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reLAKSation no 1112

Breaking news  Journalist Nelson Bennet of BIV has tweeted about the breaking news that the Canadian Fisheries Minister has reaffirmed her decision to close down all the salmon farms in the Discovery Islands as a classic Friday news dump in which they publish a press release on the government website then vanish for a long weekend, so they don’t have to field calls from reporters.

John Reynolds, one of the 16 scientists who wrote to the Minister about the DFO report (and didn’t reply to my questions) tweeted that ‘I know this was a difficult decision, but the weight of evidence clearly indicates that salmon farms pose a threat to wild salmon.’  Like the Minister and all the other scientists, there seems to be an unwillingness to discuss the issue when faced with contrary evidence.

What he and no-one else appears to have said is that there will now be a recovery of wild salmon in the area around the Discovery Islands. Of course, this is the crucial point, will the removal of farms see a return of wild salmon, and the bigger question is what if they don’t return. No doubt, farms elsewhere will be initially blamed, but when the farming companies have all long gone, I guess all the critics will then just then give their shoulders a shrug, blame the other factors that are actually causing the declines now and say that farms did contribute to the decline too.


Busy Friday: The SPILLS report has now been published.

The report consists of four documents so is too much to read for comment in this issue of reLAKSation. I will devote the next issue to SPILLS. However, I have a question arising from the report which I have posed previously, and that is given that this project is titled ‘Salmon Parasite Interactions’, then who in the project team is the parasitologist? Surely, a project that is concerned with parasites must include the skills and experience of a parasitologist.

It has been a busy Friday because the Scottish Government also published another report – Science of Salmon Stocking: Scientific considerations in stocking policy development for river managers (Scottish Marine & Freshwater Science Vol 14 No 3)

This is a 66-page document of which there are about 23 pages of references amounting to about 320 papers. I contrast this with sea lice which seems to only merit a 10-page summary with 41 references. Given that sea lice are such a contentious issue, surely it deserves a full scientific assessment (including the participation of a parasitologist) rather than a very selective summary.


Sad world: This is a very sad world in which we live. Opponents to the salmon farming industry are perfectly entitled to their views but the sad part is that whilst they readily attack the messenger, they refuse to address the message.

The latest example comes from Canada, where supposed scientist, Alexandra Morton, has sunk to the lowest level by editing a video of a sea lice workshop presentation to show a leading parasitologist repeatedly claiming that there is uncertainty about the impacts of sea lice on wild fish.

Ms Morton’s ire was ignited when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans published a new peer-reviewed science response report from the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) which concluded that sea lice from salmon farms does not impact sea lice levels on wild salmon in British Columbia. The report says that there is no statistical correlation between sea lice counts on wild and farmed populations of salmon which means that the presence of farmed salmon does not appear to have a measurable impact on sea lice counts on wild salmon population.

As someone who has been studying wild farmed salmon interactions for over twelve years, this report comes of no surprise to me and simply confirms what I have already found on this side of the Atlantic. However, Alexandra Morton was incensed. She claims that this report is an attempt to undermine her efforts to have the salmon farming industry closed down in British Columbia. She goes on to say that internal DFO documents that she has seen indicate that the report’s original conclusions have been changed. She accuses DFO parasitologist Simon Jones of falsifying the conclusions, engaging in research fraud and consequently he should be dismissed from his job. Ms Morton supplies a screenshot of the edit which looks more like any normal edit of a report written by several authors. Whether Dr Jones replaced any wording or not is irrelevant, the evidence is clear that the claims about sea lice made by Ms Morton over the years have been highly overstated. The sampling conducted by her own Salmon Coast Field Station actually supports the report’s conclusions.

In response to the report, sixteen (in Ms Morton’s words) highly qualified scientists, but who are all in one way or another connected to Ms Morton, wrote to the Minister to say that with over 1500 peer-reviewed papers between them, they believe that the report is significantly flawed, not least because the contributors to the report are almost all aquaculture focused DFO staff with a mandate to support aquaculture development and no external industry unaffiliated scientists (such as them) were involved. They conclude that the report fails to meet widely accepted scientific standards on numerous fronts and wild salmon deserve better.

