Debunking the Debunkers
-by Alex Morton
Even before we went public with the bio-political documentary Salmon Confidential, someone bought a website with a very similar name, salmonconfidential.com. This website is completely anonymous, but states on it’s home page:
This blog has one purpose:
To provide a factual counterpoint to bogus claims and misinformation being spread via the “Salmon Confidential“ documentary film created by Twyla Roscovich and Alexandra Morton.
The film is riddled with errors, false claims and incorrect assumptions which must be corrected. This blog will provide facts and realities which bust Morton’s myths about salmon farming in her latest film.
I have ignored this website for some weeks because I don't believe in answering to people who hide their identity, however, many people have asked for my response, so here it is, point-by-point.
The film’s biggest fib
Anonymous blogger: writes that while my samples of Harrison River salmon tested positive for a segment of ISA virus in one test, that the second lab report was negative for the virus. Therefore, she or he goes on to say I am duping my audience, when I ignore the second test and tell people the fish were positive for ISA virus.
My response: The second test required a complete sequence of living virus as it is an attempt to keep the virus alive outside the fish and culture it. If the virus is broken into pieces it cannot be “cultured”. In this case lab did not find an intact, full-length sequence of the virus. They reported finding pieces of virus that matched European strain ISA virus. Thus the PCR tests signaled a sequence match and positive result, but the virus could not be cultured. This does not mean the virus was not present. In Canada, ISA virus has to be “cultured” to be “confirmed.” This is not the case in other countries where much more proactive efforts are underway to get rid of it, or at least control it, because it has already caused so much damage. Canada currently has the most lax ISA virus response I know of in the world, even allowing a company to grow a novel, virulent (deleted) variant form for 6 months in farm salmon in Nova Scotia.
A vet’s perspective
When Dr. Gary Marty, the BC farm salmon vet, states ISA virus has not been confirmed in British Columbia, that means the virus has not been cultured, ie captured alive and grown in a lab, outside the fish. But this does not mean, the virus is not in BC. There are strains of ISA virus that no one has ever been able to culture (HPRO), this strain could be in BC and it would never be cultured, and thus never "confirmed" according to Canada's standards. I am limited to sampling fish from supermarkets, which have been dead a matter of days. This is not optimal, ISA virus has only been "cultured" from freshly dead infected farm salmon. While, the labs I send samples to have never found an intact ISA virus sequence that could be sequenced, the pieces they have found do match known ISAv sequences. You cannot get ISA virus sequence several 100 base pairs long without the virus being present.
Anonymous blogger says: Dr. Marty reports that 100 fish scientists in Idaho don’t think ISA virus is in BC.
My response: Not one of those 100 fish scientists contacted me to view the data. They made this decision without reviewing the evidence that causes me to believe several European ISA virus variants are in BC. They based their scientific opinion on hearsay.
Anonymous blogger says:Dr. Marty says his sister was insulted when we suggested skinny farm salmon purchased in Superstore could have been diseased, because she is slender.
My response: I did not mean to offend Dr. Marty's sister, but here is the evidence to date. Skinny farm salmon in supermarkets are infected with the piscine reovirus, and the published literature reports stunting is a symptom of the disease associated with PRV.
I have not seen any reporting from Dr. Marty on examination of these emaciated Atlantic farm salmon for sale at times in BC supermarkets. In the film he does point out that sick fish don't eat and fish that don't eat would become skinny.
Dead fish in a parking lot http://salmonconfidential.com
Anonymous blogger says: it is wrong to sample farm salmon in a parking lot.
My response: I try to get fish samples for viral testing into proper storage as fast as possible. If I am on a riverbank I take the sample there. If I am in a fish boat I take the sample there. If I have just walked out of a store into 20 degree weather, I sample immediately in the parking lot. I cannot risk tissue degradation. The fish are not removed from their Styrofoam trays. The plastic covering is slit, the samples taken and put into a cooler.
