Transgenic Trangression

Sooke Harbour Salmon

So, fish. Let’s talk about their current situation. Wild fish good; genetically modified fish not so good. Pretty simple. Lately I have been receiving a smattering of emails, requests to sign petitions, and Facebook group membership suggestions all relating to the Wild Pacific Salmon, now being considered as BC’s symbol of strength, resilience, and culture. Seems reasonable as Pacific Salmon can be found on almost any menu, in any museum of BC history or culture, and was once found in every river. It also seems reasonable, because the wild population of these beautiful creatures are in a bit of a pickle and in need of some more serious recognition and protection. With the introduction of farmed salmon, and now transgenic species of the fish escaping from the confines of lice-infested, waste-riddled, open-net cage farms, the wild stock is in serious danger. More so than ever before. A friend of mine who has been in BC for most of his life, closely connected to the population of all things edible, has written to me that there are hardly any fish this year, noting also that he has been involved in the fight to save the species for decades. Yes, global warming, over-fishing, and contamination of our waterways all contribute to the threat, but in the past several years, genetic engineering is rearing its even uglier head, beyond the scope of the endless fields of corn, wheat, soy and cotton, brings this problem to a whole other level.

It is generally franken-salmon, a relative to Atlantic Salmon, being raised on the Pacific Coast in net-pens along the coast of BC. But as Les Blumenthal writes for the Washington Post, “by some estimates, 400,000 to 1 million Atlantic salmon have escaped into the wild from the 75 or so net-pen operations in British Columbia. A Purdue University study using a computer model — and widely criticized by the biotechnology industry — showed that if 60 transgenic fish bred in a population of 60,000 wild fish, the wild fish would be extinct in 40 generations.” I don’t know how you might feel about this, but from what I understand, anything that becomes extinct leaves a trail of consequences that is impossible to predict. Predators and prey both challenged by the void.

This introduction of a genetically manipulated acquroversy has lead me to ponder the situation closer to home.

Delicious Smoked Wild Salmon

I have been trying to figure out whether there is any difference between what’s happening in the rivers and ocean of the west coast, and our very own Great Lakes. I am a huge fan of Splake. It’s a cross between a lake trout and a brook trout, which I have written about ad nauseum. I love its flaky, orange flesh, it’s tiny little scales and clear bright eyes. I love the way it holds up on a grill and cooks evenly from the outside inwards on a hot pan. I adore the delicate flavour and not-too-overly-fatty mouth feel that seems to melt on the tongue, requiring little in the way of chewing or teeth. But what, prey tell, is the difference between that of our local fish scientists introducing such a mule to our waters to repopulate the lakes and the genetic engineering of salmon in BC? This intervention seems less than favourable when dissected and deboned. Perhaps the trout is in cahoots with the zebra mussel mafia and is quietly planning yet another unwelcome and prolific invasion. Perhaps the few native fish we have left in the lakes will be bullied and picked on by the new kids, who generally grow faster than their predecessors, and will give up the fight, only to be devastated by the conquerors. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of research on the subject, and I shy away from quoting Wikipedia most of the time, so I will leave the question open. But to me, the use of the terms “man-created hybrid” when associated with a species of any organism, is a red flag ( Does anyone out there have any idea if my fear is valid?

There are ways for us to fight upstream with the government and protest bogus policy and sustainability-washing certifications, that eco-organizations are doling out like candy so that companies can sell more product to unsuspecting salmon eaters. Alexandra Morton, who has done extensive research on salmon stocks, private and public policies has sent out the letter following this post. If you feel particularly strongly about the remarkable power that massive acquaculture companies have over our environment, our governance, and our food system, please take the time to read and react to Alexandra’s call for help.

(From Alexandra Morton via Mike Nagy)

Hello All

The federal government has released their proposed Federal Pacific Aquaculture Regulations with a sixty-day public input period.  These regulations role back the safe-guards we have in British Columbia to prevent heavy industrialization and privatization of the coast at the expense of our communities. Once these regulations pass there will be no further public input on how each salmon feedlot licence is written, how many wild fish they can take and what diseases they must report. The federal licences will be issued without First Nation or other consultation and can be expanded without an environmental assessment.  I feel there has to be enormous response or else we all lose, even the people working in the industry, because no retailer is going to want to be in possession of a seafood product authorized to “Harmfully Alter, Disrupt and Destroy” parts of the North Pacific. Oddly these regulations will not apply to the east coast of Canada, where the Minister of Fisheries resides.

There are several options for you to act by the deadline September 12:

You can see my presentation on the strong correlation between disease in salmon feedlots and decline of Fraser sockeye “What’s New”

I know it is very hard to react to everything that comes at us, so I have tried to make this easy for you. However, I can’t turn this looming disaster, it requires each and everyone of you and your friends and family. Please pass the petition to all you know.

To stay up to date please frequent I will let you know how many people have signed.  Volunteers are hosting events throughout BC this summer to link all of us together and this information will be posted. The T-shirts left from the migration are on my website and proceeds go to this effort.

The Get Out Migration brought thousands of people together, but government does not want to hear from our communities nor of our need for good health in our environment and our bodies. Clearly there needs to be more public response.  That is all that is required to fix this. I will continue to push for protection for salmon feedlot workers, as this is a government mistake and they need not bear the cost of this to our coast.

