Friday, November 4, 2011

Testing for ISA: Dr. Marty Responds

Dr. Gary Marty responded to my email below in a very detailed and technical response. I appreciate Dr. Marty's time in responding to my queries. I hope Dr. Marty will forgive me for doubting the efficacy and, for lack of better phrase, scientific sincerity in the testing regime for ISA in farmed salmon in recent years.

That is, I have no doubt that salmon farmers are very concerned for their own stocks and any outbreaks of ISA, for which I'm sure they test religiously. What I do not believe is that if any salmon farm tested positive for ISA that the public would have been alerted, or any testing done to see the effects on wild fish.

As the DFO Minister admitted in response to a 2005 petition to the Auditor General (by David Suzuki Fdn, the Georgia Strait Alliance et al) regarding the federal failure to test for diseases in salmon farms:

"The aquaculture industry is one of the fastest growing food production activities in the world. In Canada, aquaculture is a relatively new industry that has expanded rapidly over the last two decades. The Government of Canada recognizes the significant benefits to society associated with aquaculture and has made sustainable aquaculture development a key federal priority."
Which has unfortunately, in practice, meant that we're chasing the money and damn the consequences. Salmon farming is a $653 million dollar industry in Canada annually, and this buys some significant lobbying assistance.

The onus is very much on those employed by government—whether bureaucrats or scientists— to blow the whistle when they know they are being used in bad faith to stall or delay precautionary action that would prevent a catastrophe.

Dear Tyee,

By law, the UPEI finding that 3 Pacific salmon samples were positive by PCR for ISAV is under investigation by CFIA. It is unethical for any medical professional to comment on their investigation while it is ongoing. However, I can provide some general information about how medical professionals scrutinize PCR test results.

Imagine that the Animal Health Centre tested some sticklebacks for infectious pancreatic necrosis virus (IPNV) using the same PCR test that we used on samples from 4,726 farm salmon over the past 8 years; imagine that 3 of 60 tests came back positive. All tests on the farm salmon were negative, so we have a high degree of confidence that our farms are free of IPNV and they are not the source of IPNV.

The next question is whether the results in the stickleback are true positives or false positives. PCR tests detect only a very small segment of the entire virus genome; they do not detect the entire genome. We need to be sure that the small piece of DNA/RNA detected by the PCR test really is the virus as opposed to some other material that also contains the same small piece of DNA/RNA; this is especially important when dealing with a new species (e.g., stickleback) in which the PCR test has not been validated. Also, PCR tests are highly sensitive, and contamination might occur from a source other than the original sample.

Immediately, our veterinary virologist would question the results because IPNV is not known to be in BC, and sticklebacks are not known to be susceptible to IPNV. False positive results are relatively common, and we have several options for validating our findings. At a minimum, our virologist would probably do the following:

1) determine the size of the amplified PCR product (is it the size that it is supposed to be?);
2) sequence the nucleic acid in the PCR product (does the sequence match IPNV?).

Until these basic things have been confirmed, we would not report a positive test result.

We would also try to culture the virus on cell lines known to support the growth of IPNV. We do this because PCR tests can detect DNA/RNA sequences that are not complete viruses. Virus culture can take several weeks.

A separate question is whether the fish have the disease, Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis. Fish can often harbour a virus with no signs of disease. I would want to know if the stickleback had "classic lesions" of IPN. If histopathology was not included as part of our diagnostic process, we would be unable to conclude whether a PCR test result was associated with the disease IPN.

These are some of the standard procedures that we use in our laboratory to avoid reporting false test results.


Gary Marty
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dear Dr. Marty, Part II

Here is Dr. Marty's response to my letter:

Dear fellow wild salmon advocates,
I fully support the investigation by CFIA to determine the significance of the PCR results reported by Dr. Kibenge's laboratory. Once we have those results, then we can decide on the best course of action.
Gary Marty

What wild salmon advocate Dr. Marty does not say is why such an investigation is necessary, how long it will take or what potential costs such a delay might have. I predict that if the CFIA has their way, they will find their investigation results "inconclusive" and that they "warrant further study" before any decisions are made— and no decisions that affect the corporate bottom line will be made.

As a fisheries biologist friend of mine said after reading Dr. Marty's email this evening:

"Marty's answer is so lame, I can't even believe it. Next we're going to hear ISA came from sticklebacks! Delay, distract, deny all over again."

Here is my reply to Dr. Marty:

Dear Dr. Marty,
Thank you for your response.
With respect, when there are repeated indications from a research lab of Dr. Kibenge's caliber—the OIE Reference Laboratory for ISA at the Atlantic Veterinary College— that we are seeing multiple infections across salmon species, wouldn't part of determining the "significance" of such findings be immediate testing of all salmon farms?
AS SFU's Rick Routledge said, "The potential impact of ISA cannot be taken lightly. There must be an immediate response to assess the extent of the outbreak, determine its source, and to eliminate all controllable sources of the virus."
In the public interest, a top-priority regime of tissue collection, testing and any necessary quarantine/culling must be imposed immediately and with complete transparency.
Tyee Bridge

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Dear Dr. Marty, Part I

Below is the text of an email I sent yesterday to Dr. Gary Marty, a fish pathologist for the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands.

Dear Dr. Marty,
Prior to 2008, when those who did not work for the Federal Reserve Board—advocacy groups & concerned citizens— questioned high-level policymakers about the wisdom and dangers of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and other dodgy financial instruments, they were often brushed aside with condescension: something along the lines of, "These matters are too complicated for you to understand."

We know where that led.

Similarly, recourse to the exacting procedures of scientific method, as pointed out by Davidson, Freudenberg and Gramling (see attached paper)* cannot be used as a tactic to delay precautionary action.

With your background you could lead the call for precautionary measures, which are clearly warranted with salmon farms, and could help prevent further catastrophes for wild salmon. You have a duty to the public as well as to those who pay your bills. I hope that you will act as a leader on this matter and recommend appropriate precautions, which must include immediate, intrusive, non-voluntary testing of random samples from all farms on BC's coast by a recognized third-party lab such as that of Dr. Kibenge, and prompt closure of any farms evidencing known salmon pathogens such as ISA.

