The Salmon Wars

I am racing an epidemic and government gave the viruses the head start. “

— Alexandra Morton

If you have been following my blogs on a regular basis, you know me as a person who loves to write about the history of man’s Cormorant-1106insensitivity to the needs of Nature. Specifically, I love to provide examples of how human institutions on a grand scale fail to comprehend the importance of vital connections within Nature. I’ve written about Rachel Carson’s legacy and  how she brought a new consciousness to the idea that man needs to understand and respect the deep interconnectivity of everything within Nature, including we humans. I wrote a blog post about how a US government agency proposed to shoot cormorants  because the birds, in their need to eat, were interfering with man’s commercial “rights” to fish Salmon. A total disregard, by a government agency, for normal connections within Nature. Then, I’ve brought up cattle grazing in the US  and how the heavy political influence of the cattle industry has pressured government agencies such as the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to provide “grazing rights” that utilize and damage a large percentage of public lands in order to produce a product that is not good for us.

Another tale that portrays we humans breaking links in Nature recently came to my attention. It is the Salmon story in British Columbia. With wild Salmon being over fished, the Canadian Government has provided rights to use certain rivers where farm Salmon can be raised in pens. These farm salmon are brought in (translocated) from other parts of the world, typically Norway. The man-made physical boundaries of these pens are basic fish net material which permit river water to freely circulate in the Salmon farm while retaining the Salmon. These same rivers are also occupied by wild Salmon as they migrate between their places of birth and the open ocean.

Up to this point, the story sounds like an ideal way to meet a strong world-wide human demand for Salmon while saving the depleted wild stock that has been severely over-fished. It seems like a great way for humanity to restore a connection in Nature that was being destroyed through over consumption. But, that’s not the way it has tuned out. Indeed, biologists who are familiar with human enabled translocations of species will tell you that such an act must be performed with great care after fully understanding the potential risks. The reason is that in a translocation, man is taking over for Nature. Controlling Nature in this way rarely works as expected because man is unable to predict the future of any ecosystem much like we cannot predict the weather very far into the future. Some years ago, modern complexity science proved this phenomenon of unpredictability in ecosystems but the message has not yet reached the biologists. 

SalmonThe stock for the farm Salmon comes from Norway. It seems that much of this stock contains a virus that is lethal to Salmon. These viruses roam freely in the water. In British Columbia, the viruses move from the Salmon farm into the open river stream where they infect the wild Salmon. The results have been massive deaths in the wild Salmon population as they swim to their spawning areas. They die before they ever release and fertilize their eggs. The result has been a population crash of the wild Salmon.

The story is beautifully told in a one hour video that portrays the scientists at work discovering and defining the problem. The video also portrays the highly offensive sidestepping of government bureaucrats and government scientists who see the potential destruction of an important Canadian industry and their careers if the truth is brought to light.

This is another Rachel Carson, David and Goliath, “Silent Spring” story. I strongly urge you to view this very well done video. Here is a description of the video by its producers:

“Salmon Confidential is a new film on the government cover up of what is killing BC’s wild salmon. When biologist Alexandra Morton discovers BC’s wild salmon are testing positive for dangerous European salmon viruses associated with salmon farming worldwide, a chain of events is set off by government to suppress the findings. Tracking viruses, Morton moves from courtrooms, into British Columbia’s most remote rivers, Vancouver grocery stores and sushi restaurants. The film documents Morton’s journey as she attempts to overcome government and industry roadblocks thrown in her path and works to bring critical information to the public in time to save BC’s wild salmon.”

I guarantee that you will be impressed with the scientists and angered by the self-serving attitudes of the bureaucrats .  But,  if you cannot spare the time, a very condensed version is available as a trailer. .

Any reasonable man would conclude that the solution to this environmental dilemma is to get rid of the Salmon farms — or at least find a way to stop the river water from flowing between the areas of wild populations and farm populations. But, this has not happened. The longer video portrays the blatant cover-ups by Canadian government bureaucrats and scientists as they bow to political and economic pressures. In the course of this insensitivity, a consciousness of Nature is forgotten by these people despite the passionate pleas of the scientific community and the strong evidence of the test results from reputable world-wide laboratories.

The British Columbia Salmon story portrays a lack of sensitivity and knowledge about the importance of interconnections in Nature. It portrays the inability of those humans who were in charge to ask a vitally important fundamental question before the farm Salmon species from Norway were introduced into Canadian waters. The basic question is: How will the introduction of a species from a different geographic location effect the species that live and thrive at this location?  It is the same kind of question that was never asked when DDT was introduced, when cattle were allowed to graze in public owned lands, and when the idea of shooting cormorants was proposed.

It is unfortunate that mankind has failed to ask this basic question, but it is not surprising. We humans believe that we have dominionEgoNature_1 over Nature rather than being equal partners with all of Nature. The title of this blog – “The Salmon Wars” portrays the David and Goliath battle between humans on two sides. The battle rages  on. Our “David” in this story is Alexandra Morton , a scientist who I would characterize as the wild Salmon’s Rachel Carson .

But, this well known cartoon portrays a more profound battle that seems to rage every time something like the wild Salmon story comes up. In this battle, it is man’s attitude of supremacy versus Nature. Man will always lose. As long as man’s arrogance tries to prevail over a Nature that is deeply interconnected and unpredictable, there will always be Salmon wars. 