Having written a letter which was made public, I would have thought that these industry unaffiliated scientists would be happy to further expound their views, so I wrote to all of them about the specialist nature of this parasite. However, unlike Dr Jones, the majority of these 16 scientists, who admit in their letter that they are experts in fisheries, epidemiology, and the environmental consequences of aquaculture, but not parasitology, have not replied. Two did, both of whom are now retired. One wrote only to tell me to read his 2005 paper on sea lice and the other to share his version of the letter in which he extols readers to write to the Minister condemning the report.

It seems that it is not just in Europe that supposedly eminent scientists who readily criticise the salmon farming industry are actually unwilling to engage in a proper debate about the issues.

Ms Morton did not sign the letter although she claims to be an independent scientist. She was too busy editing a video of a presentation by Dr Jones at a sea lice workshop in Canada. It appears that Ms Morton has descended to the dregs of activism. Surely, if she believes so firmly in her cause she would be willing to meet those who hold an opposing view to seek the truth. I would certainly be willing to participate in a face-to-face public debate with her. I have said the same about industry critics on this side of the Atlantic, but they too remain firmly hidden away from any public debate.

What interested me most about Ms Morton’s very sad attempt to discredit Dr Jones was that there was a presentation available for her to edit. It came from a workshop held as part of the Kitasoo Xai’xais Finfish Transition Plan and held in Klemtu BC. The workshop consisted of six presentations all of which were videoed and posted at

One of the presenters was Dr Jones who spoke about the impacts of parasites on wild salmon populations. Clearly, not a presentation that was appreciated by Alexandra Morton because she felt the need to treat it to her special form of editing. She later wrote on Facebook that she didn’t know what other points Dr Jones had made which means that she didn’t watch the whole presentation or didn’t understand it.

Other presentations included:

Status of wild salmon populations in the North Pacific

Major disease in wild salmon and transmission from salmon farms

Sea lice population dynamics on salmon in western Pacific

Overview of sea lice levels in Broughton Archipelago

How Mowi Canada west manages impacts of salmon farming.


The people of Kitasoo Xai’xais were very fortunate to have the opportunity to hear a range of presentations on sea lice and more importantly question the presenters directly and have them explain their work in detail. I only wish that we could experience the same sort of openness here in the UK. I have been calling for a similar workshop for some time, but my calls have fallen on deaf ears. Yet surely, as an example, it would be good to have the researchers from the SPILLS project explain their findings and discuss the implications directly with those who it will affect. I would also like to hear Marine Scotland Scientists explain how they came to the conclusion they drew in their document that is posted on the Government website about their view of the impacts of sea lice on wild fish. I can very much live in hope!

I don’t agree with everything said in these presentations, probably because I look at the issue from a slightly different perspective but one presentation has shone a light on one major question. Lance Stewardson of Mainstream Biologicals explained to the audience how he collected data on sea lice and what he found. His results are very much in line with the analysis of sea lice data collected by the Salmon Coast Field Station that I have discussed more than once in reLAKSation.

Twenty years of data shows that 54.8% of all salmon sampled carried no lice with a further 22.5% with just one louse and 10.7% have two. These are mostly copepodid stages not the adults portrayed in pictures by Alexandra Morton. Lance showed her picture of an infested chum salmon and pointed out that only 6 fish sampled out of 15,804 had similar lice levels. This equates to 0.04%

However, the really interesting aspect of Lance’s work is that he has been sampling fish since 2016 in an area south of Quadra Island where there are no farms. He found that between 70 and 87% of pink salmon sampled did not have lice. He also referred to a paper by Price and others including Alexandra Morton from 2010 in which they sampled fish in farm free area and found 67 to 81% were lice free.

Lance took a graph of pink salmon sampled by people from the Kitasoo Xai’xais who conduct their own fish sampling. The blue bars are the percentage of pink salmon sampled that are lice free. Lance overlaid the range from both his and Ms Morton’s pre-exposure to farm sampling (67-87%) and this can be seen in the following graph:

Lance asks the question whether the impact of lice from salmon farms can be measured? Just three years fall below the line and two of these only just. 2015 was a year that sea lice were a problem province wide. Thus the results look good with little difference between the measured background level and fish sampled in a farming area.

Lance also included a picture of the fish that he typically samples as opposed to the one posted by Alexandra Morton.


