Sunday, June 28, 2009

Alexandra Morton on why she cannot keep fighting BC fish farms without more public support

Alexandra Morton, the respected biologist and tireless opponent of devastating open pen fish farming, has written this rather depressing open letter to British Columbians regarding the fate of our wild salmon and why she cannot continue her efforts any more following the provincial election results unless she sees substantial public support.

I strongly recommend you read it - here it is with Alexandra's kind permission:

* * * * *

British Columbia It’s Over to You

By Alexandra Morton

On June 25, 2009, the Strathcona Regional District rural directors opened the door to fish farming on the jugular of the B.C. coast.

Every other fish farm has been sited among braided waterways, but this Grieg application is for the biggest fish farm on the B.C. coast to be lodged where 1/3 of all Canada’s Pacific salmon pass on their voyage back to us through Johnstone Strait.

Sensing some public opposition to this decision the board did consider the risks and asked Grieg to compromise.

But the concessions Grieg responded with are worthless tradebeads of deception as they are either impossible or irrelevant. The media reports they offer to harvest their fish before the wild salmon migrations, but they know their fish need to be on our ocean for 22 months and ours migrate every 12 months.

They say they will have zero lice, but they know this is impossible with the drugs we allow in Canada. And they say they will turn off their growlights in the spring, when they never use them anyway.

I know the fish farmers and I know the governments, in fact they are often the same people. And most of all I know the fish.

There are things you cannot know when you are 20, 30, or 40 years. Every second we are alive we draw from deeper pools of experience. I know where this compromise will take us.

This is how we got all the fish farms in my home-waters in the first place. Greig did what it took to get past the regional directors. They also told me tourism operators love them, that in Nootka Sound they had consulted with the operators and won their approval, but when I wrote to Nootka Sound tourism operators, the ones who answered not only had not been contacted, they did not like the farms there.

A Norwegian corporation has become gatekeeper to the Fraser, East Vancouver Island, and south coast Mainland rivers and our fish are their market competitors.

I have tried to bring reason to the BC fish farming industry for 21 years. My community has been lost. The science is done. The courts ruled the way it has been regulated is unconstitutional.

The people of the BC coast are aware of the issue now. Wild salmon are failing and sea lice, diseases and massive schools of salmon predators parked in pens every few km along their migration routes are clearly not helping.

Anyone who looks can see that. And yet every level of government from federal to regional favours farm salmon over wild salmon. Since this is a democracy I have to assume at this point that BC has made its choice.

There are many places on this coast that government could play with this risky business, so when I see one of the biggest farm applications ever, being handed B.C.’s primary wild salmon artery by the most local, on the ground level of government I have to think “this is OK with B.C. This is what B.C. wants.”

The next day I watched farm smolts pour through a hose from a truck. I could see the Atlantic salmon in the translucent tube swimming above black pavement falling into the farm boat and I thought, “This is what BC has chosen.”

I thought about cool forest rivers, and what the first salmon of this coast looked like as they enter the sea. Feeding trout, birds, then whales, my children, you, and the trees that make us oxygen and stabilize our climate.

Humanity is drunk on trinkets and coins and and can no longer focus on or interpret the sheer power, generosity and our dependence on the living world that gave birth to us.

Is this a fatal code embedded in our DNA to limit us, an auto kill switch, to allow the rest of life on earth a chance against us? Nature does have nasty ways of dealing with out of control species, and we must be top of her list right now.

So I’m thinking who am I to challenge our very DNA. I have no right to tell BC one salmon is better than the other. You have clearly made the choice.

So British Columbia, here is what I am going to do. I can’t sustain this effort against every level of government because no matter how thin the veneer of democracy, you did vote for them, you had the choice and you picked the people who are giving our coast to the Norwegian salmon “farmers.”

If you want wild salmon in British Columbia you will need to roar all the way from Campbell River to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, because only you have the power to turn this around and let the wild life blood of this coast survive. If I can hear you I will meet you wherever you take a stand, but until then good luck in your decision, British Columbia it is over to you.

Alexandra Morton



SharingIsGood said...