I second Mr. Doumenc's questions below, and look forward to your response.

Tyee Bridge

*Click here for the SCAMs paper.
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Now that ISA (Infectious Salmon Anemia) has been found in Pacific sockeye and coho, and could only have arrived here via salmon farms, the federal government is in cut-and-cover mode.

Here's a letter from wild salmon campaigner Ivan Doumenc to a provincial researcher, Gary Marty (pictured at right), that is essential reading.

"Today, obviously, your comments convey a very different message – that the regulatory agencies in charge of protecting us against animal disease pandemics were asleep at the wheel, sloppy, complacent, dismissive, negligent, or worse."

Well said, Ivan.

Fish Pathologist
Animal Health Centre
BC Ministry of Agriculture & Lands
CC: the public

October 31, 2011

Dear Dr. Marty,

I am a member of the general public living in Vancouver. Over the past couple years I have become increasingly involved in the conservation of wild salmon. But who I am is not very relevant.
On August 31, 2011, while you were on the witness stand at the Cohen Commission, you made a rather stunning comment: “CFIA [the Canadian Food Inspection Agency] actually discourages us to test for international foreign animal diseases. They prefer that they be called.”

Let me provide some context.

You were being cross-examined by Mr. Spiegelman, counsel for Canada, and the topic was a report that Dr. Alexandra Morton wrote to CFIA inquiring about some possible cases of infectious salmon anemia (ISA) that she had found in the Commission's disclosure database.

Those suspected cases of ISA, it appears, turned out to be false alarms since CFIA responded to Dr. Morton’s query on May 16, 2011 by stating that “All cases were evaluated as NO RISK for ISA”.
But then, Mr. Spiegelman asked you some follow-up questions about how you – as a fish pathologist for the Province of B.C. – dealt with the risk of ISA, and what was your level of confidence that B.C. was protected from that disease.

And you stated:

“Throughout the audit program, we test between 600 and 800 fish every year, since 2003, with a highly sensitive and specific PCR test, and those have been all negative. And so that gives me a great deal of confidence that we don't have ISAV in British Columbia.

So in several of these cases, it's not routine, when you have that level of confidence, it's not routine to always test for it when it's not known to occur, especially when you always have this active audit program going on. In fact, CFIA actually discourages us to test for international foreign animal diseases. They prefer that they be called.

So the fish health, because there weren't requirements from CFIA before January, we sort of have a grandfather-type system.”

Your comments, I take it, were intended to convey the reassuring message that the risk of ISA in British Columbia was so low that CFIA considered systematic testing to be somewhat redundant and unnecessary.
What a difference six weeks can make! Today, obviously, your comments convey a very different message – that the regulatory agencies in charge of protecting us against animal disease pandemics were at sleep at the wheel, sloppy, complacent, dismissive, negligent, or worse.

I have four specific questions for you and would appreciate a detailed and prompt response on your part, given that time is of the essence in this matter.

1. Does CFIA actually discourage veterinarians with the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture from conducting tests on foreign animal diseases such as ISA? Is a phone call really the preferred means of communication that this agency encourages, rather than rigorous and formal laboratory tests? How did/does that policy on the part of CFIA specifically impact your work as a veterinarian?

2. When you said that “when you have that level of confidence, it's not routine to always test for [ISA] when it's not known to occur”, did you mean to say that you did not test potential cases of ISA systematically, or did you mean to say that you did perform those tests systematically in spite of CFIA encouraging you not to do that?

3. I assume that your “level of confidence” has been significantly downgraded by recent developments and that you now consider the disease situation in B.C. to be anything but “routine”. (Unless you would want to take the position that the two separate ISA tests performed by the OIE laboratory in Prince Edward Island are both faulty – in which case I will definitely want to hear your comments about that as well.) How do you intend to change/upgrade your own protocols and procedures to respond to the unfolding ISA crisis, now that you are no longer in “high confidence” territory?

4. Your comment “So the fish health, because there weren't requirements from CFIA before January, we sort of have a grandfather-type system” is unclear to me. I would appreciate if could elaborate on that.

Please provide any relevant documentation and/or explanations to support your answers.

In case you would want to dismiss my questions as being yet another overreaction from an uninformed member of the public, I would like to conclude by quoting from a letter by Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, which was published in the Vancouver Sun this morning.

Her comments, I hope, will help convey to you the extreme level of urgency that the outside world places in this matter, as well as the potential dire consequences that inaction on the part of government – which you as a lead scientist represent – could involve:

“As the representative of Alaska fishermen who rely exclusively on the health of wild fish, I am appalled by the near-silence of the Canadian agencies responsible to protect them. I've reserved comment in hopes that they would send some signal to the public, and West Coast fishermen in particular, that Canada is proactively engaged with a "fish first" attitude.

On Friday Oct. 21 - more than a week after ISA was detected in B.C. salmon - Canadian officials issued a press release devoid of any sense of urgency. They announced they will run more tests, wait several weeks for results, and only then, if additional testing reveals ISA, stakeholders will be convened to, "identify and take appropriate next steps." Really?!”

Yours very truly,

Ivan Doumenc
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wild Salmon Circle Rally

Another long delay in writing here, my apologies. Been busy with the Wild Salmon Circle, a citizen group that has begun to meet regularly since June to look for effective ways of getting salmon farms out of BC waters. With the Fraser sockeye collapse and the DFO's ironic role at the Nor-Aqua industrial aquaculture conference in August, the WSC felt it had to speak out and called a rally outside DFO headquarters in downtown Vancouver. Since then, the group has attracted some smart minds on this issue-- filmmakers, biologists, self-described 'angry old men-- and the WSC may be in a position to help provoke a citizen groundswell on the salmon farming issue. Far too much to say about all of it, but here is the WSC's current project, a citizen rally in downtown Vancouver on October 3:

Turn the Tide - Stand up for Wild Salmon

WHERE: The Vancouver Art Gallery, on Georgia between Hornby and Howe

WHEN: October 3, 2009, 1:00 p.m.

