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Alexandra Morton's letter to the fisheries minister on missing sockeye
By Charlie Smith
Fish biologist Alexandra Morton wrote a letter last night to Fisheries Minister Gail Shea regarding this year's dismal return of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River. Straight.com decided to publish the letter in full:
Dear Fisheries Minister Shea:
I am following the news that DFO is reporting 11 million sockeye salmon have vanished. The magnitude, social impact and trajectory of this fishery failure is on a par with the collapse of Canada’s Atlantic cod. Scientists have published on what went wrong within DFO to allow the cod, one of earth’s most abundant food resources to collapse. They identified political distortion of the science as a critical factor. They argue the public was not accurately informed as the collapse was underway.
(Hutchings, J.A., Walters, C., and Haedrich, R.L. 1997. Is scientific inquiry incompatible with government information control? Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 54: 1198–1210. )
This brings me to several recent comments in the media attributed to high-ranking DFO employees. Bary [sic] Rosenburger, DFO area director for the Fraser, describes the Fraser sockeye collapse as unexpected and that DFO doesn’t know what happened (Globe and Mail, Aug 13, 2009). But the next day he goes on to say it does not look like fish farms are responsible (BCLocalNews.com).
On August 15, Paul Sprout, Pacific Region Director for DFO published a letter in the Globe and Mail “Sea lice from fish farms are not the explanation of this year’s extremely poor marine survival of Fraser River sockeye...”
Given both the importance of the Fraser sockeye to the BC economy, ecology and First Nations; and the analysis that DFO political interference with science may have allowed the east coast cod to collapse, it is reasonable to ask what science did Sprout and Rosenburger use to inform the public that fish farms are not responsible for this sockeye collapse?
Two of your highest ranking employees involved with this fishery have publicly exonerated the fish farmers, an industry associated with catastrophic salmon collapse worldwide (Ford and Myers 2008) and here in BC (Krkosek et al 2007).
The most recent past catastrophic BC wild salmon collapse was in 2002 when 99% of the Broughton pink salmon failed to return. The Pink Salmon Action Plan temporarily removed farm salmon from the Broughton pink salmon migration route and the next generation of pink salmon returned at the highest survivorship ever recorded for the species (Beamish et al 2006). That management decision was reversed and the stock collapsed again.
Dr. Brian Riddell of the Pacific Salmon Foundation suggests that answers to the fate of these sockeye may lie in what happened to them right after they left the Fraser River, before they reached the open ocean. I and others did examine this run of sockeye shortly after they left the Fraser River. We were the last scientists to see these fish before they disappeared, and they had up to 28 sea lice on them as they passed the salmon farms off Campbell River.
Before you reply that DFO’s Dr. Simon Jones says young salmon are highly resistant to lice, please review his publications. I do not find the data in his studies to support this claim once the lice are attached to the fish. Many international scientific papers run contrary to Dr. Jones’ assertions.
I cannot tell you that fish farms definitely killed all 11 million missing Fraser sockeye, but fish farms most certainly are involved because DFO and the Province of BC sited them on the Fraser River migration route. The missing sockeye did swim through fish farm effluent. Rather than exempting fish farms from your investigation you must order complete disclosure of the health and number of farm salmon on the missing Fraser sockeye migration route in 2006-present. And we, the people of Canada and beyond, need to know why DFO is exonerating fish farms in the first few days of the investigation on what happened to one of earth’s most generous human food supplies?
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