I share your feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Many of us know of the importance of salmon to BC ecosystems )from The West Coast clear to the Rockies). Although I still continue to voice my concern, I have grown weary. Since the last election, I, too, have lost the energy and will to maintain my vigilance against the privatisation and wholesale sell-off of BC resources and services. The privatization of BC has been made complete when the fish and the very rivers and coastal waters that those fish swim within were given over. Outside of schools and hospitals, there is very little left to privatize. Our federal and provincial goverments give lip service to caring about our environment, but their actions (and inactions) prove their words hollow. Like you, I am handing my portion of the fight over to the electorate: for the third time, they have chosen this government. The electorate has what they they deserve.

All the best to you, Alexandra. Just so you know, I have twice sent your name in to be considered for both, the Order of Canada and the Order of BC. I will continue to do so. You are truly one of my heroes. Peace be with you.


Anonymous said...

Powerful. Painful. I've always wondered how these crazy stupid things have happened throughout history - in different times and places. Now we're living it, most of us blindly.

Curly said...

Ms. Morton,

Like SharingIsGood, I also share your feelings of sadness, frustration and hopelessness. But remember - you have fought the good fight and you have been an inspiration to many. Best Wishes.

Anonymous said...

I've never forgotten the words of a severely handicapped student at SFU who was determinedly studying for her Ph.D. in not one but a mix of specialties.

I heard her say, one day, "If you fail 5 or 6 times and you give up, then it's pretty clear that you just didn't really want to succeed."

She did have an exceptional determination. But it's also true, I think, that we often give up when in fact our efforts have brought us very close to success.

Please don't give up. What will the kids think?


Anonymous said...


Why don't you spend some time looking into the issue of salmon farming in BC before you start using phrases like "the devastating open net pen salmon farming industry in BC"?
Do you know that after spending five million dollars of taxpayers money on intensive sea lice research in the Broughton Archipelago, the BC Pacific Salmon Forum could not find a single juvenile pink salmon with a lethal amount of sea lice on it during 2007 or 2008? Did you ever consider that Ms. Morton's passion might have gotten in the way of objective reasoning?

Bill Tieleman said...

To Anonymous 9:25 - I will stake Alexandra Morton's research against anyone's. Her work has been painstaking and well recognized.

As to the Pacific Salmon Forum - it is an initiative of the same BC Liberal government that supports and promotes fish farms.

To quote directly from its own website:

"The BC Pacific Salmon Forum is an initiative of the Government of BC announced by Premier Campbell in December 2004. At this time, the government appointed seven individuals who would provide the direction required to enable the Province to realize the vision of an inclusive fishery sector that is financially viable."

In a review of the Forum's final report, Dr, Craig Orr of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform states:

"The ‘question’ on the source of lice is no longer considered a question by most scientists studying the issue, and is hardly tantalizing, except to folks who wish it so, and who don’t/won’t clearly articulate the evidence.

Had the author categorized the research he reports, he could list four types of evidence that point squarely at farmed salmon as the overwhelming source of lice infesting wild juvenile salmon:

(1) lice are common on juvenile salmon only in areas with farms,

(2) louse abundance and prevalence next to farms ‘tracks’ louse production on farms (numbers, development patterns),

(3) comparative estimates of louse production point to farmed salmon as the main source of lice in the spring (as compared to sticklebacks, which have never been seen to carry egg-bearing lice), and

(4) louse prevalence on wild fish can be lowered by fallowing farms (removing farmed salmon).

The only real debate (or question)—and one not assessed persuasively in the review—is how much harm lice are causing wild salmon."

I'll stick with Morton and Orr over a government-funded "research" project, thanks very much!

DPL said...

"Real fish don't eat pellets" is a bumper sticker often seen on bumpers. When we see salmon in stores unless the word "wild" is included we don't buy.The greedy companies don't want to use closed containment as it starts out costing more and besides Gordo will continue to mention the jobs at the presnt sites. How much does some guy get paid throwing mixed up fish bits and assorted chemicals into the nets? Doesn't appear to be hi tech work. Mr.Morton is more believable than anyone Gordo tries to tell us that all is just great.No wonder that she is getting weary of speaking on the subject. One wonders why the fruit fly expert Suzuki doesn't get involved as he spends time saving the world

Susan Heyes said...