WHAT: A rally for wild salmon at the Art Gallery. Guest speakers, Tum Tum the wild salmon in costume, information, petitions, and with luck some wild salmon cultural activities.

PURPOSE: To demand the DFO immediately remove salmon farms from the BC coast, and begin restoring our stocks of wild salmon-- and to begin a non-partisan, democratic citizen movement for the preservation of wild salmon.


The Wild Salmon Circle* is calling all concerned citizens in British Columbia to a rally in Vancouver on October 3, 2009 to stand up for our wild salmon.

If we do not demand change, we may see the demise of these amazing fish--upon whom orcas, grizzlies, forests and humans depend-- in our lifetime. While we recognize there are many factors affecting wild salmon, salmon farms have been proven undeniably by Canadian and international research to result in disastrous collapses for wild salmon, everywhere they have been placed. We must address this issue first.

We don't need to trade thriving biodiversity for economic growth. There are better ways to create jobs from our wild waters.

We demand an end to DFO denial, broken promises by government and industry, and to the endless delays that keep these farms operating in BC's coastal waters.

Dozens of conservation groups and scientists in B.C. have fought for years to remove open-net salmon farms from BC, and to preserve wild salmon stocks in many other ways. We can't leave this fight up to them any more, or put our faith any longer in government agencies who care more about politics than wild salmon. These are our fish.


We need to rally together and speak to the federal government with one voice: Open-net salmon farms out of BC waters, now.

Please join us! Show up on October 3, 2009 to show your support for wild salmon. Let government and industry know we won't stand for further delays in removing open-net salmon farms from our waters. Our salmon have waited long enough.

Go here for Event Updates: <>

A pre-rally event will be held September 16 at noon in front of the DFO offices at Burrard and Pender. If you can join us on this day as well, that would be great. The purpose of this event is to inform the people and the government of the issue and recruit as many people as possible to the October 3 rally.



• Open-net salmon farms have wiped out populations of wild salmon and sea-run trout in Norway, Ireland, and Scotland.

• In BC's Broughton Archipelago, salmon farms have caused catastrophic collapses of pink salmon stocks. There is good reason to believe, based on research by Alexandra Morton and others, that they have also played a role in the decline of Fraser sockeye.

• Ninety percent of BC's 130 farms are owned by Norwegian multinational corporations, who reap profits while polluting our waters and killing wild salmon.

• Over 80% of BC farmed salmon is sold and eaten in the United States.

• In August 2009, the Canadian government hosted a pavilion at the Nor Aqua aquaculture trade show in Norway. DFO Minister Gail Shea and other DFO staff put out the red carpet there to more multinational salmon farm corporations, offering up still more of our waters to this toxic industry.

* The Wild Salmon Circle is a group of citizens concerned about the possible extinction of wild salmon stocks in BC. We do not represent any particular NGO, agency, special interest or lobby group. We are BC citizens who want wild salmon to thrive for our children and all future generations.

† Above salmon graphic taken from <>

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Monday, July 20, 2009

DFO Feature in BC Business

My feature on the DFO, Managed to Fail, came out earlier this month in BC Business Magazine.

It's a sprawling piece that touches on a lot of the issues in this blog, and suggests that we count the fish pulled out of the water-- "cross-sector validation schemes" for commercial, First Nations and sports fisheries-- and that we might look north to Alaska for better "know who to blame" (and praise) management.

Some great voices in the piece, including fishermen Dane Chauvel and Steve Johansen, and Sharolise Baker of the Stellat'en Nation.

As fisheries biologist Marvin Rosenau wrote in an email: "Sometimes, after 30 years in this business, I still feel like we in fisheries are trying to nail jelly to a tree. This is very hard stuff to get your head around."

Great photos in the article by photographer Hubert Kang. Thanks Hubert. Click on the "Managed to Fail" link in the first sentence, or on the photo above to see the piece.

And don't bother with this Read Full Post link here as this is the full post. Someday I'll figure out how to html that the right way. Read Full Post

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Wild Salmon Circles

I'll quote from a saint here:

"Words lead to deeds... They prepare the soul, make it ready, and move it to tenderness."

That's Saint Teresa of Avila. I read it for the first time as an epigraph to Raymond Carver's poetry collection A New Path to the Waterfall.

In hopes of turning words to deeds, I'm joining up with some other concerned citizens to create an action circle on salmon, based on the study-action circle model. It was used effectively by social change luminary Joanna Macy on nuclear power plant issues— and also by early labour unions, South American liberation theologists and the civil rights movement. It's a solid model, I think, for engaging regular citizens on complex and tough social issues. I encountered it through the Be the Change Earth Alliance and wrote on it for a local Vancouver magazine called Granville, here.

As Joanna Macy told me once in an interview:

"I think the study action group is the great invention, the great social technology invented in the 20th century. It helps people take responsibility, and it’s deeply democratic.... In my experience this builds not only insight and understanding, but confidence. Confidence because you realize there are not really experts out there that you have to find and trust and obey, but that we are all— we all have to be— experts."
Macy was very enthusiastic about study-action circles, and we talked for 15 minutes or so on them. More from the interview if you click "Read Full Post" below.

Of study-action circles, Macy said:
"[We all work] with each other so we can all become very informed, and harvest insights about how things are interrelated. So that in the study action groups that we did for several years on nuclear waste, we ended up giving presentations, to schools, testifying in hearings at the Department of Energy... So if there’s something that you’re learning together, you’re learning it in order to be able to do something effective."
With an eye to effective deeds, rather than simply cathartic ones, we've started this first citizen-run Wild Salmon Circle. Our goal is to learn about the issue and see where we want to put our shoulder to the wheel, once we each discover what we feel are real leverage points: whether lawsuits or sit-ins or marches or consumer boycotts or documentary films.