I think we will have a good Fraser sockeye run this summer and that should tell us the ocean and the river are still highly capable of feeding this coast!  This generation of sockeye has shown one of the least declines and we need to investigate why this run is good and the others have failed so badly.  If we allow government to let salmon feedlot companies hide their disease outbreaks this investigation will be incomplete.  If there is no salmon feedlot disease problem, there should be no reason for secrecy.

Hundreds of people have said “I am behind you Alex,”  but this is not working. We have to stand shoulder to shoulder, where we are all peacefully and strongly visible. This is the only way to save ourselves and our planet.

Alexandra Morton

July 28, 2010

Ed Porter, Team Leader, Regulatory Operations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Dear Mr. Ed Porter:

I am responding to the 60-day public comment opportunity on the proposed Federal Pacific Aquaculture Regulations
(left column “Part I Notices and Proposed Regulations” Vol. 144, No. 28, page 1933).

When BC Supreme Court ruled that the federal government must take over regulation of salmon feedlots, the intent was to bring the industry into compliance with the Constitution of Canada.  But what Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are trying to do instead is remove safeguards established by previous governments and open the door to privatizing the ocean, which is prohibited by the Canadian Constitution.

With his document Harper not only licences massive ecological damage, he depreciates the market value of BC feedlot salmon. No reputable retailer can afford to be seen with a seafood product raised under a licence to “harm, alter, disrupt and destroy” the ocean.  The federal licences will be issued without consultation with First Nations.

Increasingly stringent international standards are driving seafood importing nations to require Canada to certify health (disease) status, not just food safety, of live aquatic animals and their products. … Canada cannot meet these standards, and is facing increasing challenges to export market access. Canada is already subject to a lesser market access than the United States, Europe ...“

Canadian pathologists warn against holding millions of diseased salmon in pens (Traxler et al. 1993) and the graph below demonstrates the reason. There is a strong correlation between salmon feedlot epidemics and the declining Fraser sockeye.  This must be examined, but the provincial government is stonewalling release of salmon feedlot disease records and Harper is stepping in to help.

These draft regulations ignore the International (OIE) and the Canadian Food and Health Inspection Agency standards by exempting salmon feedlots from full disease reporting. Harper is not only offering Norwegian companies the right to leave infected salmon in the water, he is protecting them from liability. If government and the industry are willing to throw away premium market value for disease secrecy we are warned this is a dangerous and strong priority.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is also offering these Norwegian companies blanket authorization for “Harmful Alteration, Disruption or Destruction” of fish habitat (Section 35(1) Fisheries Act). This ignores the value of the oceans to communities across British Columbia. Oddly, these rules will not apply to eastern Canada, where the Minister of Fisheries resides.

Harper is going to legalize destruction of wild fish that become trapped in the pens, attracted by the bright lights and food in the water. There are no surplus wild fish and so this by-catch will compete with fishing quotas.  Many feedlots are in rock cod conservation areas where fishermen are not allowed, but the feedlots will continue trapping unknown amounts. This is bad management and will affect herring, sable fish, salmon, lingcod and other important wild fish.

The federal Conservatives are proposing salmon feedlot licences be granted and amended without environmental assessment.  This violates strong public demand for healthy coastal waters, but neatly resolves the irreconcilable issue of dumping over a ton/day/site of industrial waste into salmon habitat. These are the only feedlots that never have to shovel manure and chemical waste as it flows conveniently into public waters.

It is dangerous to humanity, (risking food security, drug resistance, disease mutation) to allow feedlots to contaminate natural environments with disease. Feedlots remove all the natural disease control mechanisms and thus allow viruses to mutate, multiply and jump to new species.

Because Mr. Harper is proposing to remove standards designed to protect the ocean from Norwegian feedlots, retailers like COSTCO will have to decide if their mission statements honor government or their customers. Promising to “Exceed ecological standards required in every community where we do business,” is meaningless if there are no ecological standards.

Salmon feedlots are an “ecology of bad ideas,” struggling to control disease with drugs, corrupting the foodchain by using warm-blooded animal products, plants and fish from the southern hemisphere as feed, displacing local businesses, turning a public resource into a corporate commodity with no public access, dyeing their fish pink to resemble salmon. If jobs were the goal, the federal Conservatives and BC Liberals would be working with the BC companies developing sustainable land-based aquaculture to create a viable, world-class product. Instead Mr. Harper is proposing to change the laws of Canada to allow unchecked pollution by a 92% Norwegian-owned industry associated wild salmon declines worldwide. Wild salmon are thriving everywhere this industry does not exist (Alaska, Iceland, western Pacific, areas of BC).

These proposed regulations are a signpost. If this was about fish, attention would have been paid to the market value of the product. Instead it risks one of the last naturally producing salmon regions in the world for a depreciating commodity. What these draft regulations do is clear away legislation established to protect Canadians and our coast from industrialization and privatization.

Ed Porter, the proposed Federal Pacific Aquaculture Regulations do not protect the interests of Canadians or the world and must not be adopted.

Alexandra Morton

The Fraser sockeye decline began at the same time government failed to cull millions of IHN virus infected feedlot salmon on the Fraser River migration routes. Government ignored federal scientists who state infected Atlantic salmon should not be permitted in pens (Traxler et al 1993). The federal government also ignored warnings from their scientists that would have saved the North Atlantic cod.  When the cod went extinct the Hibernia Oil wells appeared on the Grand Banks – the most generous food-producing area humanity will ever have was exchanged for oil.


One response to “Transgenic Trangression

  1. Thanks for posting that.

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