Salmon Confidential is a great documentary produced by Salmon and Sacred and written by Twyla Roscovich, who has worked for National Geographic. It features biologist Alexandra Morton, who tells the story of salmon aquaculture in British Columbia and the impact it has on wild stocks. It is a brilliant piece of journalism – but see for yourself. The salmon has always been a very important part of life in British Columbia in Canada. It plays a substantial role in Canada´s ecosystem functioning and is of tremendous importance to many animals and plants as well as the people that have been living there for centuries.
In 1990 the salmon aquaculture industry started building up their farms in side arms of the Fraser River. About the same time the numbers of salmon in the wild started declining – year by year. One possible explanation was that the newly implemented industrial farming of salmon might have an impact on the wild salmon juveniles that pass many of these farms on their way to the Pacific Ocean. The life cycle of salmons starts in a freshwater river from where they will migrate into the ocean to spend the next couple of years there until they are ready to reproduce. Salmon will follow the same route they once came from and migrate back into rivers, overcoming all possible obstacles on their way to reproduce in certain areas. This intensive migration demands everything they have and all the salmons die after spawning providing nutrition for bacteria and creating a substantial basis of a food web.
After some research it was clear that all stocks passing the farms were declining, whereas another stock following a different route and not passing the farms were doing just fine. The Geneticist Dr. Kristi Miller, Head of the Molecular Genetics Pacific Biological Station DFO published a work in the renowned science journal which stated she´d found the infectious salmon anemia short ISA in BC in 2011. After that loads of journalist wanted to interview her, but all interviews where denied. Shortly afterwards farms were allowed to keep all information confidential and it was generally not allowed anymore to test any salmons of pens of the aquaculture farms.
Clearly something was wrong with the wild salmon stocks, but what? To investigate what was happening the government formed the Cohen commission. All kind of threats were brought up the table, from squids to sharks. Only on the last day of the hearings the possibility of disease spreading was mentioned. Once again in 2009 “millions of fish disappeared”. Even though the spawning season seemed very promising with lots of juveniles, huge amounts died on their way to the ocean.
The possibility if the ISA Virus was brought up by a couple of scientists, one of the worst if not the worst disease among salmons. A couple of wild salmons were caught and tested for the virus and three were found positive. Two of the world´s leading labs recognized by the World Health Organization and entitled to test for the ISA Virus (Dr. Fred Kibenge, World Organization for Animal Health OIE and Dr. Are Nylund, Head of the Fish Diseases at the University of Bergen, Norway) investigated the samples with a positive result but only the lab of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) tested them negative! So, three world class labs tested positives and only the government lab couldn´t verify these findings? .. things seemed very strange indeed..
During the Cohen commission it got clear that the Canadian government did everything not be listed as a country where the ISA broke out. This would mean an immediate trade stop and millions of dollar damage. The search for the virus was and is clearly being impaired by the economical interests! No salmons from farms could be tested to reconfirm the findings. So the concerned Alexandra Molton went to buy fresh fish sold in supermarkets and again – found positives results on ISA!
This great documentary shows the incredible power of the industry showing that profit eventually governs the people not the other way around.. Sadly but truly this is how it is. People are being at risk of serious health risks but not even that seems to bother the government. That nature suffers most under these decisions is well known but as long as there is money flowing, why would they care for the environment? We can change that – each and every one of us! Let´s stand up and protest, let’s send them letters, let’s tell them we are here and we are not happy!
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Tom Vierus is an award-winning photographer, filmmaker, and marine biologist based in Suva, Fiji Islands. This blog is dedicated to his assignments and to sharing some behind-the-scenes footage.