This initial group is looking at the salmon farming side of wild salmon conservation. This issue has dragged on too long and people like Alexandra Morton and others have devoted their lives to it, but never quite gotten the leverage they need-- partly because regular citizens who care about salmon and other wild fish haven't pitched in beyond signatures and donations. If all goes well, this group will be a pilot for similar groups in other places across BC. The plan is to meet regularly over the next few months to educate ourselves with help from various experts (so far, Living Oceans and Alexandra Morton have agreed to help us) and figure out what we want to do, as individuals or as a group.

Study-action circles max out at 12 people. As it stands now, we appear to be at a little over half that. If you live in the Greater Vancouver area and would like to join or learn more, send me an email at tbridge at shaw dot ca.

Viva la revolution, eh.

The painting of returning salmon above is called The Hero's Journey. It was painted by Carver's friend Alfredo Arreguin, and was featured on the cover of A New Path to the Waterfall. You can click the painting to see some of his other work.

What makes a study-action group really effective in responding to this rather grand crisis that we’re facing?

In my own experience, small group work— study circles, or what I have come to call study-action circles— are a mainstay for social change on the personal level. They certainly kept me committed and have been the avenue of tremendous learning. A task force, one that changed my life, a small group that changed my life, was on a legal action, a people’s intervention against a nuclear power plant that was not following through on the regulations they had signed on to. We had a very particular job to do.

Generalizing from that, it helped me take myself seriously, when I knew I could count on the others and they knew they could count on me, and we each had a job to do. And so, most of the small groups, the grassroots actions that have been activated by people coming together in their neighbourhoods and in their communities .. the sense of commitment and trust relates to the sense of time. How much time am I committing to this? What am I letting myself in for?
It’s become clear to me that when I invite others to join me in a study action group or any venture, I don’t just leave it open-ended, like you’re just signing on forever. Like, would you be interested in getting together with me every month for five months? Or would you like to meet twice a month for three months.

And I think that has been part of the success of the NW Earth Institute, you know you’re coming to a meeting together for 8 sessions. Then people are much more willing and you can rely on each other. I can’t say enough for what these circles or small groups have meant in my life, and what I see them bringing forth for other people as well.

It brings a sense of self-respect, that I can commit to something and follow through. I see that Be the Change, why I’m excited about Maureen’s overall goals, is that it’s not just helping people meet in large gatherings and get souped up over the excitement and exhilaration that can happen in a large gathering, but make it part of their lives. So they can feel accountable to a group, and sustained by a group— feel themselves known, feel themselves seen, and feel themselves rewarded by what they discover about themselves.

There were two such experiences in my life, each one was several years long, and though they started out time defined, we would extend it. I found that it grew a lot of comprehension and knowledge, and we found that we became knowledgeable and insight broke through, because we could focus in on a subject matter that we were learning together. With bite size pieces, that people could handle in a 2 or 3 hour meeting.

One was in Washington DC where we used to live, we did several study groups on macroeconomics, where everybody had something they agreed to read before they came together, and I think that’s a feature of the NW Earth Institute. There’s a lot of groups out there like this now, and in fact I think the study action group is the great invention, the great social technology invented in the 20th century. It was invented first in Denmark as I understand it. It helps people take responsibility, and it’s deeply democratic.

Democratic and empowering, because the way we did it, we would have rotating facilitator-ship. Our term would come and then we would be running the meeting and be in charge of what we did, another would be in charge of the hospitality, then step into the role of facilitator at the next meeting. In my experience this builds not only insight and understanding, but confidence. Confidence because you realize there are not really experts out there that you have to find and trust and obey, but that we are all— we all have to be— experts.

We all have to become them, or we all already are them?

Well, in a way, both. It’s like the Buddhist teaching of the bodhisattva. You become one, but in a deep sense you already are one. That you are the experts on what it’s like to be living on an endangered planet, and knowing that our air and water isn’t safe… these are— we know them from the soles of our feet, we know that in our guts. On the other hand, with each other we can all become very informed, and harvest insights about how things are interrelated. So that in the study action groups that we did for several years on nuclear waste, we ended up giving presentations, to schools, testifying in hearings at the Department of Energy.

So my experience is that that confidence that comes, that excitement that’s built, that courage that comes, is when the members of a group decide on an action together. Whether it’s taking a petition around or leafleting at a meeting or at the supermarket or whatever— this builds tremendous esprit de corps.
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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Terry and the Pirates

Here's a good quote from Terry Glavin. Among many other things, the formidable Mr. Glavin is the author of an elegiac work on BC white sturgeon called A Ghost in the Water, and more recently an assay of the Sixth Extinction called Waiting for the Macaws. This is from a paper presented at The World Summit on Salmon in 2003:

It is so deliciously easy to heap calumny upon the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. If the department did not exist, I would say it would be necessary to invent it, if only for the purpose of attributing all that ails us to what we so affectionately call DFO mismanagement… The department is not to blame - we all are. City people, farmers, loggers, fishermen, fisheries managers, even environmentalists – none of us are without virtue, and none are without blame.

He's right. Blaming the DFO is partly a tired cliche that lets us all off the hook. The DFO does do some things well, when doing so is politically safe-- as in a few rare cases like the quota fishery, where the solution is a win-win for business and wild fish. But when the GDP or a powerful lobby group has to give up short-term profit for the sake of wild fish or their habitat, the DFO is generally about as threatening as a shucked oyster.

The DFO is a political creature, part of the old top-down model of governance, where citizens fob off their local responsibilities onto bureaucrats and politicians. Like most of us I have externalized my civic duties, and the time I ought to spend helping steward earth and wild creatures-- a day each month, say, or two hours a week doing stream restoration, writing a letter to a politician, showing up at a town meeting-- I spend watching sitcoms. It's easy to forget that that steward-time is part of our rent for living on earth. If we're not pitching in, we're brigands and pirates—plunderers abroad on the high seas of late-hour capitalism, fit for the karmic lash.

