For years, the David Suzuki Foundation, Alexandra Morton and other environmental groups made dire claims that sea lice from salmon farms put wild salmon at risk of extinction. "Sea lice have commonly killed over 80 per cent of the annual pink salmon returns," warned the David Suzuki Foundation, adding "... local extinction is certain."
In 2005, the David Suzuki Foundation said that salmon farming caused sea lice levels to sky-rocket "30,000 times higher than natural."
"Fish farm causes sea lice abundances thousands of times higher than natural levels, new study confirms." That was the headline of a Suzuki Foundation press release from 2005. If that's what research shows, I would agree that the farms should be closed. But research does not show what David Suzuki his foundation have been saying. Some of the claims made by David Suzuki and his foundation are plainly false. I will explain....
Why Some Sea Lice Research Claims Are False
For starters, none of the sea lice research funded by the David Suzuki Foundation actually meaured sea lice levels actually at salmon farms. None. Never. The researchers missed or ignored collecting the very data necessary to test their hypothesis that sea lice from salmon farms harm wild salmon. Its not possible to make sound conclusions about the transmission of anything from point "A" to point "B" if you don't measure point "A" (the salmon farm). Secondly, during part of the research, there were no fish at the farm.
The lead sea lice researcher admitted himself that his findings are "all correlative." A correlation does not show causality and yet, the University of Alberta (where the research was conducted) and the David Suzuki Foundation falsely reported in the headline of their press releases, "Wild salmon mortality caused by fish farms." When concerns about that headline were conveyed to the university, the press release was quietly removed but by then, hundreds of media stories around the world had falsely reported that "salmon farms kill wild salmon," just as the University of Alberta had said itself.
If these false claims hadn't had such a big impact on public opinion, public policies and budget allocations for the protection of wild salmon, the false and misleading claims from the David Suzuki Foundation and the University of Alberta would be little more than a nuisance. But the reality is that this sea lice research is at the heart of one of the longest running and fiercest environmental controversies in the history of British Columbia. More than 500 news stories reported this research and yet the central claim that the environmentalists and scientists have been making about this research, that it shows that sea lice originating from salmon farms cause high levels of mortality among the wild, is false.
For more about the reasons why some sea lice research claims are false, click here.
Like many others, including a lot of people in the salmon farming industry, I was very concerned back in 2002 when I first heard about the findings of Alexandra Morton's sea lice research. In a public inquiry, I urged the B.C. government to take Alexandra's work seriously. In fact, I even went so far as to question whether sea lice might be the marine equivalent of the pine beetle (see pg. 879) which has wreaked havoc on the B.C. forest industry. But then I started to come across information that changed my view.
In the winter of 2007, I came across a $560,000 grant (shown below) from the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation for an "antifarming campaign" against farmed salmon.
The purpose of this campaign, according to what the Moore foundation reported in its tax returns was "to shift consumer and retailer demand away from farmed salmon" (see pg. 275). The campaign was to involve media and "science messages." Eventually, I learned that the sea lice researchers funded by the David Suzuki Foundation were in cahoots with this media/marketing campaign and in fact, the sea lice research itself was funded by the Moore foundation (see e-mail). This and more led me to question whether false sea lice research claims had been made knowingly and intentionally as part of the Moore foundation's "antifarming campaign" to sway market share away from farmed salmon.
Formal Complaint to The University of Alberta
In February of 2008, I submitted to the University of Alberta (UofA) a formal complaint of apparent scientific misconduct in the sea lice research conducted by Alexandra Morton, Martin Krkosek, Dr. Mark Lewis and others, under the auspices of the UofA's Centre for Mathematical Biology. As the basis for this complaint, I wrote a 267 page document. For the 2 page executive summary, click here.
At the University of Alberta, the senior scientist involved in this research is Dr. Mark Lewis. The graduate student who was the first author on most of the sea lice research papers is Dr. Martin Krkosek. One of the researchers in this group, Alexandra Morton, has campaigned actively against salmon farms for years.
This research was partially funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, through the David Suzuki Foundation, and was published (Krkosek et al. (2007) in the journal SCIENCE, one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. In 2009, the University of Alberta awarded the Gold Medal of the Governor General of Canada for this research.
My complaint and request for investigation was supported by The B.C. Council of Resource Community Mayors, the Aboriginal Aquaculture Association and a scientist with expertise in sea lice. "While this activity has created an economy within academia, it has done nothing to alleviate Third world living conditions in coastal communities. Instead it has denied First Nations and others opportunities for jobs and prosperity," wrote the executive director of the Aboriginal Aquaculture Association.
Complaint Dismissed, No Investigation
The University dismissed the complaint with no investigation of the information provided. When I appealed to the president of the University, I received a letter from the university's lawyers saying that there was no right of appeal and that all information had to be kept confidential.
By way of background, it is important that I mention that I worked in the salmon farming industry during 2002 and 2003 so I am familiar with the fish farm fuss. During 2007, I also did two short consultancies for the salmon farming industry. I was paid $17,750 for those. I have not worked for the salmon farming industry in any capacity since July of 2007, nearly five years ago.
From my experience working for UNICEF during the 1990s, I am familiar with cases of scientific misconduct because one of the worst cases in the history of Canadian science involved a prominent scientist in my field, Dr. Ranjit Chandra at Memorial University. Without a background in salmon farming and some understanding of issues related to scientific integrity, I wouldn't have noticed that something is fishy about the University of Alberta's sea lice research.
Re-written & Removed Material
Several of the key documents related to this issue have been quietly removed or re-written:
- The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundationquietly re-wrote four grants for $3.6 million for its "anti-farming campaign" against salmon farming.
- The David Suzuki Foundationquietly removed 23 press releases and web-pages that I had noted to contain inaccurate, false or misleading information about farmed salmon and salmon farming.
- The University of Alberta removed the key press release in which, as I had pointed out, the headline was a false claim. The University removed another key document in which the Centre for Mathematical Biology reported that it had a "research partnership" with SeaWeb, a Maryland P.R. outfit, paid by Moore to co-ordinate the "antifarming campaign." The entire part of the UofA's web-site about Dr. Martin Krkoksek sea lice is now gone. Parts of it can still be accessed through internet archives. Click here.
By the time the University of Alberta and the David Suzuki Foundation removed their press releases and web-pages that contained false and misleading claims, it was years too late. By then, the sea lice research findings had been falsely reported in hundreds of media stories around the world and much of the media and the public had turned against salmon farming - albeit, in part, on the basis of claims that are false.
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