It is true these fish have been handled by an unknown number of people, but none of them should be infected with the European salmon viruses I am testing for. I would much prefer to sample farm salmon right from the feedlots, but I am not allowed to do that, so I do this instead.
Anonymous blogger: attempts to discredit Salmon Confidential, suggesting that Dr. Kristi Miller’s testimony was edited to put words in her mouth. The issue is with the following statement, (McDade, was my lawyer).
Mr McDade: What you found is some sort of new virus? Your leading suspect was salmon leukemia virus?
Dr. Miller: Yes, it was.
Mr McDade: And if, in fact, that’s the case, this, in fact, may be the smoking gun for the 2009 declines?
Dr. Miller: It could be the smoking gun.
Anonymous blogger, contends that Miller was not referring to Salmon Leukemia, but rather to a “different virus, salmon parvovirus.” The reality is that salmon parvovirus and salmon leukemia virus are thought to be the same virus, Miller certainly considered them to be the same virus at the time of her testimony. When DFO discovered and named salmon leukemia virus in the 1990s as it spread through the salmon feedlots on the Fraser sockeye migration route, they never sequenced it or photographed it. This means it cannot be traced today. When a disease resembling the farm salmon disease cropped up in the dying Fraser sockeye, Dr. Miller could not compare it to any sequence or photographs because the DFO researchers who named it in the 1990s never produced these important references. So Miller had to redo all the science on it and give it a new name. One day, perhaps she will be free to publish on the link between salmon leukemia virus and salmon parvo virus, but unfortunately she has not to date.
All films require editing, however, the integrity of the
testimony was preserved.
Anonymous blogger says: the film should have included Dr. Miller's attempt to soften her "smoking gun" statement the next day saying:
“when I agreed with Mr. McDade that what I really meant was that this could be a major factor. Not the major factor, because I also agree with others that there is no single major factor.”
Remember when you read her words, that this woman scientist works for a government now world renowned for muzzling its scientists. Just Google “Canada muzzle scientist” there are many articles, including this one that specifically mentions Dr. Miller: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16861468 I believe the film accurately captured the testimony by Dr. Miller.
Skewering sacred salmon http://salmonconfidential.com/skewering-sacred-salmon
Anonymous blogger: claims wild salmon populations in BC are on a natural boom and bust cycle and because I don’t have a Dr. in front of my name no one should hear me out.
My response: When the CFIA and DFO confiscated the first-ever publicly reported ISA virus positive samples found in BC, they gave them to Mrs. Nelle Gagne for confirmation testing. Mrs. Gagne does not have a Dr. in front of her name and yet she testified at the Cohen Commission to counter to the findings of Dr. Miller, Dr. Kibenge and Dr. Nylund. Her resume submitted to the inquiry states: 1997- PhD. Molecular and cellular biology. Laval University, Québec. Paused after 5 years. Canada is resting their entire opinion on whether ISA virus is in BC or not or not on a scientist who does not have a “Dr.” in front of her name.
Whoever they are goes to argue BC wild salmon populations are fine and to suggest otherwise is a “scary story.”
My response: First of all, the Cohen Commission was called and $26 million spent to investigate why three consecutive years of closing the Fraser sockeye fishery did not
slow the steep decline in those stocks. Clearly the federal government thinks there is a serious problem.
Second, the graphs Anon shows do not appear to account for the enormous commercial fisheries that went on previous to now. Historically, the stocks that returned to spawn were the survivors of large commercial fisheries.
Here is what commercial salmon catches for BC look like since salmon feedlots appeared on the major wild salmon migration routes in the early 1990s (along eastern Vancouver Island and the mainland)
Another blog site built to also refute me is showing a graph that depicts growing salmon catches, however, this data must include Alaskan and western Pacific (Russia) fisheries because clearly commercial catches are not going up in BC. There are no salmon farms in Alaska or Russia
In a scientific paper where the authors do identify
themselves they report wild salmon go into steep decline where ever there are fish farms.
