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Scientists slam DFO report regarding salmon farms, sea lice

Open letter addressed to DFO finds ‘inconsistencies’ with salmon farm findings
An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit near Campbell River, B.C. Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018. A group of scientists is calling out flaws of the DFO’s latest report on sea lice and wild salmon in an open letter to Federal Minister Joyce Murray. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward

An open letter directed to Federal Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)’s minister Joyce Murray is calling out the ministry for what it says is inconsistencies in the federal department’s latest report from January, stating that there was “no statistical relevant association” between sea lice and fish farms.

Signed by 16 scientists, including ones from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU), the University of Victoria and the University of Toronto, the letter identifies several inconsistencies in the report. Among them, the selective nature of the review, according to documents from Access to Information (ATIP) requests and emails; an invalidated infestation model; and, the lack of what they say is basic scientific process, which includes a formal peer review.

“As scientists, it’s our job to analyze data. We’ll make conclusions from it and write it up in a manuscript and send it to a scientific journal,” said Sean Godwin, a post doctorate fellow at SFU and assistant professor at the University of California, Davis, one of the scientists that signed the letter. “It will go to other scientists in the field and go back and forth and when it gets accepted, it will be published.

“In this case, in the peer review process, there was no independent scientists. Even in the authorship. They had one reviewer of the report and that reviewer is an industry associated professor that advises B.C. salmon farms.”

READ MORE: Salmon farms aren’t the only cause of growing sea lice infestations, DFO study claims

Another scientist which signed the letter, Dr. Chris Darimont of UBC, says that DFO should have pointed out the key flaws within the report, and this is why the group brought it to the attention of the minister.

“The stakes are extremely high for this industry and the communities which depend on this precious resource,” said Darimont in an email to the Mirror. “They deserve to be by the best available science. The DFO has not provided that.”

Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA), Brian Kingzett, however, disputes the allegations these scientists have levied against the DFO organization.

Kingzett states that while science should always be scrutinized, the direct allegation that the DFO and the BCSFA are working together to mislead the public, simply is not true.

“The DFO is our regulator,” said Kingzett. “We stand by the science, whatever way it drops. I think it is highly irresponsible for scientists to take that approach to say ‘we don’t agree with your science’ and accuse the DFO of misleading the public. I feel that if (the DFO) did find a direct link in the results, they would have said something.”

An announcement about the future of fish farms on the B.C. coast, which was expected to come from Murray in January, is expected to be announced soon.

READ MORE: Alexandra Morton writes open letter to Strathcona Regional District regarding the future of fish farms

Edward Hitchins

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