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Finally Getting Serious about Fish Farm Dangers

At long last, muzzled DFO scientist Miller gets mandate to deepen risks study.

By Rafe Mair 18 Mar 2013 |

Rafe Mair writes a column for The Tyee every second Monday. Read his previous columns here. He is also a founding contributor to The Common Sense Canadian.

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Sea lice on salmon fry. Apply the precautionary principle.

Dr. Kristina Miller is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) scientist that the DFO muzzled for the Cohen Commission. She is an expert if not the expert on the question of disease, its origins, and its impact on wild salmon. Well, you might ask why such an expert would not be encouraged by our paid employees in the DFO? Who wouldn't want all available evidence available for Commissioner Cohen?

The answer is a simple one, repeated so often to have become old hat.

Please burn this onto the front burners of your brain. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a disabling conflict of interest. According to the Act they must protect our salmon while they are under government orders to promote aquaculture -- and the latter trumps the former every time.

We saw earlier evidence of this gross interference in the Alcan Kemano II debate of 20 years ago when the then minister, Tom Siddon, made it clear that Alcan's desires would prevail over the words of seven DFO scientists who opposed the deal as a death sentence for sockeye in the Nechako River. To be fair, none of them used those words exactly but having been up to my eyeballs in the issue I can assure you that this is a fair statement of their position. All were disciplined by the DFO. Two years before the nefarious deal was made, DFO scientists provided the government with a scathing study that utterly condemned the Kemano II Plan and it was not only ignored, it was hidden from public view until it was leaked to me.

As to the study now being undertaken by Dr. Miller please look at Mark Hume's fine article in the Globe and Mail of March 11 (if you can penetrate the paywall).

A decade of silence

The commissioning of Dr. Miller comes very late and will take a lot of time. If we're not careful we will be so grateful to the DFO we'll forget the decade of silence. Metaphorically one might say that this is like the person who puts a stone in your shoe: it is so painful that when finally he removes it, you're so grateful you forget how it got there in the first place.

I wanted to throw up when the spokesperson for the fish farmers, Mary Ellen Walling, said of the commission that she welcomed it and remarked that as to sea lice and other matters the industry had made "great strides." That might be seen as just a bit cynical given the fact that she has said for a decade that there was no problem with sea lice. The Vancouver Sun, in synch with the tenets of the Fraser Institute, gave Walling one op-ed page article after another in which to deny that the salmon had any problem and now, ten years on, she remarks on the "great strides" handling the dangerous situation she said didn't exist!

There has been much talk of fish farms going on land. Industry says this will mean costs of the operation will be too much to allow for a profit.

Again, gentle readers, we must take a sober look at that statement, for in it lies the issue. The reason fish farms cannot be brought on land is because they would have to clean up their own mess! At present, they get free sewage disposal courtesy the people of British Columbia. It's akin to a large housing project where the developer gets free sewage disposal by throwing it on the street.

The new DFO study under Dr. Miller and Dr. Brian Riddell is clearly a result of the Cohen Commission. But how much more valuable it would have been if it had come earlier.

The question for today is why aren't fish farms banned as of now, remaining so until after the Miller/Riddell commission reports?

Too heavy handed?


One could argue that if this were cattle or sheep they would have been quarantined years ago. One could argue that people with certain contagions, for God's sake, would be quarantined.

Instead, the provincial government is issuing new licences to fish farms that dump raw fish excrement in the water along with antibiotics, waste food and colourants.

Where were the 'papers of record'?

I ask again, forlornly, why haven't the Vancouver Sun and Province been on this issue, which is now, like the government, in its thirteenth year? Show me articles by their columnists demanding action to prevent fish farms from polluting the water in which they are sited. Or insisting that farms be taken away from migratory routes of wild salmon. Or calling for prompt attention to allegations of communicable disease on the farmed fish. Or raising alarms about, from the beginning, the question of escapes into the spawning areas of wild salmon.

Lay out all such articles written by Vaughn Palmer, Mike Smyth or others on the subject, then tell us how much space you've given pro-farmers like Ms. Walling and Patrick Moore.

In fact, Postmedia, you should have demanded from the outset that the "precautionary principle" apply to the farmers before a single farm was built. You didn't, but others did -- organizations like The Tyee, The Wilderness Committee, The Common Sense Canadian, the Living Oceans Society, and most of all by the redoubtable marine researcher Alexandra Morton who has pledged her very existence into fighting this horrible blot on the provincial escutcheon.

The long and the short of it is that B.C.'s outlets for Postmedia have let us down by not shining the proper light on industry and senior governments which are complicit in the murder of our precious Pacific salmon.  [Tyee]

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