Busting the myths
Anonymous blogger is correct, sockeye have been dying before spawning in the Fraser River since the 1940’s. However, this mortality was closely tied to high water temperature. Anon goes on to wonder why sockeye have been entering the river too early since 1995 and “have low energy,” and decides they must have died of exhaustion.
My response: This breezy analysis completely misses the SCIENCE paper by Dr. Miller, reporting that early river entry is threatening the survival of Fraser River sockeye and that this behaviour is limited to salmon carrying a specific genomic profile. This genomic profile is reported elsewhere to be related to salmon parvo virus. The salmon dying are carry a distinctive genomic profile indicating their immune systems are fighting a virus, not exhaustion. "Functional analysis raises the possibility that the mortality-related signature reflects a viral infection"
When the immune system profiles in the dying sockeye matched the characteristics of salmon leukemia Miller asked to test farm salmon, based on the DFO reporting that salmon leukemia was common in farm salmon on the Fraser sockeye migration route. Miller’s request was denied. Why?
If millions of Fraser salmon have been dying annually since 1994 from a virus amplified in salmon feedlots on the migration routes of the Fraser sockeye, the resulting lawsuits could be enormous. Millions of dollars and ecosystem viability and integrity have been lost with these precious salmon. What Miller discovered, was extremely uncomfortable for other scientists, government and the industry that raises farm salmon on the Fraser sockeye migration routes.
It is important to recognize that Justice Bruce Cohen recommended salmon farms cease to operate in a narrow section of the Fraser sockeye migration route unless DFO can show documented proof by 2020 that the farms are having less than minimal impact. (Cohen Final Report Recommendation #19)
Anonymous blogger says salmon farms take up very little space in even the narrowest channels
My response: This would be a valid point if they kept their pathogens inside those feedlots, but they don’t. Dr. Kyle Garver of DFO testified during Cohen, that during a viral outbreak a single salmon farm could produce 65 billion infectious viral particles an hour and the maps depicting this release filled the entire Fraser sockeye migration routes off Campbell River.
Harrison Sockeye do pass salmon farms
The science reports Harrison sockeye (the one run of Fraser sockeye that are increasing) have not been found swimming through the narrow channels off Campbell River, where Cohen recommends salmon farms cease to operate.
Anonymous blogger: points out that they do pass salmon farms sited in Puget Sound, WA.
My response: Yes, the Harrison sockeye do pass salmon farms as they round the southern tip of vancouver Island, but the farms are over 60km away.
Here’s the difference:
1 – the declining sockeye runs travel north past Campbell River and they pass right along several salmon feedlots in Okisollo Channel which is less than .5km in places.
2 – the healthy sockeye run passes salmon feedlots that are 60 km away, while swimming through the Strait of Juan de Fuca that is over 25 km wide at the point closest to the salmon feedlots.
The difference in the dilution is exponential, the number of virus particles per liter of water in Okisollo is going to be many, many times higher than in Strait of Juan de Fuca. To suggest the exposure is the same for both runs is weak argument.
Pink and Chum Salmon from the Fraser River are increasing since salmon farms
This statement needs a lot more detail, for example, where do these runs migrate, are they more or less susceptible to the pathogens in the salmon feedlots? When I wrote about the relationship between the decline of the Fraser sockeye and salmon farms, there were many factors – the two different migration routes and corresponding differences in survival, the mortality related genomic pattern in only the dying sockeye suggesting a virus that shared characteristics with a known farm salmon pathogen occurring in exactly the region of concern. And finally, DFO and industry’s refusal to allow Miller to examine farm salmon to see if there is a match. My point has always been that this situation needs an honest and forthright, scientific examination. It is good news the pink and chum salmon are thriving, but to throw out there in the face of other declines, that this means that salmon feedlots are not having critical impact on other salmon stocks is only a theory and an outlier given the response in wild salmon populations to the introduction of salmon farms around the world.
