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Vol. 17, No. 34
02 September 2011

“But the odds are that one of these years the world’s greatest nation

will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed

anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges -- environmental,

economic, and more -- that’s a terrifying prospect.”

------ Paul Krugman





Canada's Cohen Commission Decline of Sockeye Salmon Hearings ........17:34/01

Closed Containment Systems Called Best Way to Farm Fish....................17:34/02

California’s Red Bluff Diversion Dam’s Gates Raised One Final Time…..…17:34/04

Orca Populations Suffering from Persistent Organic Pollutants.…….…......17:34/05




17:34/01. CANADA’S COHEN COMMISSION OF INQUIRY INTO THE DECLINE OF SOCKEYE SALMON HEARINGS UNDERWAY: Canada’s “Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon” began hearing evidence on disease and aquaculture impacts on Fraser River sockeye salmon on 18 August. Most of the excitement centered on testimony from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) scientist Kristi Miller – the researcher previously blocked by the federal government from discussing her work on viral disease related to sockeye salmon with the media.


Miller confirmed during her testimony on 24 August that federal officials told her not to speak to the public and reserve her comments for the Inquiry. Having completed her testimony, however, Miller could not say when the gag order might be lifted.


Miller testified that the disease (believed to be a parvovirus – the first of its kind to be found in fish) could be a major factor in the decline of Fraser sockeye. It is also not clear whether the disease is linked to salmon farms because to date, Miller has been unable to analyze Atlantic farmed fish.


Documents presented at the Inquiry show that Miller removed references to a potential role that fish farms may have played in the spread of the virus from a DFO briefing document and until two weeks ago, the salmon farming industry had not agreed to let Dr. Miller test its fish. With Miller’s testimony at the Inquiry looming, however, the industry and DFO scrambled to reach an agreement. Dr. Miller finally has the go-ahead to test farmed salmon for the parvovirus, but now remains the issue of cutbacks on funding for her lab, which was reported on in last week’s Sublegals article 17:33/03.


Dr. Kristi Miller’s ground-breaking research was published in the world-renowned journal Science, and word of her findings has drawn interest globally. Throughout her testimony, she and her colleague on the stand emphasized the importance of the work that remains to be done. Is this mortality-related signature in sockeye a parvovirus? Is it infectious? Does it cause disease and mortality? Is it present in farmed Atlantic salmon? Answers to these questions could be critical to the future of wild Fraser River salmon but boil down to one big question: Will the government of Canada support and fund Miller’s search for these answers?


Meanwhile on 30 August during the Cohen Commission meeting, opponents of fish farms in coastal British Columbia waters rallied outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. More than 200 people gathered near the steps on the West Georgia side of the art gallery for the rally. The site is a short walk from the building where the Cohen Commission hearings are taking place. At the rally, demonstrators chanted: “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Fish farms have got to go!” Some held signs that read: “Help save wild salmon,” and “Salmon are sacred.”


A group of B.C. First Nations leaders and wild-salmon activist Alexandra Morton spoke out against fish farms. “We don’t have proof but we have enormous weight of evidence and unless people like you press for the truth and for these fish farms to be removed out of the narrow passages of the Discovery Islands…we will lose our sockeye,” Morton told the crowd.


“All I can do is drag this thing out fighting and kicking into the daylight and then somebody else has to come in here and say, ‘Enough. These farms have got to get out. There’s a better way of doing these things,’” she said.


Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, also spoke to the crowd. “This is about social justice. This is about environmental justice. This is about the ugly economics of the industrialized fish-farm industry…,” he said. “We know in our hearts that what hangs in the balance is the very survival of the wild salmon stocks in B.C.”


Some key persons still to testify at the Cohen Commission meetings will be Craig Orr of Watershed Watch Salmon Society on 6 September to discuss the scientific evidence around fish farm impacts on wild salmon. On 7 and 8 September Catherine Stewart of Living Oceans Society will take the stand to discuss regulations and policy guiding the net-cage industry, including industry relationships with DFO as well as DFO’s conflicted mandate and their ongoing marketing efforts to promote the fish farm industry. For more information on the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon check out the 30 August Farmed and Dangerous newsletter: www.farmedanddangerous.org/newsletter/2011/08/3352. Also see the 25 August Rabble.ca article: http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/tmdonaldson/2011/08/%E2%80%9Csmoking-gun%E2%80%9D-sockeye-collapse-could-be-novel-%E2%80%9Cmiller%E2%80%9D-virus.


For more information on the fish farm opponents rally, check out the 30 August Straight.com article: www.straight.com/article-443561/vancouver/bc-fish-farm-opponents-rally-vancouver. And for the Cohen Commission of Inquiry meeting schedule, check out the Cohen Commission calendar: www.cohencommission.ca/en/Schedule.


17:34/02. CLOSED-CONTAINMENT SYSTEMS CALLED BEST WAY TO FARM FISH: A new report by Dr. Andrew Wright, Salmon Aquaculture GHG Emissions: A Preliminary Comparison of Land-Based Closed Containment and Open Ocean Net-Pen Aquaculture, compares the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of two salmon farm technologies in British Columbia and finds that closed containment outperforms open net-cages by up to ten times on this issue.


