“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 insensitivity 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.
The 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 dominion 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.