My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

10 Responses to “The Salmon Wars”

  1. Ena Valikov says:

    Very well written. Thank you. The film is eyeopening and tragic. I think the common denominator in many of these situations isn’t so much that humans as a species believe we can control nature, but that we are sold unpalatable ideas that benefit a few (1%) of us monetarily (whether it be salmon farms, CAFOs, GMOs, mountain top removal, chemical pollutants, etc), at incalculable costs to nature and humans. There is nothing in our economic systems to put a monetary value on a thriving ecosystem, so its integrity is assailed while the regulatory agencies we all pay fail repeatedly at doing their jobs, having been captured by those same powerful interests. It is the pattern I discern over and over.

    • Thank You Ena:

      I totally agree with you. In this case, the regulatory agencies are captured by the powerful interest groups and fail to exhibit any form of stewardship or sensitivity toward Nature.

      In my view, the control of Nature is attempted when the regulator tries to fit Nature to the needs of the special interest group. Most government agencies I’ve worked with truly believe they can manipulate Nature. In the case of Salmon, translocation was where the big mistake was made. Now, they are butt covering.

  2. This a kind, rational and sensitive post

    Being a clinical psychologist who focuses on both the small and large picture I have great difficulty understanding man’s wish for dominion or control over nature….for profit.

    There must be ways that Scientists can figure out a solution, however they choose not to work on the solutions or cannot see the big picture. I love this quote “Any reasonable man would conclude that the solution to this environmental dilemma is to get rid of the Salmon farms — or at least find a way to stop the river water from flowing between the areas of wild populations and farm populations.”

    Thank You, Cheryl

    • I thank you and Ena for your comments both here and on Google+. There has been a lot recently written on man’s control (dominion) over Nature. Much is written from a psychological point of view where control is an anesthetic that is meant to cover up a loss of self. One piece is by Nature Photographer Rafael Rojas ( http://www.outdoorphotographer.com/locations/international/elemental-energy.html ) where the middle third of his article addresses the issue. I quote:

      “Rojas’ quest is to remind us, the first generation of humans totally detached from the natural world, about the necessity of our connection to the earth. “For millions of years we lived as another species,” Rojas says, “grounded to our natural environment. Cities have become the new ecosystem for us, an artificially created one where, from one day to the next, we have eliminated ancestral experiences so basic to our natural history. That has created a void, which we have tried to fill with equally artificial tools or goodies—like money, career, success, commercial malls and technology. That urban world and those goodies keep us busy, and alienated in most cases, and it is virtually impossible for us to remember what happened to that natural world our ancestors enjoyed. So when we come with the idea of protecting it, how are people going to react? It is difficult to realize the need to protect something you do not know exists—even more so when that would compromise your ‘real’ source of happiness: those same goodies that we created. How do you trade the car for a bike to protect a polar bear you only see on TV? Why change oil for sustainable sources of energy when the coast of Alaska is far from most of us?”

  3. ELISA del Carmen cedillo says:

    Hi me quede sin palabras, es un video impactante de este hermoso pez, estoy segura que si las personas que estan al front de Los organisms gubernamentales lo observaran reflexionarian y cambiarian poco a poco su actitud, ademas todos Los seres vivid estamos conectarme entre si necesitamos UNOs de ottos para vivir y dios nos mostro la man era correct de hacerlo para que nuestro habitat sea siempre limp y bello . Jamas voy a volver a comer salmon .

    • Gracias por tus comentarios Elisa. Sus comentarios regulares y continuo interés en este blog son muy apreciadas. Es interesante que tu es la primera persona que me he comunicado con el que se ha comprometido a no comer salmón. Gracias por venir y decir eso.

      Thanks for your comments Elisa. Your regular comments and continuing interest in this blog are greatly appreciated. It is interesting that you are the first person I’ve communicated with who has pledged not to eat Salmon. Thanks for coming out and saying that.

  4. C Jazz says:

    Amen! Thank you for paying attention to, and giving a public forum to just one of the many attrocities our society has created in the hidden name of “natural foods or farming”. This is exactly what many people fall for and accept when they don’t look deeper into issues and educate themselves. I am a scientist at heart, yet spiritually motivated and globally conscious. It can all be made to work, but delving into the issues and not simply accepting what is spoon fed to us is the answer. Thank you for your beautiful pictures, your inspiring words and your gentle and thoughtful phrasing.

    • Thanks for your kind works. Like yourself, things like this make me angry. It happens way too often when government and influential business come together to destroy some piece of Nature for political and economic purpose. I like your word “atrocity”.

      • Jazznsun says:

        I had the great privilege of growing up on a once pristine North American Coastal Waterway. Fish, fowl, microorganisms and plant life were abundant and in balance. My Dad, a scientific and mathematical thinker, had encouraged me to begin taking measurements such as water temperature, salinity, tidal flow readings etc and plotting and recording them. Low and behold, first came big business with oil terminals and thus oil spills, leaving globs of oil and tar on the shoreline. Then came relaxed rules regarding how close Russian trawlers could fish to our coastlines. And finally, a nuclear power plant was built and put on line using the local water to cool the core temps, only to be returned to to original water supply. Needless to say, over time, the graphing showed a severe decrease in not only the amount, type and size of fish. There was also a decrease across the board in all marine life. Some have never returned to these waters. The types of seeweed have changed as well as the patterns of yearly jellyfish migration. It is a sad commentary on the lack of understanding of the synergy that occurs in our oceans, on our coastlines, and on our earth as a whole. It seems money/business trumps eco-logic and planetary preservation. So very sad. More people should experience the beauty of simply being one with nature and perhaps realize the tremendous gift we are so quick to destroy.

    • Here is another article on the subject at:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/science/infectious-salmon-anemia-threat-divides-scientists.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=1&

      Watch @Enviroblogger on Twitter. He seems to be writing more on this subject.

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