(continued... click "Read Full Post")

The photo of Mr. Glavin is from his bio at the New Star Book site. Click on it to read his recent essay connecting Pacific salmon to Haitian food riots, vanishing frogs and the Janjaweed militia in Chad.

The Pacific Region branch has done, and continues to do, a wealth of important and thankless work. What it has handled poorly has been in spite of the strong field work of its corps of researchers.

If there is a root disease at the core of DFO dysfunction, it is a simple but incurable one: politics. Politics is unavoidable, because wherever there is a commons with human beings who want to get their share, there will be politics. Fishermen and conservationists complain that the agency has no spine, and rightly so, because like other Canadian regulatory agencies the DFO doesn’t possess a spine so much as a length of deck-hose: a central conduit that relays the voice of the appointed Minister, Deputy Minister, or Assistant Deputy Minister at the other end.

Blaming the potentates— past DFO Ministers Tom Siddon or Loyola Hearn, or current Minister Gail Shea— misses the point. Fisheries are no different than any other regulated resource, with most politicians tending the bar for rum-drunk captains of industry.

DFO reform will only happen when British Columbia voters themselves take a strong position and demand it. This is the rub. As Vancouver Sun writer Scott Simpson once said, “I think people in general have a sort of nominal concern about salmon, but it’s not on a level that would translate into votes for any politician who decided to champion their welfare.” We have met the problem, in other words, and it is us: those who profess to care about salmon and wild fish but don’t make it a policy issue for politicians.

See Alex Rose's Who Killed The Grand Banks? for more of the discussion with Scott Simpson quoted above.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

"So what’s better, more fish, less money? Or less fish, more money? It’s pretty obvious."

Here's a look at something the DFO is doing right. Steve Johansen and Dane Chauvel, two Vancouver-based fishermen, promote and sell sustainably harvested seafood in their Organic Ocean cooperative. In an interview in the cabin of Dane's troller Carte Blanche they talk about the ITQ (Individual Transferable Quota) system. With ITQs, fishermen are allotted shares of the Total Allowable Catch.

ITQs are in distinction to the old "derby" method where fishermen competed against each during limited fishery openings of several days or several hours.

The photo at left is of Dane, from a Province newspaper article about urban chicken coops, another of his interests in sustainable local food.


STEVE: A quota fishery its better for the fish. It’s better for the resource. When it’s quota it’s a controlled fishery, and that’s important.

DANE: It’s the key point, because in an open, competitive derby fishery you don’t know what you’ve caught until it’s over—

STEVE: Until it closes.

DANE: And you can go way over. It means that from a resource management perspective it’s a nightmare.

Why did, or does, the derby type of fishery exist? I don’t understand that whole concept of the way that a derby fishery would even be rationalized.

STEVE: It’s just because it’s always been that way.

Go out there for three days and kill ‘em. If you don’t, you don’t, if you miss ‘em you miss ‘em.

STEVE: Say there’s a gillnet opening in Johnson Straits for chums, they’re not quota— or the Fraser River— say its open 12 hours, it’s open 12 hours. The fleet in general could go way over their allocated amount of fish for that particular opening. Which happens all the time.

DANE: It’s a big issue. And Steve hasn’t even touched on the issues of quality or safety. You can imagine when you have a free-for-all like that, which is catch as many as you can as quickly as you can, [it means] no concern for the quality of the fish. Also the practice of catching as many as you can as quickly as you can in a limited time frame means the fishermen are forced to go out in sometimes perilous circumstances. It’s already a very dangerous occupation made that much more dangerous by the pressure you place them under with that kind of fishing regime. It’s just dumb.

(Interview continues...)

Do you have any idea why we do it that way, was it begun before we had depth sounders, or had any idea of where the fish were, or what? What was the origin of the derby fishery?

DANE: There was some attraction to it, from a purely capitalistic perspective it was a wonderful free for all— it was like prospecting. You could go out and you could make a lot of money. And there’s no doubt that fishermen are a competitive entrepreneurial breed and they like that. And we do too!

Let the better fisherman win.

DANE: Yeah, if you’re a good fisherman you do well. The only thing is, that’s really out of step with the resource— and also with the market. The market does not want a glut of bad product all coming on stream at the same time. The halibut fishery morphed from a derby competitive fishery maybe 15 yrs ago. They used to have three-day season. They now have an eight month season.

STEVE: And when you talk about safety, a lot of guys died every year on that halibut fishery. Because its only three days, if there’s a storm coming, guess what? You’re out there. I remember one year there was a freak storm up there. You remember that? Nine guys died or something like that. One storm. Up at Dixon Entrance, the Queen Charlottes. And I believe quota came a couple years after that.

But quota also, the areas that we fish— whether it’s the area they call the Area H license which is all the way here to Port Hardy on the inside waters, trollling, hook and lining— and where Dane fishes up in Haida Gwaii, they have a quota fishery and they have for three or four years now, or more. And our chefs, they love that we’re quota guys.

Because the quality is right there, and of course the sustainable angle as well.

DANE: We know how many pieces we’re allotted, and we’re allowed a broad window of time in which to catch them. So our focus is not going out and catching as many fish as possible as quick as we can, our focus is going out when the weather’s good, the circumstances are good. When we harvest the fish, we bleed it, we eviscerate it, we chill it— we take such incredible care with it.

STEVE: Because you’re not worried about it closing tomorrow. You’ve got all the time you need.

So a quota system already exists for some of the stuff you’re fishing. Which is what, ling cod…?

STEVE: We fish, halibut, ling cod and salmon—for example in the Johnson Straits where we troll, hook and line—is a quota system, and the seiners are quota, but the gillnetters that fish the same area aren’t. Because they keep outvoting it. Because it’s the old school mentality.
Down to the economics of it, when I’m up there fishing chums in the fall, I’m bringing in chums at three bucks a pound, that’s what I’m getting because of the love we put it into it, because it’s quota. But the derby mentality guys, they’re pulling in as many as they can, they’re not even cleaning them, four or five hundred a day, they’re all over the f*cking deck, they don’t bleed em, nothing, so yeah they get 20, 30, 40 cents a pound. So what’s better, more fish, less money? Or less fish, more money? It’s pretty obvious.

