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Friday, February 11, 2011

Fraser sockeye done wrong by salmon farms

Well, lookee here. If it ain't the Open Net-Cage Gang. Afternoon, boys. Lookin' sharp in them suits.

Now I ain't one for pontificatin', and I know you ain't much for listenin' anyways. So I'll get to it. You've had your run of this place for a long time. Too long. But see here: there's a new study in town.  

Says here that Fraser river sockeye collected in yonder Discovery Islands had higher loads of sea lice than them Skeena river sockeye what don't pass salmon farms.

How much more? A dadgum order of magnitude is how much.

What's more, them Fraser fish that were collected downstream of the farms had more sea lice than the fish that were collected upstream of the farms. Seems pretty clear that them fish were picking up those varmints on their way past the farms - picking 'em up like the Santa Fe line picks up hobos.

Pickin' em up like hobos. Daggone if that don't just jangle my chaps.

Just goes to show that there ain't room for artificially elevated concentrations of them varmints and wild salmon in this here ocean.

So you open-net cage boys: if I were you, I'd be gittin' on.

Hell, I'd be runnin' for them hills, and takin' your whole dadgummed operation with you.

Pictured: juvenile pink salmon with them varmints


  1. What's easier to sell as a risk to the world's salmon population: sea lice and farmed salmon, or Japanese, Russian, and Alaskan ranched (check that farmed) salmon that constitute up to 40 percent of the salmon sold on the market? The world keeps condemning farmed salmon while choking back on it in their little sushi bars (I don't care how much spin Suzuki or the Native Brotherhood put on it, Ocean Ranching is farming). Here's a real solution, stop eating salmon ... promote more sustainable alternatives, such as mackeral. But, I guess since anti-fish farming BC enviros get a large portion of their donations from Alaskan ocean ranchers (who, coincidentally enough use the feed produced from those nasty fish farm corporations that they condemn)saying we should cut down on our salmon consumption and promote ecnomic diversity in our coastal communities is out of the question ... Hmmm ... Pretending to care about salmon is fun, isn't it guys?

  2. Wow, that was fast! The hook had barely touched the water.

    I'm not going to get into a lengthy debate here, but two quick things:

    1) I agree that much of the world does condemn salmon farming in open net-cages, and the fact that it's coming from around the world, rather than just B.C., would suggest that it's more than a clever marketing ploy by those shadowy and all-powerful Alaskan salmon fishermen.

    2) Living Oceans, via its work with Seachoice, most wholeheartedly agrees that we need to be eating sustainable choices, such as B.C. sardines, for example. Example: just the other day, our sustainable seafood campaign manager, Shauna MacKinnon, was on CBC radio discussing sustainable seafood. When challenged by a caller about the perceived higher cost of that choice, Shauna highlighted B.C. sardines as an inexpensive and sustainable choice (along with pink salmon). Link to the interview:

  3. But you are missing the point entirely - something enviros in BC due all to often. Alaskan Ocean Ranching, Japanese Ocean Ranching, and Russian Ocean Ranching ARE aquaculture.
    1) They use the same food.
    2) The food used in these ocean ranching, trout farming, and salmon farming operations account for the LARGEST global environmental impacts associated with the operations. CO2 emissions, reduced biodiversity in worldwide fisheries.
    3) Up to %40 of these "wild salmon" from Japan, Alaska, and Russia are grown well into the smolt stage, using farming techniques, and then released! RELEASED!!! Incidents of straying associated with these operations are enormous.

    4) Alexandra Morton herself has said that BC enviros ARE addicted to Alaskan Fisherman money, and that she WOULDN'T be taking anymore money from them so her research wouldn't be constrained.

    5) The Skeena River collapsed that year as well. Fish farming to blame for that. Or surprise, it's much more complex than that.

    6) I am an environmentalist and anti-fish farming. But I hate the way Enviro groups think they are above criticism from their own members. Promoting correlation as a definititive causation isn't science ... it's merely a PR ploy.

    7) How's that exctinction of the Broughton Pink coming along ... you know, 2011 ... enviros and fish farmers have done nothing to change the situation in the broughton ... we were told that if nothing happened, the pinks would be exctinct ... hmm ... correlation as causation = PR

    no wonder fish farming hasn't gone away yet.
    great job guys! ;)

  4. Also, saying pink salmon is a sustainable choice is a joke. Only if it's from BC, and isn't from hatcheries. Alaska, Japan, and Russia all farm (i'm not going to call it ranching, because if you grow salmon until the smolt stage in ocean cages then it is farming, using pellets used by Farming Corporations such as EWOS or Skretting you are farming) their pinks.