Dear Alexandra

You are a national treasure.

Your relentless efforts for all these years have also inspired me to continue with my epic battle for justice, against all odds.

I can only imagine where we'd be if we had access to the $29 million dollars currently being spent to advance the will of the Premier - instead of the people - in the Public Affairs Bureau.

Over 230 people paid with our tax dollars to spawn the government's agenda, regardless of the known harm it will cause.

They should all be ashamed of themselves.

I thank you for your courage and determination to right these horrible wrongs.

With great respect,
Susan Heyes

Anonymous said...

Alexandra Morton is a sham. I believe nothing she has to say. Her research has been laughed at and disproven . All she is good at is getting headlines due to the fact that her Mommy is a billionarie in Boston. We must farm salmon, open pen salmon farming is the most eco friendly and sustaiainable way. If morton wants to save wild salmon she should be trying to shut down fishing, rehab streams and trying to cull seals. She is an American rich kid wing nut who has had her 15 minutes fo fame and now needs to please leave us alone so we can save wild salmon by eating farmed salmon instead.

Anonymous said...


(2) louse abundance and prevalence next to farms ‘tracks’ louse production on farms (numbers, development patterns), NOT TRUE. FARMS HAVE LOW LICE AND ANY RESULTING LICE FROM FARMS WOULD OCCUR 7KM "downstream" NOT BESIDE THE FARM.

(3) comparative estimates of louse production point to farmed salmon as the main source of lice in the spring (as compared to sticklebacks, which have never been seen to carry egg-bearing lice), and NOT TRUE, NOT BACKED UP BY PEER REVIEWED SCIENCE_ THESE ARE MORTON THEORIERS THAT HAVE BEEN PROVEN FALSE> SHE LIES>

(4) louse prevalence on wild fish can be lowered by fallowing farms (removing farmed salmon).NOT TRUE BEAMISH STUDY SHOWED THAT LICE PREVALENCE WAS NOT CORRELATED TO FARM FISH BIOMASS_ PEER REVIEWED STUDY. MORTON LIES ABOUT THIS TOO.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that people like Bill Tieleman and Alexandra Morton will ignore any science that doesn't agree with their opinions in order to back up ideaology.

Morton's 'studies' was built on passion and ego, not an credible science. These studies were also built on US foundation money that love Alaska salmon and wish to wreak havoc on BC farmed salmon.

Science on sea lice and salmon farming has moved well beyond her understanding, but she, and other like-minded individuals keep repeating the same tired message, hoping someone will listen.

Today, we know that farm-raised salmon and wild salmon can co-exist. Yes, improvements will continue as they should. But this message of "extinction" and "destruction" is tiring and, quite simply, incorrect.

So Bill and Alex, continue to beat your drums. Have fun. But understand that people aren't listen to you not because they don't care about the's because they are smarter than you give them credit for.

G West said...


You know something fellas? When you can't even take the trouble to spell properly, I think I'll take Alexandra Morton's word for the science.

If you had a case, you'd make it.

Instead you post the kind of thing I read above me here signed only anon 9:25pm.; anon 9:12 and 9:17am.

I don't know if you are the same person, anonymous posts always present that problem.

I do know that that someone who can't make a scientific case almost never hesitates to sling mud, cast aspersions and, in their incoherent anger, place on record all the evidence one really needs to assess the 'value' of the 'case' being made.

The general incoherence of the case for open net salmon farming is highly indicative of the paucity of both science and logic on that side of this question.

When all you can do is attack the messenger, it’s pretty safe to say the message is pretty weak.

Anonymous said...

The Pacific Salmon Forum was headed by John Fraser, the nationally-respected conservationist, former Speaker of the Canadian Parliament and former chair of the Pacific Fisheriers Resource Conservation Council - the very same man who championed Morton's initial warnings about the potential dangers that fish farms posed to wild salmon and brought them to national attention, forcing the Province and DFO to stop covering up for the fish farms and confront the potential risks.