DANE: We can make the argument that fewer fish at a higher price will make you more money than a lot of fish at a low price.

So it’s value-added fish.

STEVE: Absolutely, it’s a hundred percent value-added. It’s good for the resource.

That’s good to hear. So from the bureaucracy or agency side, the DFO is saying well we’d love this but the gillnetters are outvoting it. It’s not a problem from the DFO side, it’s from the fishermen who don’t want it.

DANE: I think that’s largely true.

STEVE: I think so. In our association that represents the Johnson strait trollers, we’ve had three votes in the past three years , we’ve all voted for quota, where the gillnets all voted agaisnt it. In the Charlottes, here’s a really good contrast, there’s three guys out of 247 licenses —when it was still an option, it isn’t any longer—only three guys chose derby, non-derby. Everybody else was on the quota bandwagon.

DANE: It’s one of these things where there’s a lot of resistance to it, unitl you actually try it or implement it. Once you get it in place, people go ‘Wow, I don’t know what I was worried about, this is a good thing.’

STEVE: And I’m one of ‘em. We used to slay up there— you know, king of the hill, catch as many as you can. Then about four or five years ago I got into this business of dealing with chefs, selling high quality for more money. The writing’s on the wall.

It doesn’t make any sense to slay if you have to catch 10 times as much fish to make the same amount of money.

STEVE: I horrified a lot of my friends when I first started, they’ve all come to the same camp with us now. At first it was like ‘F*ck, what are you doing Steve? They all get it now.’

DANE: We start talking about the advantages. One of the things fishermen are concerned about is if they go to a quota fishery they would make less money, I would have less opportunity, but the exact opposite has proven true. Not just because of the price-quality argument, but because quotas are transferable.

So what that means is if Steve wants to go out and catch more fish, he can lease quota from that guy there or me, or that guy over there. He can go out and catch more fish. So it really facilitates consolidation of fishing privilege. And sometimes there are so few fish to be caught, it makes more sense for Steve and I to go out on one boat, with one diesel engine running, with one set of gear, than for both of us to take our own boats. This is particularly true in the seine fleet, where you’ve got crews of 5, 6 and 7 guys— and they’ve got much higher operating costs. With quota they can consolidate their fishing privielges and prosecute the fishery much more efficiently.
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The Fish, by Elizabeth Bishop

One of the great works of fish lit, by poet Elizabeth Bishop. Here's the first part. To read the rest, click the end link.

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of its mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down...

(full poem here)
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Catching Up

Apologies for the lack of posts over the past month— I’ve been focused on writing a magazine feature on DFO reform. I submitted the first draft last night around 4:30 am. Woke up at noon and still feel slightly underwater.

The research and writing was a big learning curve. Trying to sum up the troubles with the agency and some possible solutions in 3500 words has been like trying to put a 200-lb halibut into a grocery bag.

I'll reveal where it's going to be published a little closer to the release date.

One of the burn-your-fingers issues I learned more about during the article research is that of “missing sockeye” on the Fraser. To read the cranky but informative 2005 report on this issue by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, click here. (Note that it doesn't scroll; you have to page through it by clicking the arrow in the bottom corner of your screen.)

Hopefully the feature will raise some questions about this issue and the DFO's handling of it. It also discusses a couple of radical ways to work around or transform the agency's handling of fisheries and habitat.

Drawing from the work of Ray Hilborn, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a fisheries professor at the University of Washington, the article also considers a better model for fisheries management, drawn from northern latitudes.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some chunks from my research. This one is from a visit with two Vancouver fishermen, Dane Chauvel and Steve Johansen, partners in the Organic Ocean cooperative that sells sustainably sourced seafood from Fisherman’s Wharf on Granville island. Click the "Read Full Post" link below to see an excerpt from a talk we had in the cabin of Chauvel’s troller.

The picture above is from Robert Lackey's site at the US Environmental Protection Agency. Lackey took a "salmon-centric" view of the growth of the Seattle-Vancouver ("SeaVan") metropolis over the coming decades at the World Summit on Salmon in 2003.

Here Dane talks a bit about sustainable fishing. In the next post (give me a couple of days) I’ll give an excerpt where Dane and Steve talk about how fishermen are catching less fish for more money, and why quota systems— which have been controversial in the conservation community, but may be our best hope for saving ocean species—are a good thing for fish and for fishermen.

When you say sustainable, how is that measurable, or tracked, or what’s the definition of that for you in your fishery?

What we do, we’re very specific in terms of the fish or the seafood that we target. We focus on fish that are not endangered, and harvesting practices that are environmentally responsible. Most of our finfish is either caught via hook and line or in a very targeted terminal gillnet fishery so that we’re not harvesting non-directed, unintended bycatch. In the instance of products like BC spot prawns, they’re caught by trap, not by trawl so there s no environmental damage or degradation by that fishery. And again it tends to be very species specific and targeted.

What do you fish for?

I have licenses for salmon, ling cod, halibut, and we have communal licenses for spot prawns.

And all of those ling cod, salmon and halibut are line caught.


The trawl fishery has a fairly bad reputation for its environmental damage. Is that deserved? It sounds like it just scrapes the sh*t out of ocean floor, is that true?

I think that’s generally the case. I think there’s midwater trawl that’s not as invasive, but the issues with midwater trawl are harvesting non-targeted species. By dragging your net along you’re just going to catch whatever’s there. And by dragging along the bottom, that just wreaks havoc on the seabed.

That’s interesting. Now that you mention it it makes sense that troll versus trawl would be the most sustainable. I hadn’t really thought of the gear aspect of it.

What you can do with hook and line fisheries, you can be very species-specific in terms of what you target—

In terms of where you’re fishing, when you’re fishing and what you’re using for bait.


