Her science is fishy. Her claims are baseless. But Dr. Kristi Miller-Saunders keeps accusing her colleagues of collusion with the aquaculture industry to suppress research.

“Wild rhetoric about aquaculture does nothing to save wild salmon”

Her science is fishy. Her claims are baseless. But Dr. Kristi Miller-Saunders keeps accusing her colleagues of collusion with the aquaculture industry to suppress research.

By Fabian Dawson

Dr. Kristi Miller-Saunders, a federal fisheries scientist known for her anti-salmon farming stance, is once again accusing her colleagues, without evidence, that they are colluding with the aquaculture industry to suppress research.

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.

The Globe and Mail in publishing her allegations, did not make any references to her previous discredited accusations or the fact that she herself has participated in studies funded by BC’s salmon farmers, which she says leads to conflicts of interests.

In an interview with the paper 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.

This includes the nine recent peer reviewed scientific studies on pathogen transfer risk between wild and farmed fish that have found farmed salmon pose minimal risks to migrating wild stocks in British Columbia.

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 Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) peer-review process and represented the consensus of the scientific advice of the participants.

But this is not good enough for Dr. Miller-Saunders and the anti-salmon farm activists in British Columbia, who have influenced some First Nations leaders to cloak their claims in treaty rights.

Dr. Miller-Saunders said she is troubled that her colleagues at the  Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) don’t see any problem with allowing industry to collaborate on research. She said she believes the aquaculture industry’s interest in participating in research is to influence how risks to salmon are handled.

“They want to be in the middle of the research, not truly because they want to understand the risk, but because they want to control what’s said about the risk and how it’s interpreted,” she said, adding that she feels DFO has unwarranted faith in the aquaculture industry.

Dr. Miller-Saunders makes no mention that she herself is working with the findings of the Gulf of Alaska expedition, which has been partly funded by the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Globe and Mail article also makes no reference to her previous claims of collusion with the industry, which were found to be baseless after an independent inquiry in 2018.

She then accused Dr. Gary Marty, the senior provincial fish pathologist at the Animal Health Centre (AHC) in Abbotsford, of potential conflict of interest because he had worked with a veterinarian from an aquaculture company on a scientific report.

The accusation, levelled in a CTV’s W5 program created a political uproar in BC, primarily fuelled by rhetoric from the anti-fish farming lobby at the aquaculture industry and triggered a government inquiry into the aquaculture industry.

Don Wright, then Deputy Minister to the Premier, who led the $100,000 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.” Deloitte, which conducted the review said; “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.”

In her latest attack on her colleagues, Dr. Miller-Saunders said a study that she concluded in 2012 into chinook salmon suffering jaundice and anemia in Tofino fish farms has not been published by DFO because of disputes between her and the corporate funder, which she claimed disagreed with her interpretation.

Creative Salmon, the Tofino-based aquaculture company that helped fund and support the jaundice study, said it’s not true that the company has prevented its publication. The company said it would like to see the study published, but disagreements between study authors about what role PRV played in jaundice has delayed publication.

Dr. Sonja Saksida and Dr. Gary Marty, two other authors of the study said Creative Salmon has nothing to do with the delay in publication. The delay is caused by a lack of consensus on how the data should be interpreted.

“According to widely accepted ethical standards for publishing scientific research papers, all authors must agree to the contents of the paper and be accountable for all aspects of the work. Publication of this study has been delayed because the authors do not yet agree on the contents of the manuscript,” the BC Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement.

DFO has also denied Dr. Miller-Saunders allegations of collusion telling SeaWestNews: “co-authors debate the issues until they come to a consensus and sometimes that takes time. This communication among researchers is a critical part of the development of scientific knowledge and ensures that the best research outcomes are achieved.”

In 2018, a study led by Dr. Miller-Saunders and Dr. Brian Riddell of the Pacific Salmon Foundation asserted that the Piscine Reovirus (PRV) is responsible for heart issues and jaundice in wild salmon.

That study, was made public by the Foundation in advance of publication within a scientific journal, which is not the normal practice, and for the benefit of the anti-salmon farming lobby groups in BC.

It was immediately savaged by a range of fisheries and aquaculture experts who said  the study 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.

A federal fisheries scientist who works alongside Dr. Miller-Saunders urged her to be more respectful of her colleagues and the scientific process used by DFO, following the publication of her latest allegations in The Globe and Mail.

“Wild rhetoric about aquaculture does nothing to save wild salmon,” he told SeaWestNews.

(Image of Dr. Kristi Miller-Saunders testifying at the Cohen Commission which concluded that “data presented during this inquiry did not show that salmon farms were having a significant negative impact on Fraser River sockeye.”)

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