Scroll Top

reLAKSation no 1018

Appealing: iLAKS reports that salmon farmers from Production Area no 4 (PO4) are to take their case against the Norwegian Government to the Court of Appeal. They maintain that the Government were wrong to move the area from yellow to red which meant that their Maximum Allowed Biomass was reduced. The farmers say that not only were lice levels within agreed limits, but also that wild fish stocks have increased over the last decade.

iLAKS also reports that the PO4 farmers have consistently stressed that they support environmental regulation but that a good factual basis is established before any decisions are imposed on production.

As an outside observer of the Traffic Light system, I can well understand that the salmon farming industry, not just farmers in PO4, want to work with the Norwegian Government to ensure that the coastal waters are of the highest environmental standard. However, I do not believe that the current Traffic Light system is the best way to protect the environment. This is because the Traffic Light system is inherently flawed.

Yet, when the original case when to court, the lawyers said that the case was not about challenging the science of the Traffic Light system but rather the way it was imposed. I think that they were wrong. However, I do not think that it should have been left to the farmers of PO4 to challenge the system. It shouldn’t have necessarily gone to court because the whole of the Norwegian salmon industry should have been galvanised into challenging the science from the outset.

It seems to me that the Traffic Light system was put together with little involvement with the farmers whose livelihoods would be affected by its decisions. Instead, in my opinion, it is the work of a group of ‘scientists’ who have become blinded by theory over reality.

The decisions about the way that the Traffic Light system is interpreted is undertaken by another group of scientists who, in my opinion, also appear to be unable to distinguish between the two.

I was interested to see that the head of the Expert Group, Knut Wiik Vollset recently posted the following Tweet:

I am surprised by how much concern can arise from just a few words. The title of this new paper refers to the negative impact of ectoparasites in salmon. I would argue that the view that there is a negative impact on wild salmon is mainly derived from models that were built with an inherently negative bias. There has always been a negative view of the impacts of sea lice that are associated with very generalised correlation but yet remains unproven.

The Tweet includes the word ‘afflicted’ which I associate more with the Bible than science. The word ‘of’ would have sufficed, but the intention is to imply that wild salmon ‘suffer’ from sea lice.

In addition, the paper is to be published in the journal – Theoretical Ecology, yet I can be sure that the name of the journal will be forgotten when the paper is cited as yet more evidence of the alleged damaged caused by the salmon farming industry.

Finally, and most critically, the Head of the Expert Group acknowledges working alongside someone who is one of the closest associates of Canada’s main anti-salmon farming activist and is largely responsible for the closure of farms on the Broughton Archipelago and the around the Discovery Islands. How can someone, who is working so closely with another, not be influenced by their views?

Martin Krkosek might be remembered as the researcher whose early work instigated an investigation by Canadian Vivian Krause into the $33 million campaign to demarket farmed salmon. She initially came across press reports from the David Suzuki Foundation that salmon farms caused sea lice to skyrocket 30,000 times higher than normal, yet it turned out that the David Suzuki Foundation study failed to measure sea lice levels at any farm, so they had no idea if the lice were even originating from the farms. This would have been difficult anyway because one of the farms ‘studied’ wasn’t even stocked with fish during part of the time. The lead researcher was Martin Krkosek.

I believe that this reliance on modelling is what is right at the heart of the fight against salmon farming, not just in Norway but across all salmon farming nations. It should be of concern to the Norwegian industry that the Head of the Expert Group which decides on the outcome of the Traffic Light system is working closely with those with an anti-salmon farming agenda.

I can only think that the events that have led up to the current court case are just the beginning of a clamp down on the Norwegian salmon farming industry and it should be a puzzle to me as to why there is just silence, but then most of the industry is currently sitting in green areas and don’t consider that the court case has any relevance to` them.


Otters: highlights a new study from the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research that evaluates the population trends on otters, salmon, and sea trout with the intention to see whether there is a relationship between the populations of the otters and the fish and the importance of the otter as a predator of salmonid fish.

What the researchers found is that since 1993, salmon catches have not declined in the Sunnmøre district whilst in adjacent Nordfjord, they have increased, almost doubling. This was despite an expectation of finding that the stocks had declined. Interestingly, Nordfjord is located within PO4. The changes that the researchers did find in some rivers were not thought to be the result of sea lice or the distance that salmon had to travel to the coast. points out that this is contrary to the expectation of the lice infection model. also suggests that the lice infection models assumes that residence time in the ‘lice soup’ is important with regard to the infestation level and the subsequent mortality but these observations from NINA appears to refute such claims. Of course, such observations have been notable by their absence.

Finally, highlights that the lead researcher on this project was Harald Sægrov from Rådgivende Biologer AS is also a member of the Expert Group. It will be interesting to see if these observations affect future decisions, although extremely unlikely because then someone might have to admit that the Traffic Light system is flawed.


Not on your watch: Earlier I mentioned how Martin Krkosek has collaborated with the head of the Norwegian Expert Group, Knut Wiik Vollset and that Martin Krkosek is a close collaborator of Alexandra Morton and is even a Director of her Salmon Coast Field Station. What is surprising is that Dr Krkosek gets just one mention in Alexandra Morton’s new book ‘Not on My Watch’. She says that he was the first young scientist to work out of her research station in the Broughton and he repeated an experiment previously conducted by Simon Jones and that’s it! Even non-academic Don Staniford gets more mentions. One mention is all Dr Krkosek gets in receipt of many years of support.

