Shilling for Sea Lice - How to detect the fish farm swill

Commentary by Sea Shepherd Advisory Board Member Rafe Mair

Below, talk show host Rafe Mair has a very lively and interesting hypothetical conversation with a fish farm owner.

The fish farmers and both governments have been lying through their teeth from the beginning and my sense of it is that the public is wizening up.

Let's pretend that you're King for a day and must decide whether or not you want Atlantic salmon should be permitted in BC waters.

Here is what well known fish biologist, John Volpe had to say: "The independent scientific community speaks with a single voice with regards to sea lice and their impact on wild salmon. Salmon farms kill wild salmon. There's no debate around that. It's been known and acknowledged in Europe for more than a decade." Dr. Volpe, a distinguished marine biologist from the University of Victoria did considerable research on escapees from the Atlantic salmon cages and found hundreds of them in the few rivers his funds enabled him to examine. At the same time then Agriculture, Food and Fish Minister, John Van Dongen said that only three had been so found while his colleague, Stan Hagen said there were only two!

Dr. Volpe then participated with two PH.D doctoral students from the University of Alberta, Martin Krkosek, Mark Lewis on the sea lice issue and concluded that beyond doubt lice from these cages were slaughtering migrating pink and chum salmon smolts. In order to understand the issue you should know that pink salmon smolts spend very little time in rivers but quickly migrate. They have a two year cycle unlike other salmon species here and in Europe, pinks have no scales when they migrate and thus have no protection against lice.

How do you answer that?
Volpe and all the other scientists who say the same thing are wrong and I would urge you to listen to the high paid flacks who tell our story the way we want it to be told. The opponents of fish farms have all the scientists but we have the best PR guys in the word. It's rather like the man whose wife caught him in bed with another woman. He asks, "Dear, do you believe me or your eyes?"

Are they healthy to eat?
While most of the world's scientists and nutritionists say they are not, what would these pointy-heads know?

Are they as tasty as wild salmon?
Don't pay any attention to those blind taste tests that have been unanimous that wild fish taste infinitely better. Besides, when the wild salmon are gone there'll be nothing left to test against!

Where does the fish farm excrement go?
With hundreds of thousands of fish in one place the answer is clear - to the bottom where it reduces the surplus crab and shrimp population. Do you really want an excess of crabs and shrimp?

How do you ensure your fish don't get sick and kill off wild salmon?
The answer is that we put antibiotics in their feed and hope for the best - which doesn't always happen.

Do you add anything else to the feed?
Yes, we put colourants in the food so our clients can get the colour they want.

But what's the matter with the dishwater grey the farmed fish are naturally? Surely you're not trying to pass off your product as other fish that are naturally pink or red in colour.
That's an impertinent question I'm not going to answer except to say that the customer is always right. If it takes some extra chemical in the fish's food to tart them up a little, extra chemicals is what they get.

Are you saying, then, that in addition to what gets pooped onto the bottom so does uneaten food laced with antibiotics and colourant?
Sure, but how many times are you going to go the bottom and see? "Out of sight, out of mind is our motto".

What do you feed your farmed Atlantic salmon?
The feed comes from millions of anchovies taken out of South American waters and made into pellets.

Is the food appropriate?
Well, speaking truthfully, it takes 5-7 pounds of South American anchovies to make one pound of farmed fish but what the hell, it's not BC anchovies we're taking here! Who cares about Chilean and Argentinean fishermen anyways?  Besides we're going to have to find substitutes because there aren't any anchovies to speak of left in South American waters now that we've got through with them.

We're told that your fish escape into wild salmon waters?
The answer is nonsense; the alternative answer is that the people of BC will be amply rewarded when our escapees (which we don't admit escape) take hold in their waters and drive all those wild salmon pests away.

We've taken the time to talk to authorities in Norway, Scotland and Ireland where you have fish farms and they tell us that the sea lice which infest the waters around the fish cages slaughter migrating salmon and sea trout and that our situation is worse because our pink salmon smolts are much smaller and that, unlike the European smolts, ours haven't developed the protection of scales yet. What do you say to that?
Stuff and nonsense made up by neo communists who are against progress and capitalism. Even though all the world's independent experts in this matter make these claims, they're all socialist trouble makers. Besides, we use liberal amounts of the compound SLICE to get rid of those lice we don't have.

But SLICE is a federally controlled poison, isn't it! And doesn't it kill lice because it kills other crustaceans including crabs and shrimp?
What's the matter with you ... didn't I tell you that we've already killed all the crabs and shrimp with fish shit?

Gee, Mr. Fish Farmer, I guess the good news is that as your Atlantic salmon kill off the Pacific salmon we'll need more and more of your product?
You're a smart lad ... It's rather like the Viet Nam war where they had to destroy villages in order to save them.

Why not go to closed containment for fish pens?
What? Are you suggesting that we stop using all that nice free water and actually put some money into solving the problems? That we'll have to clean up our fish shit? Isolate our pens to protect migrating wild salmon? That we'll have to find new ways to get rid of the chemical laden excrement and stop using the ocean as toilet bowls? Keep our fish from attracting huge numbers of sea lice that slaughter migrating wild salmon smolts? This is the thin edge of the wedge for next you'll be passing pollution laws like you have in place for pulp mills!

(Before I pose the question you might like to know that the Canadian Government that has persistently denied that these fish farms pose a problem has funded a study into an "Ocean-Based Floating structure" for commercial-scale salmon farming".) 

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, how do you vote? Do we let Atlantic salmon fish farms into British Columbia waters or not?

Rafe Mair is the former British Columbian Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health and the most popular radio talk show host in British Columbia.