Thursday, July 28, 2011

DFO's Credibility Crisis: Putting the Muzzle on Science

Over the last decade, as the impacts of salmon farming on wild stocks has emerged as a significant concern, DFO has drawn criticism for their unwillingness to confront the salmon farming industry. In fact, DFO has become a major booster of foreign aquaculture investment in BC and the Maritime Provinces serving as industry apologist and PR firm while ignoring their mandate to responsibly manage wild salmon resources.

With the Cohen commission underway the issue has finally come to a head and in the next few weeks the commission will be exploring the impact of aquaculture and disease in the decline of Fraser Sockeye. Recently leaked documents have revealed the degree to which DFO has sought to manipulate public perception at the highest levels. An internal memo, written by well respected scientist Brent Hargreaves highlighted inadequacies in science being done by some members of DFOs research team, research which sought to undermine confidence in the validity of previous findings that sea lice spread from salmon farms were contributing to the collapse of some salmon stocks in the Georgia Basin.

Last spring DFO researcher Kristina Miller and collaborators published a paper documenting the widespread prevalence of viral pathogen in Fraser Sockeye which was contributed to extremely high prespawn mortality rates. Understandably there was widespread media interest in the research and its potential implications for salmon recovery in the Georgia Basin. However despite the importance of the research, DFO would not allow Miller to conduct interviews or speak publicly about her work. Many have rightly accused DFO of muzzling Miller in an attempt to reduce the impact of her incredibly important work on the ongoing proceedings around the decline of Fraser Sockeye.

Since the publication of Miller's paper in Science, evidence has emerged indicating that the disease is salmon leaukemia and there is a distinct possibility the salmon farms are serving as a source. Another leaked DFO document from 2006 indicates that the department has known about the presence of a widespread disease, then believed to be viral, and had documented its presence in juveniles and adults of several species. The brief also indicated that there was evidence that the disease led to reduced early marine survival in infected juveniles. If that is the case, salmon farms could be having a major effect on the survival of salmon from Puget Sound to the northern end of Vancouver Island.

Unfortunately DFO remains unwilling to flex its regulatory muscle to protect wild salmon from disease. All this new information further heightens the need for for comprehensive, independent disease testing on salmon farms. Yet to date it has not occurred despite the substantial implications of Dr. Millers research for salmon throughout the region. In fact DFO is so friendly with the salmon farming industry they won't even go so far as to ban the import of juvenile salmon eggs despite the substantial risk of spreading infectious salmon anemia (ISA) to wild populations. ISA was responsible for the collapse of the Chilean salmon farming industry and should it end up in BC it could have a devastating effect on wild salmon up and down the coast.

With so much at stake DFO has yet to do anything but cover the salmon farming industry's dirty tracks leaving Canadians to hope that the Cohen commission will lead to significant changes in policy. The next few weeks will be telling.

More information on DFO's information control campaign in the Vancouver Sun:

and from the Common Sense Canadian:

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