  5. Avast, ye who apparently have lots of time on his/her hands! Dost thou have a point about the article at hand, or what?

    I have no quarrel with your claims about salmon ranching. However, I do confess that by your oath in 7) I fear I may be conversing not with a good soul but with a knave.

    I also take strongest umbrage to the accusation that I have confused correlation with causality in this particular blog post. I believe that I stuck to summarizing the paper in question, in the voice of an old-timey sheriff, and nothing more. If you would be so kind to notice, I never said that the paper at hand proved that sea lice caused the Fraser sockeye collapse, or anything of the sort.

    I accept your barbs as being part and parcel to occupying the lofty position of blogger for a medium-sized ENGO. However, I note that in none of your comments do you address anything in the actual paper being discussed, and I wonder at this.

    Verily, I have to get going, as the dusking hours approach and I want to get a pizza.

  6. Dear John, Although you are far from alone in your assumptions on the sea=lice debate. You have indeed confused correlation with causality. Have you read the independent review put forth by the Pacific salmon forum of the science thus far performed on the topic? For an alternative critique of this very same research I recommend an article in titled 'Another lousy louse report' Go ahead and read it, I dare you.
    Sincerely yours
    Bob Milne

  7. Dear Bob,

    First of all, thanks for the respectful tone. I accepted the dare and took a look at the article you mentioned (link:, written by Odd Grydeland.

    Here are my thoughts.

    First, I'll ignore the first three paragraphs of Mr. Grydeland's article, because they focus on supposed shortcomings of the journal, and the journal (PLoS ONE) doesn't need the likes of me defending it. I'll also skip the brief fourth paragraph, which offered some praise for an aspect of the salmon article.

    Here are my thoughts on the remaining paragraphs in Mr. Grydeland's article, starting with the fifth paragraph and continuing line-by-line to the end. Keep in mind, I'm not an author of, nor am I connected to, the PLoS ONE article in question - I just compared the two side-by-side to see if Mr. Grydeland's assertions regarding weaknesses of the salmon article stand up to brief scrutiny.

  8. Grydeland: "First of all- there are no salmon farms in the Strait of Georgia."
    Response: The salmon in this study were collected from the Discovery islands, and throughout the report they refer to the Discovery islands – not the Strait of Georgia. In fact, the words ‘Strait of Georgia’ don’t appear in the entire article. So, I’m not sure what the point is here.

    "Secondly- there was no information in the study about the actual presence/absence of sea lice on the farms in the study area, which actually was the southern portion of Johnstone Strait/ Okisollo Channel, Cordero and Nodales Channels."
    - The authors report that data were only publicly available for 6 Marine Harvest farms. Marine Harvest had reported average louse abundance for both louse species. The researchers used these numbers to estimate trends for the Marine Harvest farms. There were no publicly available louse data for 12 other salmon farms. Importantly, in 2007 Marine Harvest farms had more C. clemensi and in 2008 they had more L. salmonis, which the authors note paralleld the trends noted for the downstream sockeye.

    "Thirdly- there was no mention about the fact that the most commonly found species of the sea lice found on the sockeye salmon has seldom been associated with damage or disease of salmon- certainly not at the low average levels reported in this study."
    - This isn't true - the authors explicitly address this point. The authors note that C. clemensi “is thought to cause less mechanical damage to juvenile pink and chum salmon (references)” They then go on to note that the “juvenile sockeye are larger and have developed scales at the time of ocean entry compared to juvenile pink and chum; thus, it is unlikely that the average number of C. clemensi observed on sockeye (2/3 lice per fish) would cause direct mortality for healthy fish.” They then go on to describe possible deleterious yet sub-lethal effects of such louse loads.

  9. "And the authors only make a brief mention ('though brief localized outbreaks have occurred')of a recent study from the Strait of Georgia that documented an “outbreak” of this very species of sea lice on sockeye salmon far away from any salmon farms. When the authors found a population “upstream” of salmon farms that had higher levels of sea lice than samples taken ‘downstream”- these numbers were isolated from the rest, and called an “outlier” series of numbers." -The authors do note this site, which is 8 km upstream from a salmon processing plant, and they do discuss potential reasons for the outbreak. They also note that when they did include this site in their statistics, they found that ‘the primary conclusions remained essentially the same.’