If you find that you’re harvesting non-directed or unintended bycatch, you move to another area. Whereas with some of the other competitive fisheries, by the time you find out you’ve done the damage its too late.
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Salmon and SCAMs

Coming soon, stay tuned.

Here's a teaser, from a paper co-authored by Debra Davidson of the University of Alberta, that coined the term SCAMs (Scientific Certainty Argumentation Methods):

Given that most scientific findings are inherently probabilistic and ambiguous, if agencies can be prevented from imposing any regulations until they are unambiguously “justified,” most regulations can be defeated or postponed, often for decades, allowing profitable but potentially risky activities to continue unabated.

Will explain this further soon... the fascinating thing is that Davidson et al appear to have found a kind of Rosetta Stone that translates the codes of most anti-ecological PR lobbies. SCAMs places much of the DFO's science where it belongs, with the bogus research and deny-and-delay tactics promoted by leaded-gasoline proponents, the asbestos industry, and the Tobacco Institute.

We won't save wild fish if we can't recognize when we're being SCAMmed by the DFO and other groups, or when we inadvertently promote SCAMs ourselves.

(This is the full post, don't bother clicking the Read Full Post link. Credit for the illustration above goes to WorldWatch, from their May/June 2008 feature.)
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Otto Langer: DFO Still "A Black Hole"?

Otto Langer spent 32 years as a habitat biologist with the DFO, and wrote a chapter in the salmon farming book A Stain Upon the Sea. He's less well-known for his work with salmon and habitat conservation in BC, than, say, Alex Morton. (Her petition, which you can sign by clicking here, is now up to 11,500 signatures, by the way.) Mr. Langer is more of a behind-the-scenes activist these days, though over the past 20 years he's had his share of media attention.

I interviewed Mr. Langer in late March for an upcoming article in BC Business magazine on Pacific salmon conservation and the role of the DFO.

Here's the opening of the interview.
Is the DFO a big part of the solution, or a big part of the problem when we talk about fisheries conservation in BC, or both?

Well, I’d say right now they’re a big part of the problem, and if we want to revitalize the fisheries, we have to do a significant restoration effort of the DFO so they can be part of the solution. The way we’re set right now, I can’t see us making any giant leap forward to ensure that we sustain the fishery for future generations if DFO carries on in the present manner.

When you say restore the DFO, what would that restoration look like? What do we need to do so we can get the DFO doing what it’s supposed to be doing?

I think it starts right at the top, in the Parliament buildings, with the Minister. We need a Minister who’s really concerned about the fishery and wants a fishery for future generations, and who believes in a strong federal role to manage the fishery properly, and protect habitat in perpetuity. Right now— seems like, or often— the last several Ministers, we’ve ended up with less than a nice firm apple in Ottawa.

I’m not going to call them rotten apples at the bottom of the barrel, but the fisheries ministers have ben very ineffective and we seem to have another unknown Minister right now, Minister Shea, and I know on the Fraser River gravel removal issue, we wrote her a letter three months ago signed by eight different environmental groups and we still don’t have a response. We wrote a letter saying we have no response, and we had no response to that letter! So it seems like it’s a bit of a black hole.
Black holes don't often engage in self-criticism. They can't change their nature; they drain the light and energy from all orbiting bodies, and will continue to do so for all eternity, no matter what you throw at them.

So with regulatory bureaucracies like the DFO, it seems. Mr. Langer, like dozens of other activists, has been calling for DFO reform for decades, but for salmon and other wild fish in BC, things have gotten worse since his tenure, not better.

In the 1980s Mr. Langer was head of habitat management for the Fraser River, B.C. and Yukon at DFO. A memo he circulated about the department's failings was leaked to the media, which gave the public one of the few frank assessments of the DFO from an internal source.

The memo criticized the backroom wink-wink understanding DFO had with industrial polluters like Alcan, BC Rail and pulp mills, a Vichy neo-conservative policy that found its ripest and most absurd form with the rise of salmon feedlots in BC.

Here's a portion of an article on the "hot memo" from a Vancouver Sun article dated Dec. 1, 1989... worth reading to get a sense of the eternal nature of the DFO problem, in which the "political dynamite" of actual conservation is sucked into the dense gravitational pull of a "negotiate and compromise at all costs" policy... where internal scientists are muzzled and controversial findings are buried.


Pollution law 'immunity' claimed

A leaked federal government document alleges the government is granting large corporations "immunity" from a law that prohibits pollution and protects fish habitat.

The internal memorandum - by Otto Langer, a senior official with Fisheries and Oceans Canada - describes "obvious and very significant violations" of the federal Fisheries Act that never led to charges.

It claims big firms are not prosecuted because of a "negotiate-and-compromise-at-all-costs philosophy," while the "little guy" faces charges for minor offences. And it warns there would be a "scandal" if the public learned how the government decides to lay charges.

To support these allegations, Langer named eight companies and one provincial crown corporation alleged to be responsible for pollution and habitat destruction...

Langer... told his superior in the memo:

"We have been known for charging individuals for spills of deleterious substances (often accidental and less than a few gallons) and then continually ignore the daily discharge of millions of gallons of toxic effluent from a mill next door.

"This often results in the small guy or minor offence getting prosecuted, and the large corporation getting some degree of 'discretionary immunity' . . . .

Langer's job is to protect fish habitat, but his memo declared habitat destruction is being ignored.

He warned the failure to act on these enforcement problems would make a "basket case" out of the habitat protection programs of the department of fisheries and oceans (DFO).

"We have determined that DFO-friendly corporations or parties with provincial permits (as well as the B.C. agency issuing the permit that allowed the offence) will enjoy relative immunity from the Fisheries Act," he wrote....

"The result is that, to date, we charge persons for more minor violations such as spills or bulldozer type violations.