Fraser's conclusions are more nuanced than Morton's, but they were based on extensive research and advice from highly regarded researchers on all sides of this issue. The report isn't perfect - many diverse voices must be accommodated in shaping these things and Fraser had teh thankless task of attempting to mediate a wildly polarized debate with intractable voices on both sides, and so no report could ever have satisfied them all. But the report certainly didn't support the status quo and indeed included far-reaching recommendations urging the Province to address the issues identified after three years of intensive scientific study by Morton and many others.

Sadly, Morton seems incapable of sharing the limelight with any other champion of wild salmon or of accepting the legitimacy of any perspective or science besides her own. And so the Fraser report, which could and should have been a catalyst to pressure DFO and the Province into taking real action, has been abandonned to gather dust on a forgotten shelf. Not one so-called environmentalist, including Morton, stood up and challenged the BC Liberals to get started on implementing any of the Fraser recommendations in the recent election campaign.

Those who actually want to save wild Pacific salmon, instead of simply stroking Morton's ego, might want to consider actually reading and supporting the PSF's advice. The report is available at

G West said...

John Fraser is a nationally recognized conservationist?

I don't think so.

He's a politician and a lawyer - nothing more, nothing less.
He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1954 and practiced law until his election to the House of Commons in 1972.

That's it!

To suggest he's the equal of Alexandra Morton is truly bizarre.

Jeff Barkley said...


Its obvious that you are a forum troll parotting the BC Liberal line. You are wasting your time if you think the people who frequent Bill's blog are stupid enough to believe your "science". Your wonderful "Pacific Salmon Forum" was a hand-picked group of denyers, probably paid to "prove salmon farming is safe". That group is just like the "there is no global warming" groups that are paid by corporations to obfuscate the overwelming evidence in that arena. I wonder how you sleep at night, knowing that you are trying to "trick" people into allowing greed to trump the environment. What pre-packaged response have you been given for the future, after the wild salmon are all gone and the history books show in stark detail what you have done? "No one could have known"? That one is popular amongst the corporate hacks.

I guess thats why you hide behind being anonymous. That way you can't be held to account for your diatribe after the deed is done...

Anonymous said...

The reason Morton doesnt mention the Pacific Salmon Forum is because it undermines her theory. Fraser was a staunch anti-salmon farmer too. They both must be incredibly disappointed to find that it doesnt take 1 louse to kill a juvenile pink salmon. In fact only under extremely high concentrations of lice, never seen before in nature, on extremelty tiny smolts can you kil a pacific with sea lice . Millions of dollars later the real threats to wild salmon go marching on unaddressed by Morton. too bad Morton, wrong again. It must really suck that there is not even a correlation, let alone a causation, between farm salmon biomass, seal lice counts and salmon returns. wrong again.peer reviewed science keeps showing her to be wrong.Science by Jones, Beamish, Brooks, Cubitt, Mckinley etc doesnt get headlines because there is no Alaska funded media relations team to promote the truth.

Maybe eating farm salmon is a solution rather than a problem? duh.

Bill Tieleman said...

Here's an excerpt from a report from the Georgia Straight in March 2008 noting that Alexandra Morton's work on sea lice and salmon had been published in the well respected journal Science.

Can the Anonymous fish farm fans contradict the results with something published in Science since then or an equally reputable scientific publication?

I doubt it.

"A study by University of Alberta fisheries ecologist Martin KrkoŇ°ek, Salmon Coast Field Station director Alexandra Morton, and others, published in December in the journal Science, examined historical fish data from Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Their conclusions were troubling. They found that sea-lice infestations from salmon farms in the Tribune Channel area are having potentially disastrous impacts on young pink and chum salmon migrating past the farms, and that pink salmon populations in those waters have dropped by some 80 percent in the past four years.

It’s an alarming decline that they say could lead to the extinction of some pink salmon stocks in just four years."

Unknown said...

Dear Anonymous,

I only wish that there were far more people like Alexandra Morton on this planet... and to take parents of people like you and sterilize them so that they can't have children that are short sited and evil.

