Cohen Inquiry: DFO grilled like a disease-ridden farmed salmon
At the Cohen Inquiry today in Vancouver, the Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) is starting to squirm like a disease-infested farmed salmon. DFO’s regional director of science, Dr. Laura Richards, is on the witness stand all day being cross-examined on why Fraser River sockeye stocks crashed in 2009. Later this morning and this afternoon, Dr. Richards will be cross-examined by Alexandra Morton’s lawyer Greg McDade on sea lice impacts and infectious diseases on salmon farms.
Alexandra Morton in her blog earlier this week – “Dear Dr. Richards inform yourself” – challenged Dr. Richards “to learn if BC is a suspect area for Infectious Salmon Anaemia and read the salmon farm disease records”. Alexandra Morton, who is attending today’s Cohen Inquiry, wrote:
“Here in BC, beginning in the early 1990s, an epidemic of Salmon Leukemia swept up the BC coast in salmon farms. At exactly this time the Fraser sockeye began declining, behaving strangely, some runs dying by the millions in the river just before spawning. Today, when DFO scientist, Dr. Miller, reported Salmon Leukemia may be in these dying sockeye she was not allowed to speak to the media. Why?
If Salmon Leukemia is a factor in the millions of dying sockeye, it appears lethal enough that it should have extinquished itself. A 18-year sustained epidemic would require a reservoir source of infection.
Dr. Scott Hinch, a co-researcher on this project stated at the Cohen Inquiry last week that he does not know if farm salmon have been examined as a potential ongoing source of the purported virus. If salmon farms are a reserviour for this retrovirus the public needs to know, so they can decide which fish they want wild or farmed.
Dr. Richards, as the top Pacific Region DFO administrator of science, the public is paying you and relying on you to have all available facts when you take the stand on March 17 at the Cohen Inquiry to answer questions regarding a leaked ministerial briefing note on an emerging disease and the 2009 sockeye collapse”.
Exhibits and transcripts from today’s hearing will be available soon via the Cohen Commission.
The Norwegian-owned salmon farming industry in British Columbia (92% of salmon farms are controlled by three Norwegian companies: Marine Harvest, Cermaq and Grieg) are starting to feel hot under the collar as the Cohen Inquiry asks some very uncomfortable questions about infectious diseases in particular.
Back in January, the BC Salmon Farmers Association provided 10 years of disease data for 120 salmon farms to the Cohen Inquiry. However, it appears that the salmon farming industry – aided and abetted by the Government – are desperately trying to hide the full extent of the disease problem on BC’s salmon feedlots.
The Globe & Mail reported earlier this week that “Salmon farms investigation hampered by incomplete government data”. According to Mark Hume:
“A federal commission investigating the decline of sockeye salmon populations has been told the British Columbia government cannot provide complete electronic records on the health of fish on salmon farms. That has sparked a showdown at the Cohen Commission over whether the government should be ordered to spend 10 weeks retrieving old paper records from storage, to see if the missing information exists.
In December, the commission directed the B.C. government to produce “documents relating to fish health, mortality and pathogens, including sea lice and disease,” for 120 salmon farms located along the migration route of Fraser River sockeye. The commission is seeking the animal health records, from 2000 to 2010, to see if fish farms could be implicated in disease or sea lice outbreaks in wild salmon.
But Gary Marty, fish pathologist with the Animal Health Centre of the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, states in an affidavit that many electronic records do not identify the farms from which necropsy samples were taken. “Without knowledge of the farm of origin, it is impossible to determine if the given farm is near or far from the sockeye salmon migration routes,” Dr. Marty states.
The province is now seeking a “clarification” on the document disclosure order, arguing necropsy reports that don’t identify the source farms won’t be helpful to the commission, so need not be produced”.
As the can of worms is slowly opened by Justice Cohen expect more dirty laundry to be aired in public over the coming months. The Cohen Inquiry now takes a break until 4th April and is expected to complete public hearings in September or October.
For more background watch Twyla Roscovich’s film “Salmon Farm Diseases and Sockeye”.