Friday, December 21, 2007

Fish farm advocates dispute findings

The BC Pacific Salmon Forum is questioning the research paper recently released in Science magazine which stated that pink salmon and chum stocks were set for a rapid decline due to fish farming in the Broughton archipelago.

Using interim results from their own research, they claim that returns in the Broughton archipelago watersheds this year were as good as, or better than those of 2005. They also state that more than 80 per cent of wild salmon smolts migrating out of the area in the spring of this year had no sea lice.

Their findings are not all that surprising, coming as they do from their point of view of advocating for a farm salmon environment, it’s in their interests to try and sway public opinion from the dramatic announcements of last weeks Science article. The forum is inviting one of the authors of that report, Martin Krkosek, to come and discuss his study and to share data so as to better understand the impact of salmon farming.

They will release their interim findings in January, which will provide two very different interpretations of a problem in an area that is heavily dependent on the fishery. The future of which will certainly be changed depending on which study carries more weight and legitimacy.

The Daily News featured the debate in Wednesday’s paper.

Pro-industry research disputes report findings
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Pages one and two

New research to be released in January will dispute the recent study published in Science magazine that predicts a rapid decline in pink and chum salmon stocks in the Broughton Archipelago.

The BC Pacific Salmon Forum released an official statement yesterday announcing that interim findings from research being conducted through their Science Advisory Committee does not support the findings of researcher Martin Krkosek. In that study, Krkosek and a team of scientists and mathematicians concluded that the transfer of sea lice from fish farms to wild juvenile salmon is leading to the possible extinction of wild stocks.

While Krkosek’s study predicted a total extinction of wild pink stocks within four years, the Pacific Salmon Forum commissioned field and laboratory research will show pink salmon returns in Broughton Archipelago watersheds this year were as good as or better than, those that occurred in 2005. The interim findings to be released early January will also state that more than 80 per cent of wild salmon smolts, migrating out of the Broughton in the spring of 2007 had no lice, as noted by field researchers.

The Science Advisory Committee leading the research is comprised of some of Canada’s leading fish biologists, and will not complete its study until the end of 2008, when it will be peer-reviewed and made public.

In the meantime, the Pacific Salmon Forum has invited Krkosek to meet with its Science Advisory Committee to discuss the study. It says there is little consensus between scientists about the extend of the impact salmon farming is having on wild salmon, or the best way to minimize that impact.

Marine Harvest Canada is another organization that takes issue with the Krkosek article, primarily the way the data was chosen and modeled.

“We recognize that the article was written by some folks we’re fairly familiar with, as they’ve written 10 or 12 articles in the last three years that have been uniformally contrary to salmon farming in their tone”, said Clare Bachman, environmental compliance manager for Marine Harvest.

“However, we also recognize the article is in a very prestigious journal of science and has to be taken pretty seriously in terms of the predictions that it makes.”

Bachman says the assumptions that were made in the study resulting in a prediction of pink salmon extinction were based on incorrect information. In particular, the assertion that fish farms are the source of the sea lice infestations is something Bachman says has been speculated, but has yet to be proven by researchers.

“We’ve heard in the past that up to 95 per cent of the out-migrating fish can be killed by the sea lice infections they receive, and there’s recent work being published that says very few, or in fact zero fish are killed by sea lice,” said Bachman/

“Another thing that’s been left out of the mix is what salmon farmers are actually doing to address this concern. It’s not like Marine Harvest hasn’t been paying attention. We’ve been paying close attention and take active steps to reduce or eliminate sea lice on our fish in the March to June period when the fish that are leaving may be negatively impacted.”

The British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association has also contested the predictions made in Krkosek’s study. In a media release responding to the Science article, it pointed out that pink salmon returns for 2006 were low all along the Pacific coast, including Alaska, not only in the Broughton Archipelago. The association also stated that Fisheries and Oceans Canada research shows that pink salmon populations in the Broughton fluctuate biannually, and that since 1953 returns in even-numbered years have been roughly double that of returns in odd numbered years. The CFSA say that pink returns in 2001 are just one example of why Krkosek’s predictions are questionable, because that year saw the highest pink salmon returns in 20 years of monitoring the region.

“Marine Harvest agrees with these groups, like the Pacific Salmon Forum, that state not all of the research is supporting some of the claims of this study,” said Bachman. “I think the Salmon Forum like (Marine Harvest) believes that the time has passed for these kinds of studies, which tend to be a little dramatic and make these far-reaching statements. We need to concentrate on pulling together all the results of all the research going on, and find solutions that are going to preserve the wild fish, reduce impacts, and allow us to have a healthy, stable and sustainable farming industry at the same time.”

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