    "Anybody involved with sea lice research in B.C. (and elsewhere) know that sea lice levels are routinely associated with salinity."
    - The authors make it very clear that they understand this, and they take it into account. In the methods they hypothesize that 'high temperature and salinity would also be correlated with high lice loads…' They then go on to test for the influence of salinity (see below).

    "The authors of this study speculate that 'Factors beyond the absence of farm salmon on the north coast may have contributed to the significantly lower lice levels on sockeye compared to the Discovery Islands. In particular, differences in lice levels may be due to our use of different sampling gear or different environmental conditions, though we did incorporate the two key conditions known to affect sea louse infection levels into our analyses: salinity and temperature. Our analyses show that the lower infection rates for C. clemensi on the north coast cannot be explained by salinity and temperature alone. The primary strength of our study was the comparison of infection levels before and after fish had been exposed to salmon farms within the Discovery Islands'. The problem with this is that if you look at salinity alone, you’ll see that the average salinity in the area sampled in the north coast was less than 17‰, while ocean salinities from sampling around the salmon farm all exceeded an average of 25‰- a significant difference."
    - I read this preceding paragraph as suggesting that the authors didn't account for the effect of salinity, when if fact they explicitly did do so.In the results, the authors note that salinity (and year, and proximity to farms) were each significantly correlated with L. salmonis numbers, but the same did not hold for C. clemensi abundance- position relative to farms was the only significant factor for C. clemensi.

  10. "And the sockeye salmon sampled “downstream” from salmon farms were much bigger (~30% and ~48% respectively) than those sampled “upstream” from farms- suggesting that they would have had more time to accumulate the few extra lice that were found on these fish."
    – The authors consider this, but point out that while the fish are indeed larger downstream, the lice that they are carrying were mostly in their larval stage– suggesting that the salmon picked them up soon before being sampled.

    And that's the end of Mr. Grydeland's article.

    Anyway, very long story short, I found little in Mr. Grydeland's article to make me suspicious of the PLoS ONE article. There are certainly a few things that I wish the PLoS ONE article would have included in greater detail, of course, but that is certainly not grounds for dismissing it.

  11. Ahhh yes, and the study looked at little salmon with sea lice on them. Found more of the most harmful sea lice (the salmon louse) in 2008. And that 2008 outmigration turned into the largest run of sockeye in the fall of 2010.

    Didn't see if this sea lice was actually harmful but kinda alludes to the fact.

    But then, as we now know, the higher abundance of the dreaded salmon louse in 2008 must have caused the record return of Fraser River sockeye in 2010. Yeah! I reach this conclusion because, clearly, if it had been a bad return, these authors and the bloggers that think they're wittier than they really are, would make their own dire conclusions.

  12. Dear john, I must disagree with you on the issue of the larger size of the sampled fish from the high exposure area.This is significant and i will expand upon why. If a sample population is 30-40 per cent larger in the high exposure area (downstream), the likely reason is that they are different fish from the low or no exposure (upstream) samples. They have been in georgia strait or vicinity longer and have had more time to be infected by lice. (regardless of source)
    If the downstream fish indeed swam by the fish farms and became infected from that source, wouldn't one expect that they be the same size a mere few kilometres away in a high tidal flow area. The whole premise of the article depends on the upstream fish being the same fish as the downstream fish . Dismissing the size variance by reference to the small size of the lice only blurs the subject and further leads me to believe they are different fish and took different paths to the sampling area. I'm not sure if this is what Odd was thinking , but there are some who think in this way . Thanks for your lengthy and thoughtful response.

    Bob Milne


  13. In reference to PLosONE, they are the publisher and in charge of the peer-review process. As you stated earlier in your thread "most people don't bother to read the original paper. But for those of us that do and want to know more; including simple information like who were the reviewers?and what did they have to say? The authors have the right to anonymity. This is clearly stated in the reviewer guidlines on the PLoSONE website. I ask you, How much credibility should we "the reader" give to a process that allows anonymity in a process that was designed to promote transparency? You need not defend PLosONE but the topic is worthy of debate and discussion, no?

  14. re salinity The authors dismiss salinity as a major factor yet still use the data from the control sampling area ( skeena river area) in graphs and arguments to support the premise that fish farms are the probable source of increased lice prevalence and numbers.The difference in salinity between the two sampling areas is not small. 17 ppt to the north and 28 ppt in discovery. I don't care what kind of models are used to manipulate this fact but this disparity has significant implications: namely that the control test sampling was conducted in low-salinity areas where juvenile fish have had little exposure to copepodid sea lice.This control is referred to repeatedly to support both the premises and hypotheses of the paper.