I would think that evidence in other areas of the world and what Open Pen Farms are doing to the native fish habitats is overwhelming enough to have the farms banned and moved to Closed Pen Farms.

Wake up and give your head a shake buddy!

Long Live Alexandra Morton!

Unknown said...

Hey Bill,

Thanks for putting this stuff up here.

Alexandra Morton has worked so hard for 21 years and to have people slam her is regrettable.


Anonymous said...

Excuse me, why would I believe anyone who signs their name Anonymous said...?

Rafe Mair has done extensive research on the issue and sea lice are destroying juvenile salmon at an alarming rate.

If "Anonymous said..." posted their name, then we could see if he/she had the credentials to speak on the issue. Obviously you don't and one must accept that you are a Liberal shill; a Liberal troll who care nothing for the environment or salmon.

You are the same trolls that tried to discredit and slander Susan Heyes after her successful civil suit against TransLink.

Sign you bloody names boys and girls, if you want to be take seriously!

And for Ms. Heyes and Morton, you are true Canadian heroines, who have taken on the system and won. You will never become a member of the Order of Canada or be appointed to the senate.

In Canada, the real heroes and heroines are never recognized, unless a politician can get elected with your name!

deeby said...

As Rafe and others have pointed out, everybody knows what comes next when the Fraser runs are dead...a dam, just north of Lilloet, that will rival the Bennett.

That's the real agenda here: there's no high-minded conservation-by-replacement strategy going on. This is about deliberately extinguishing runs so BC business can appropriate fresh water for other purposes.

J. Mander said...

Morton is a scientist, and a passionate global citizen. I think anyone who has dedicated most or even part of their life's work to making this planet better can identify with her frustration. More generally, anyone who can think and see straight doesn't have to be a biologist to see the writing on the wall: if we don't take action, we are fucked.

Morton represents one small part of the struggle, but it's a vital one. Broader, related issues about the senseless damage we are inflicting on our oceans can be found in Alanna Mitchell's "Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis".

There is a growing realization among scientists and activists that we have passed a perilous point of no return on a range of environmental issues, and dramatic changes are not 'if' - but 'when' and 'how bad will it be.'

I do think we are entering a new kind of natural selection of our species and the next 50 to 100 years will not be a pretty selection process, especially where mass migration of climate change refugees and peak oil oil restraints are concerned. Fish farming is part of this awful, consumerist paradigm - and even the strongest among us find ourselves sleepwalking through it all, paralyzed by capitalism's 'bread & circus' rave party, too busy Twittering to our 'friends' the utter frivolities of our personal lives (in 140 characters or less).

The Mortons of the world are here to guide as back, and I personally thank her for her many guided tours of this issue. Her contributions are as vital as other, bigger sexier issues like climate change.

My message to Alexandra: your work is having an impact, even though you no doubt feel much more akin to Sisyphus rolling that big stone up the hill. If I had a nickle for every activist friend who burned out on good intentions and hard work, well, I'd have enough to.... Just keep your focus, your health and don't try and do it all yourself.

These sorts of issues really ought to be beyond partisan. We need a new politic to adjust our optics to environmental dramas unfolding before our very eyes. And folks, they are unfolding as I type. Not just on the coast of BC, but in the Arctic, in the low-lying nations prone to climate change flooding, in the diminishing arid lands of Africa.

To everyone, the little things add up. Fish farming exists only because there is a global demand for it. If you have a slab of it on your Canada BBQ - shame on you! We in BC may not be able to control what the sushi bars in Tokyo put on their menu, but we sure as hell can insist on what our own eateries and supermarkets carry. Morton et al have done all the dirty leg work for us, giving us the science, the data, the court cases we need to back up our own small demands, to conduct our own actions, to reference our letters to MPs, MLAs and various cabinet ministers.

Do the right things.

Unknown said...

DPL: Suzuki Foundation has taken a stand on the impact of sea lice on smolt mortality and provides helpful links to the relevant science. I am left to wonder why you seek to divide conservationists...