I have a copy of the book. The front cover states ‘How a renegade whale biologist took on governments and industry to save wild salmon’. Yet, I don’t think this book is about saving wild salmon at all. In fact, I would argue that Ms Morton has done nothing at all to save wild salmon. What she has done is to attack an industry who she blames, without any evidence, for the decline of wild salmon stocks from the rivers around Vancouver Island in British Columbia. She believes that if salmon farms are removed from the area, wild salmon will return.

However, Ms Morton is so focused on destroying the salmon farming industry that she has failed to look at what is happening to wild salmon stocks in other Canadian rivers and especially those which are hundreds of miles from any salmon farm.

The Pacific Salmon Explorer looks at the status of all Canadian rivers with respect to the different Pacific salmon species. The relative runs of Sockeye salmon around Vancouver Island, where salmon farms are present, have in fact increased by 35% over the last decade as compared to that before.  For the Fraser River, the figure is 10%. By comparison, Sockeye runs on the Skeena river have decreased by 31%, the Naas by 47% and the Central Coast area by 70%. There are no salmon farms near the Skeena or the Naas, so they cannot be the cause of the declines. Because there is no mention of these other rivers in her book, Ms Morton’s view is blinkered to her beliefs.

The book begins with an introduction which describes how aged around 8 she read about Jane Goodall and her work with chimpanzees and decided she wanted to follow in her footsteps. She says that people like Jane Goodall are driven by curiosity and the need to understand, they inevitably become activists. She writes that Jane Goodall has assured scientists that it’s ok to be an activist to which Ms Morton adds that it does feel good to be an activist. Ms Morton skips over her time at University in a couple of words so it is difficult to ascertain her scientific credentials and whether the science or activism is more important to her.

In my opinion, it seems that Ms Morton was an activist in waiting looking for a cause and found it when she moved to Echo Bay to watch whales in the early 1980s. I may be wrong, but I couldn’t see anything in the book about salmon conservation projects or other attempts to safeguard wild salmon for the future other than demanding the removal of salmon farms.

The question that the book doesn’t answer is what happens when these farms are long gone, and the salmon stocks have failed to recover. According to Salmon Business, the Canadian Government are pledging CAD 647 million to be spent over the next five years to stabilise and conserve wild salmon stocks including in research, new hatcheries and habitat restoration.

Habitat restoration is vital to salmon conservation, but it doesn’t merit a mention by Ms Morton. She is also critical of salmon enhancement hatcheries in her book. She said that they used to be a good idea, but they haven’t worked out.

Ms Morton is pinning a lot of hope on the removal of salmon farms initiating a recovery in wild salmon stocks. I look forward to reading her follow up book about the future bounty of wild salmon in Canadian rivers or as the farms close down, and fish fail to return, whether this is the last we hear of Alexandra Morton.


Red Flag: Whilst Alexandra Morton continues to blame salmon farming for the decline of wild salmon around Vancouver Island, the Seattle Times reports that Whole Foods Markets has issued guidelines for purchasing salmon from their Alaskan suppliers. This is because, not only are Pacific salmon falling in number, but they are also shrinking in size. These changes are beginning to sound alarm bells about the growing crisis in some key salmon populations that is being driven, according to many scientists, by climate change and more competition for food. The newspaper suggests that decades after the Atlantic cod fisheries collapsed, concern is now mounting among the experts that wild Pacific salmon could face a similar fate. One NOAA scientist said that salmon managers are realising that climate change is impacting their stocks and it is generally not favourable and its only going to get worse.

Alaskan salmon are getting smaller partly because they are returning from the ocean at a younger age though it is not known why. The trend is not restricted to Alaskan but is also playing out across the Pacific Rim from the US mainland and Canada to Russia and Japan. The biggest decline is in Chinook salmon which have shown an 8% decline over the last ten years with Sockeye shrinking in size by 2.1%.

The Seattle Times also mentions Atlantic salmon from Europe and New England and the memory of rivers teeming with fish that are now all but forgotten. They say that this is due to overfishing, habitat loss and dam construction. They don’t mention salmon farming yet if Alexandra Morton is to be believed, the removal of salmon farms will help resolve the declines. The same is true is Scotland where the angling sector continues to blame salmon farming for all their ills. The more moderate Scottish organisations now say that salmon farming is just one of the factors causing the decline, but all the research is still aimed primarily at trying to impose greater controls on the salmon industry, rather than trying to find out what is really causing the declines in salmon numbers.

The message for Canada is that Pacific salmon stocks are under threat. The shrinking size of fish is now seen as a warning of impending stock collapse. Getting rid of salmon farms now is a sure-fire way of ensuring that Canada may end up with no salmon at all, whether wild or farmed. Alexandra Morton’s message simply deflects attention away from the real issues that wild salmon may be yet become a distant memory.

Peter Westley of the University of Fairbanks and co-author of a study on salmon size confirmed to the Seattle Times that when the size and numbers of salmon populations go down that’s a harbinger of change that is taken as a red flag amongst many scientists.