"This situation is unacceptable, however senior management and conservative legal opinion has recently created new classes of immunity for certain polluters or those who destroy habitat. This is making the application of the law to be a very partial affair."
Returning to the interview, is Langer right? Should we hope for an enlightened Fisheries Minister to turn things around for BC salmon and other wild fish? After decades of mismanagement-- and a string of consummate politicians in the Ministerial role-- that may be like hoping for the black hole to turn into a yolk-yellow sun complete with smiley face.

Then again, the world is changing. The US has an intelligent, ecologically aware President. The failure of 28 years of Reaganite "let industry regulate itself" rhetoric has been conclusively proven in the financial markets-- the only place anyone seems to care-- as well as the wild places of the world. Perhaps there is hope for a shift of astronomical proportions. Let's imagine it: Ignatieff taking over as PM, and making Farley Mowat the Minister of Fisheries.

In the meantime, we have to demand real enforcement of our conservation laws and the Fisheries Act-- the kind of disinterested, we're-on-the-side-of-the-fish enforcement that these days is only being done by Captain Paul Watson. Right now, signing Alex's petition is the best means of doing that.
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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Petition to the DFO Breaks 10,000

The "signatures are still rolling in unabated" says Alexandra Morton in her latest letter to Minister Shea and Premier Campbell, and the count currently stands at 10,465.

This is great news. It will be interesting to see how the DFO responds to the five demands of the petition, though you can expect the sort of PR mumble seen on their "Myths and Realities about Salmon Farming" page.

This DFO"reality" is my favourite: 'Habitat Officers routinely review sites in order to prevent harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of the oceans and freshwater habitat.'

Hmm... if DFO officers are not monitoring bycatch, disease outbreaks, ocean-bottom destruction, and the attraction of marine mammals and wild baitfish to the farming pens... what exactly are they doing in these salmon farm "reviews"?

Alex's letter, and the petition with the latest signatures, is now posted at her Adopt-a-Fry website.

If you haven't already, check out the six-minute "In a Nutshell" documentary above. It's one of several excellent videos by Twyla Roscovich, a young film-maker who has spent a lot of time (months? years?) with Alex in the Broughton.

(This is the full post, so please ignore the automatic "Read Full Post" link here.) Read Full Post

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cracks in the Marble: JRs, NAFTA and 30,000 Signatures

Politics and politicians: can't live with them, can't ignore them.

Recently the Senate voted down a proposal to ban the seal hunt; not a single vote was cast in favour of the motion. Regardless of your position on seal hunting* the vote itself speaks to the political situation between Conservatives and Liberals. No Liberal senator wants to give the Conservatives any means of eroding their support in rural Canada, and vice versa.

Similarly, when the Conservatives lumped the Navigable Waters Protection Act in with the Bill C-10 budget implementation "to streamline the approval process"-- read "build bridges and buildings to prop up the economy without worrying about damage to habitat"-- the Liberals were unable to change it.

Michael Ignatieff wrote back to concerned citizens the following:
"As you are aware, there are a number of measures contained in Bill C-10 with which the Liberal Opposition is not satisfied. We would have preferred that measures concerning our navigable waters be tabled as a separate piece of legislation....

Unfortunately, the government has deliberately placed these in the budget bill, making them matters of confidence. This means that any changes to the bill would result in the government calling an election which would, in turn, delay any potential stimulus measures for months to come. With thousands of Canadians losing their jobs every day, the Liberal Opposition has determined that the responsible thing to do for this country is to get that money working in our economy."
(For Rafe Mair's insight on the gutting of the Navigable Waters Act, go here.)

So given the ping-pong match between hamstrung Liberals and Conservatives who know that hard economic times make it easy to gut ecological safeguards, what kind of pressure can we hope to exert on the federal government to save wild fish?

S0metimes there are some cracks in the slabstone edifices of power where a well-placed crowbar can do a lot of good. I'd say Alexandra Morton's recent lawsuit proves that (see previous posts).

The current political situation may be full of such cracks, but I'm not sure where they are. One reader suggests taking a page from the folks at Mining Watch-- who initiated one against former Environment Minister John Baird-- and launching a Judicial Review against the current DFO Minister. Or, he writes, "use NAFTA's chapter 13 or 14 (?) to report that a your country (ministry responsible) has failed to uphold or enforce their environmental laws."

Maybe these are the kind of ideas we need to consider to protect wild fish.

Alexandra Morton says we need at least 30,000 signatures on her petition-- she had over 4,600 at last count, 3,700 of which were from BC--to get Ottawa's attention. That seems like a good place to start.

* Terry Glavin makes some good points in his article on the seal hunt. He's right: if you're willing to eat factory-farmed steak, the moral distinctions between killing seals and killing cows are dubious. We've all seen the pictures of the cute seals and the bloody ice. But how many of us have seen pictures from the inside of a slaughterhouse?
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Friday, March 13, 2009

Three Thousand Signatures

Quick update: Alex's petition to the DFO now has three thousand names. Congratulations Alex and thanks to everyone who has signed so far. See previous posts for more info. (Don't click the "Read Full Post" link, since this is the full post.) Read Full Post

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Silver Donald Cameron: "This Affects Us Too"

Regarding Alex's petition (see yesterday's post), below is an excerpt from an email I received from Silver Donald Cameron. Mr. Cameron writes a Sunday column in the Halifax Herald.

"Alex Morton has been fighting an almost single-handed battle for years and years to get BC's salmon farms properly regulated and controlled, and she's finally won in court.

Now the question is whether the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will actually apply the law to the salmon farms, and that's the subject of this petition.

Most of the people on this list live a long way from the Pacific Coast, but DFO's dereliction of duty affects us too. This is a rogue department that's largely responsible for the decimation of the fisheries on both coasts, a department which will promulgate special regulations to stifle protest at the seal hunt, and will enforce those regulations vigorously -- but won't support a ban on trawling on unique seamounts, and won't even meet their obligations to apply the law where it really does matter.

Anything we can do to make DFO behave as though it were answerable to the people of Canada, I think, deserves our support, wherever we may live. That's why I signed this petition, and that's why I'm inviting you to join me if you have similar feelings about DFO.

Best wishes,
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