criminal organisation working with a deep state of government scientists aligned with the aquaculture industry.
In a letter, reminiscent of Donald Trump’s desperate attempts to overturn the US elections, Alexandra Morton, who claims to be an independent scientist, has written to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan asking her to be wary of a cabal within DFO that is apparently working against efforts to boost wild fish stocks on Canada’s west coast.
Morton, who has culturally appropriated a First Nations identity to wrap her apocalyptic prophecies of salmon extinction in traditional territory treaty rights, wants DFO leadership on the West Coast replaced with people aligned with her agenda.
“He (the late fisheries scientist Ransom Myers) told me DFO is a criminal organization. Indeed, managing ocean fisheries to extinction should be viewed as a crime,” states Morton in the letter that is posted on her Facebook account.
“It is important that you are warned about the defensive alliance of senior bureaucrats and scientists that surround the salmon farming industry within DFO. Their allegiance to the industry is stronger than their allegiance to your office,” Morton states in her letter to Minister Jordan.
“I have read 10,000s of pages of internal DFO correspondence through the Freedom of Information Act and so I know what is going on.”
In dismissing her accusations and signalling that Morton’s sensational claims, that is being circulated among her disciples, are without merit, DFO said: “The Minister has the utmost trust and confidence in the scientists and staff at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and all public servants that work tirelessly every day on behalf of all Canadians.”
Morton is demanding that the DFO Pacific aquaculture management team be replaced with the likes of Dr. Kristi Miller-Saunders, a federal fisheries scientist known for her anti-salmon farming stance, who has been accusing her colleagues, without evidence, that they are colluding with the industry to suppress research.
Dr. Miller-Saunders embraces the central pillar of the anti-salmon farm activists in BC that any science that runs counter to their claims that ocean-based fish farms endanger wild stocks, should not be believed because it is bought and paid for by the aquaculture industry.
Her most recent unproven claims published in the Globe and Mail, mirror her previous efforts to discredit her colleagues. Those claims were found to be baseless after independent inquiries that cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Morton references a 2018 study by Dr Miller-Saunders which asserted that the Piscine Reovirus (PRV) allegedly propagated by fish farms is responsible for heart issues and jaundice in wild salmon.
This study has been savaged by a range of fisheries and aquaculture experts who said it was more about activism against fish farms than real science.
Dr. Ian Gardner, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Aquatic Epidemiology said this “speculative” study made broad sweeping statements not supported by evidence.
Dr. Hugh Mitchell, an internationally recognised fish health expert, said that that Dr. Miller-Saunders and her group “grossly extrapolated the findings” to conclude that their study shows very real risks associated with PRV transmission from farmed salmon to wild Pacific salmon.
DFO said PRV has long been present in wild salmon in Pacific Northwest waters and all experimental exposures of the BC strain of PRV to Pacific and Atlantic salmon in BC have failed to induce disease or mortality. This suggests PRV in BC has a low ability to cause disease.
Morton also accuses, again without evidence, that the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) altered data in nine recent peer-reviewed studies on pathogen transfer risk between wild and farmed fish that have found farmed salmon pose minimal risks to migrating wild stocks in the Discovery islands of BC.
For the nine risk assessments, the sources included both international and Canadian experts – including First Nations, ENGOs, academic and aquaculture industry experts – from a wide variety of disciplines. The conclusions were generated through the CSAS peer-review process and represented the consensus of the scientific advice of the participants.
But this is not good enough for Morton and her allies in the Salmon-Anon circles, who successfully influenced the pre-Christmas decision by Minister Jordan to phase out the salmon farms in the Discovery Islands, which will result in 1,498 job losses mostly in coastal communities of North Vancouver Island.
Morton admits in her letter that she and others don’t know “what the extinction drivers are” for the dwindling returns of wild salmon, that has been documented for generations by scientists and First Nations and well before ocean-based salmon farming came to BC.
However, she claims she has “picked up the thread of unethical abusive pressure applied to anyone in DFO who dares speak the truth about the impact of salmon farms.”
The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA), which recently unveiled a study by an independent economist concluding the industry has the potential to invest $1.4 billion in innovation, new technology and infrastructure through 2050 and create almost 10,000 new jobs, expressed the need to get away from polarized rhetoric and focus on the facts.
“If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to rely on science and not let rhetoric sway us when making decisions. Sustainable salmon farming in BC can directly support shared prosperity with First Nations and aquaculture-dependent coastal communities, while producing millions of meals worth of local food each week. That’s worth preserving,” said a BCSFA spokesperson.
(Screen shot of a YouTube video message by Alexandra Morton to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan)