March 5, 2010
Letter to NBC from the BC Salmon Farmers Association
Bob Epstein, Executive Producer, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams
30 Rockefeller Plz New York, NY 10112
cc: Geraldine Moriba Meadows,
Senior Producer, Standards and Practices
Dear Mr. Epstein
I am writing with regard to a piece that aired on March 3’s NBC Nightly News. Tom Brokaw, wrapping up his coverage on the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, reported about the challenges facing the west coast’s wild salmon stocks for a segment of Our Planet.
We agree that Pacific salmon are a marvel of nature and a key cultural symbol of the West Coast, which is why B.C. salmon farmers are so committed to environmental sustainability and the survival of wild fish stocks.
In the story, Mr. Brokaw briefly mentions that rising ocean temperature and urbanization are considered causes of the population decline – then goes on to spend the next half of the story talking about the ‘impacts’ of salmon farming on the wild stocks. It’s a story heavy on insinuation and light on fact: so we wanted to share the facts with you and insist that you begin to correct the record by amending the story online.
To say that farmed salmon are the cause of the sea lice infestations is simply wrong. To allude to the idea that sea lice is causing the decline in wild salmon stocks is also untrue.
For the first year of their life, all farmed salmon are raised in freshwater hatcheries on land. When the fish are placed in ocean pens they are lice free. Since sea lice are a naturally occurring marine parasite, they are originally found on wild salmon, herring, sticklebacks and other marine life. The transmission of such lice actually occurs from wild salmon to farmed salmon, not the inverse as your report suggests.
B.C. salmon farms follow strict regulations regarding sea lice infestations – monitoring regularly year round but particularly during the spring out-migration of young wild salmon. If sea lice in farms reach a level of three per fish, all are treated by a medication prescribed by a veterinarian. It is the most stringent level of sea lice regulation found in the world.
Testing has shown time and again no difference in the concentration of sea lice on wild salmon in regions with salmon farms and those without in B.C. (references below). Other research shows that Pacific salmon, by the time they’re migrating, are in fact large enough that they are no longer susceptible to the parasite.
Despite dire predictions by critics, returning pink salmon stocks last year in areas around fish farms reached historic highs – and over 50 years of data collected by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans shows that some of the highest returns in history have come within the 20 years that salmon farming has been occurring. The federal government is very clear in its research: that it is not sea lice that are killing juvenile salmon and fish farming cannot be blamed for low returns. Your report fails to note this clear, independent and demonstrable science. For more on the results of this research visit www.dfo-mpo-gc.ca, the Facts About Sea Lice.
Salmon are a key part of B.C.’s economic and cultural history, making this topic a passionate one. The spread of unverified allegations like this does little to find the real causes and solutions for the wild salmon decline. The Fraser River Sockeye Inquiry, which is beginning this spring, will hopefully help.
B.C. Salmon Farmers care about the environment and have developed a sustainable industry that we believe will help alleviate the pressure on challenged wild stocks by providing a renewable, local food source to meet a growing global demand.
Thank-you for your attention to this matter,
Mary Ellen Walling
BC Salmon Farmers Association
Beamish, R.J. et al, “Exceptional marine survival of pink salmon…” (2006) ICES Journal of Marine Science, 63: 1326-1337.
Nagasawa, K. “Annual changes in the population size of the salmon louse,” (2001) Hydrobiologia, 453.
Trudel, M., et al, “Infestations of Motile Salmon Lice on Pacific Salmon,” (2007), American Fisheries Society Symposium 57.