The biggest problem with the "environmental" campaigns funded by Tides Canada and its U.S. funders is that these campaigns consume considerable public attention and hundreds of millions of dollars but they miss the real, priority environmental problems. Take forests and wild salmon, for example.
U.S foundations have spent more than $150 million on the Great Bear Rainforest and the Boreal Forest Initiative but in the hundreds of grants that I've seen for more than $300 million, I've only found two small grants that mention the pine beetle epidemic that has devastated B.C. forests. Even more disappointing is that one of these grants wasn't to fight the pine beetles, it was to fight the Canadian Forest Service which was trying to do something about them. In this instance, the Bullitt Foundation paid the West Coast Environmental Law Research Foundation $15,000 to challenge the request of the Canadian Forest Service for a permit to use a pesticide (monosodium methylarsonate) in Morice Forest District.
Since 2000, two American foundations created by the founders of Hewlett-Packard have granted $90 million to environmental groups and campaigns operating in Canada. The majority of this American money was for B.C. organizations and in particular, for projects to tackle the oil and gas industry and to establish a huge park smack on the gateway to Asia. This park, however, isn't called the Hewlett Packard Park. Instead, its called the Great Bear Rainforest and its now used as a pretext for banning oil tanker traffic - all in the name of protecting the kermode bear. Whether or not this was the plan all along, the Great Bear Rainforest has become The Great Trade Barrier.
I'm all for protecting the kermode bear but surely there are ways of doing so without turning Canada's entire, strategic gateway to Asia, into a park.
Wild salmon are extinct or severely endangered in 34 rivers in the Bay of Fundy, on the east coast of Canada but the place where Tides Canada and its American funders are spending tens of millions of dollars is on the west coast - where last year the returns of Fraser sockeye were the highest in 100 years. Even in the Broughton Archipelago, ground zero of the salmon farming controversy, wild salmon have returned in record numbers despite more than a decade of salmon farming in the area. In 2004, the return to Glendale Creek, the largest wild pink salmon habitat in the Broughton, was one of the highest since the 1950s. In 2009, wild pink salmon returns were high enough that commercial fishing was allowed - on the very same stocks that Alexandra Morton and the David Suzuki Foundation claim are at risk of extinction. Interestingly, after concerns were raised with the David Suzuki Foundation about inaccuracies and false statements in its information on salmon farming, the foundation quietly removed 23 press releases and web-pages.
I'm all for salmon aquaculture reform but the place where Americans should be funding it is in Alaska, not in British Columbia. Although it would come as a surprise to a lot of people, Alaska actually grows more than twice as much salmon as B.C. About half of so-called "wild" Alaskan salmon is actually ranched salmon. These salmon are not wild. These salmon are hatched in a plastic tray, fed pellets and raised in net pens as are farmed salmon. This is why the choice between farmed vs. "wild" salmon is actually a false choice.
The difference between Alaskan "ranched" salmon and farmed salmon is that ranched salmon are deliberately put into the wild where they compete with the truly wild salmon for habitat and food. In essence, Alaska is using the Pacific ocean as a salmon ranch. Not only salmon ranching puts a huge strain on the food chain and the carrying capacity of the Pacific ecosystem, ranching also entails all of the risks of commercial fishing: over-fishing, killing the wrong fish (by-catch), and the killing of endangered species - not of salmon and other species as well, including whales.
If American foundations want to "reform" salmon aquaculture, the place where they should be spending their money is in Alaska. Instead, over the past decade, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation has poured $90 million into a sophisticated strategy to prop up market demand for wild and ranched fish, especially from Alaska, while scaring consumers away from the competition: imported, farmed fish. As I discussed in Packard's Push Against B.C. Salmon and in David Suzuki's Fish Story, all the bad press about farmed salmon being unsafe and unsustainable creates a foil of negativity that facilitates the brand positioning of Alaska salmon as safe and sustainable.
If all the bad things that are said about farmed salmon are true, it goes without saying that farmed salmon should be boycotted and banned. But as I have explained in detail in my papers about PCBs and sea lice, in many instances research findings have been selectively and inaccurately reported in a manner that falsely reflects the actual findings. The classic example of this is David Suzuki's false claim that he had uncovered the "fact" that B.C. farmed salmon is heavily contaminated with PCBs and other toxins.
Scaring consumers away from farmed salmon - which is what the Tides Canada-funded Farmed and Dangerous campaign has been doing - helps to sway market share and prop up the market for so-called "wild" salmon, most of which is Alaskan. Since 2002 and the campaign against farmed salmon, the ex-vessel value of Alaskan salmon has more than quadrupled from $125 million to $533 million. No doubt about it, some of that increase is due to Alaska's $50 million Salmon Revitalization strategy which was explicitly "to beat farm salmon." But even the commercial fishermen have given credit to the Packard foundation for "boosting our markets."
With part of the $26 million that Tides Canada has had from the San Francisco-based Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, Tides Canada claims that it is "reforming" the salmon farming industry by trying to get it to transition it to so-called "closed containment" technology. The problem is, this technology would make salmon farming far more energy intensive and would increase emissions equivalent to putting thousands more cars on the road. That wouldn't lessen the environmental impacts of salmon farming. On the contrary, it would make them worse. When environmental organizations propose an environmentally flawed solution, something's fishy.
Central to the rationale that Tides Canada gives for requiring a transition to "closed containment" is the claim that research shows that sea lice originating from salmon farms cause high levels of mortality among juvenile salmon in the wild, putting them at risk of extinction. But for reasons that I have outlined elsewhere in detail (click here), this claim is false. This is not what the research actually show.
What so-called "closed containment" would accomplish is that it would increase production costs which would eventually have to be passed on to the consumer. This would make farmed salmon more expensive and less cost-competitive. In this way, a transition to so-called "closed containment" would soften the market impacts of aquaculture on commercial fisheries. Closed containment would close the price gap between domestic, Alaskan wild fish, and imported farmed fish. This would mitigate market impacts, not environmental impacts.
In summary, when it comes to both forests and salmon, I don't see how Tides Canada's U.S.-funded campaigns would address the real, priority environmental problems but I do see how these campaigns would protect American economic, market and trade interests - all in the name of protecting the environment.
Posted November 13, 2011
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