Miller’s paper did not pinpoint farm salmon
My response: Yes, it is true that Dr. Miller did not pinpoint the salmon farms as the source of the virus that appears to be killing vast numbers of Fraser sockeye, but she was not allowed to investigate this. Based on her findings, Miller requested the opportunity to test farm salmon, but this request was denied. DFO refused to allow her to look at the farm salmon, so she cannot report whether a virus from farm salmon is killing wild salmon or not.
Anonymous blogger links to a paper http://www.int-res.com/articles/dao/19/d019p147.pdf in an attempt to say salmon leukemia occurs naturally in wild salmon.
My response: Read the paper, it says wild salmon sampled in the same region as the infected farms were also infected with the same virus as the farm salmon. This does not inform us on whether it occurred naturally or not or whether those wild salmon were infected by the feedlot salmon.
AIDs and Salmon Leukemia
My response: they are indeed both retrovirus. Retroviruses are rare in salmon. Retroviruses are defined as “potent disease agents”, there are retroviruses that cause tumor growth and are linked to leukemia in other animals, such as cats http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retrovirus
Anonymous blogger: makes the case that 100% of wild salmon exposed to salmon leukemia were not infected.
My response: All I can suggest is read the literature:
“Ten weeks after exposure, *Plasmacytoid leukemia was observed in all of the sockeye salmon and chinook salmon, on of ten Atlantic salmon and none of the rainbow trout” (Michael Kent and Sheila Dawe DFO, Experimental Transmission of Plasmacytoid Leukemia of Chinook salmon Cancer Research 50, 5679s-5681s)
DFO published in a Cancer Research journal that a leukemia causing virus was capable of moving from farmed chinook, into wild salmon, and they never asked the salmon farmers to cull those fish. When Dr. Miller DFO reported that it looked like the Fraser sockeye dying in the river before spawning, were fighting this virus, DFO prevented her from testing the farm salmon and prevented her from speaking to the media. These are the facts.
*Plasmacytoid leukemia is the disease, Salmon Leukemia virus it the pathogen and marine anemia is what the fish farmers called it.
DFO knew Salmon Leukemia was infecting wild salmon and did nothing
Here are some quotes.
“The results showed marine anemia to be widely distributed throughout the major salmon farming regions in BC... intensive aquaculture may have facilitated the emergence of marine anemia [the fish farmer name for salmon leukemia]” (Stephens et al 1996 Canadian Vet. Journal)
“Evidence supporting the hypothesis that marine anemia is a spreading, infectious, neoplastic disease [tumor-causing] could have profound regulatory effects on the salmon farming industry” (Stephen and Ribble 1995 Canadian Vet. Journal).
It would be interesting to know what “profound regulatory effects” Dr. Stephens had in mind, because there is no record of any such response to this epidemic.
I feel Salmon Confidential is a fair representation of a rapidly evolving situation as we knew it at the time of making the film. I have learned more about the viruses, since then and I am even more concerned as there is suggestion that they could be appearing in herring as well.
If any have further questions, I will do my best to answer them. Make a comment below, but know that I do not often answer people who hide behind fake names. It is very important that the debate about whether European viruses are spreading from Atlantic salmon feedlots into the Pacific and whether they are causing wild salmon populations to decline to be open and transparent.
I feel so strongly that Atlantic salmon infected with a viruses that all the evidence suggests is Norwegian and causes fish to weaken to the point they can't swim, should not be put in ocean net pens on the biggest wild salmon migration routes in BC, that I have personally filed a lawsuit against the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Harvest. This virus, PRV is noted as spreading like "wildfire."
I have put everything on the line because the science I am engaged in, the scientific community who are dealing with these viruses, the repressive nature of our current government and what I am seeing for myself in the wild salmon of BC all point to the need step up and separate wild and farm salmon immediately and that means, farm salmon must be removed from the ocean.
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