NORCE: Alexandra Morton has also been writing about a new paper from NORCE in Norway authored by Knut Wiik Vollset and others. This claims that previous studies have significantly underestimated the negative effects of lice on wild salmon. The group studied randomised control trails where the return rates of fish treated with anti-lice product and controls are compared. According to Vollset, the impact has probably been underestimated because salmon lice have become resistant to the treatment. He also suggests that the salmon may be partially negatively physiologically affected by the medication.

Unfortunately, this view seems to be the response of researchers who are desperately holding onto the view that sea lice are having an impact on wild fish.  Vollset is also part of Vitenskapelig rad for Laksefovaltning  who evaluate the status of Norwegian salmon every year and have placed sea lice as one of the greatest threats to wild salmon. However, like others with similar views, the members of this committee seem extremely reluctant to discuss whether this view is correct, despite mounting evidence that they are wrong.

I have taken the data from the Vollset paper and displayed it graphically in its raw form.


I struggle to see the impacts that this paper claims. The results are in part influenced by the huge differences in numbers of salmon released from year to year and in some cases between the treated and control groups. The differences between the groups are really small percentages, which could be said to fit in with the data from Canada that shows the presence of lice has minimal impact on wild fish.

However, if my interpretation of the data is considered to be incorrect, I would be happy to hear a better explanation. I am still awaiting Dr Vollset’s reply.


Ad hominen: Why is it that those who oppose salmon farming never want to debate the issues? Instead, they either totally ignore any invitation to do so, or they prefer to attack the messenger. A case in point was former regional chair of the Salmon & Trout Association now renamed Wildfish, Naill Mckillop from Fort William who wrote to the Press & Journal to complain that the paper had included three different pieces about salmon farming in just one week.

He begins by saying that three highly paid salmon farming cheerleaders had graced the paper’s columns on consecutive days. Mr Mckillop always likes to embellish his comments and as the first contributor was myself, I would like to make it clear that I was not paid, highly or not, by anyone to write the piece that appeared in the newspaper or in fact anything else I write. I do it because there are many extremely misinformed people who never get to hear the other side of the debate and I would like them to have the opportunity to do so. The P&J clearly thought what I had to say would be of interest to its readers and merited more than just an appearance in the letters page such as that written by Mr McKillop.

He goes on to then accuse me of characteristically sniping ad hominem at the new Scottish director of Wild Fish, Rachel Mulrenan. For those of my readers who are not familiar with this term, it means directing comments against the person rather than their position. I suggest that Mc McKillop should visit the optician for an eye test because the only thing I wrote about Rachel was that ‘she recently wrote in the P&Js opinion section that the salmon farming industry was guilty of greenwashing.’ I am not sure that this one line can be considered to be sniping. My piece was in response to hers.

It is interesting that my contribution consisted of three columns, the first two were about the reasons why wild salmon have declined from Scottish rivers but Mr McKillop didn’t seem interested in commenting on that but preferred to engage in a personal attack on me and other industry personal. As a former regional chair of the S&TA, I might have thought he would be interested in the wider issues affecting wild salmon, but apparently not.

Mr McKillop continues that my doctorate concerned research into the habits of yeasts. I don’t know where he got this information from, probably the network of other sadly misinformed people he communicates with on Twitter. Why P&J readers would be interested in a PhD thesis that was awarded 40 years ago is beyond me but Mr McKillop is obviously trying to suggest that I am not qualified to speak on the issue of wild fish. If that is the case, I am surprised that Mr McKillop would not be rushing to take up an invitation to speak to me so using his better knowledge of wild fish, he could firmly put me in my place. Actually, Mr McKillop did once accept my invitation to have a coffee and a chat and we arranged a time and place but whilst I was there on time, Mr McKillop failed to show up. After chasing him up, he told me that he had suffered a flat tyre whilst driving back to Fort William. He never made any effort to let me know, nor did he apologise. Oddly, whilst he was supposedly standing by the side of a road waiting for help, he was posting pictures on Twitter from his garden. He clearly had had second thoughts about meeting me. Perhaps, his knowledge of wild salmon fisheries is not as great as he might think?

I would mention that my PhD was about fish nutrition and did not involve any yeast.

It remains a complete puzzle to me as to why these industry critics, such as Niall McKillop scream out about the alleged impacts of salmon farming, but refuse to actively debate the issues to help seek solutions as to why wild fish are in decline.