Assessing data for power use, transportation and waste, the report concludes, “[closed containment systems] are at worst a little superior to open net-pens and at best represent a massive 10x improvement over the current industrial open ocean net-pen aquaculture practice for GHG emissions.”


Closed containment systems in British Columbia would have fewer GHG emissions due in part to the use of British Columbia Hydro for power, as opposed to the diesel generators that open ocean net-cage farms currently must rely on. Also, closed systems can capture and process all solid sewage, whereas open ocean net-cage operations allow all waste to flow freely, untreated into the marine ecosystem where it decomposes in anaerobic conditions to methane and carbon dioxide.


In related news, a Dutch fish farmer is raising 100 tons of fish a year in a unique high-rise closed-containment tank that has overcome some of farmed fishing's most persistent problems.


Three years ago Andri Bout took his fish -- turbot -- out of the standard meter-deep (three feet) square concrete tank and put them in his experimental eight-tiered system. Each tier is a U-shaped fiberglass "raceway" 64 meters (210 feet) long with 15 centimeters (6 inches) of water and a swift current that sweeps away excrement and uneaten food pellets.


Bout uses gravity to circulate the water eight times an hour — traditional farms change water once hourly — running it through cleansing filters each time it drops to the level below. He says his electricity costs are one-quarter of a similarly sized farm that uses standard tanks. He also doesn't let organic waste go to waste. While other farms flush water back into the sea laden with untreated feces, he oxidizes it for plant fertilizer or food for shellfish.


Bout discovered that disease-spreading bacteria thrive in water above 16.5° Centigrade (61.7° Fahrenheit), a temperature turbot can tolerate but is too cold for other ocean fish like bass or bream, which he once raised but abandoned. The fish grow more slowly in cool water but are free of disease, and Bout says he has not used medication for eight years. He also found that with cleaner water the fish ate less, but grew faster.


"Don't ask me why," he shrugged in an interview at his installation above the Oosterschelde estuary in southern Netherlands. "I'm a technician, not a biologist. I look for solutions." His next project is raising sole, finding a profitable formula. "You can think about sustainability. But you have to make money," he says. For more information on the new report by Dr. Andrew Wright, check out the 30 August Farmed and Dangerous newsletter: www.farmedanddangerous.org/newsletter/2011/08/3352/#greenhouse. For more information Andri Bout’s aquaculture system, check out the 1 September Associated Press article: www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2011/09/01/general-eu-netherlands-fish-farms_8653745.html.


17:34/03. LARGEST US DAM REMOVAL PROJECT TO BEGIN THIS MONTH: On 15 September, officials in Olympic National Park will begin the long process of dismantling the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Elwha River in Washington State. This is the largest dam-removal undertaking in U.S. history to date, and the project will serve as an inspiration and a model for similar removals in other parts of the country.


"Close to a thousand dams have been removed across our country, but these are the biggest," said Amy Kober, a spokesperson for the environmental group American Rivers. "It is one of the most significant restoration efforts we have ever seen."


Both dams, built in 1927, were constructed specifically to provide electricity for a paper mill in the city of Port Angeles. However, they were built without fish ladders, which would have allowed salmon to navigate past the dams. The dams played an important role in the early development of the Olympic Peninsula at the turn of the last century but today are obsolete, because most of the region's power is now imported via an electric grid from Portland, Oregon.


The dams' removal had been proposed as far back as the 1970s, but was resisted by many of the local communities. Finally, a U.S. Congressional act passed in 1992 paved the way for the U.S. government to acquire the dams and remove them in order to restore the river's ecosystem. The dams now sit on federal lands.


Despite the government’s support, nearly another decade would pass before the dams' deconstruction could begin. The barrier this time was cost, according to David Graves, Northwest Program Manager for the Washington, D.C.-based National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). "The final cost was estimated to be $351 million dollars, and it took many years to get that money together," he said. The issue of dam removal also became a hot political issue on Congress, with funds repeatedly blocked by former Washington Senator Slade Gorton, who feared that an Elwha dam removal would give impetus for the removal of many other dams around the region, including in the Snake River tributary to the Columbia.


After their removal the salmon at the dams -- which include pink, chinook, coho, chum, sockeye, and other species -- will once more have access to the more than 70 miles (113 kilometers) of federally protected and largely pristine waterways that make up the Elwha River and its tributaries. Currently, the fish can swim only a few miles upriver before the Elwha Dam blocks their passage. For more information check out the 31 August National Geographic News article: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/08/110831-dam-removal-elwha-freshwater-science-salmon.


17:34/04. CALIFORNIA’S RED BLUFF DIVERSION DAM’S GATES RAISED ONE FINAL TIME: In California, the gates of the Red Bluff Diversion Dam were raised for the final time on 1 September. Paul Freeman of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said this will be historical for the region as it marks the end of an era for crop irrigation on the west side of the northern Sacramento Valley and for Red Bluff’s recreationally used lake.


Protecting endangered fish species has been at the heart of a convoluted and decades-long fight to provide irrigation water to area farmers in a way that does not harm migrating chinook salmon and sturgeon populations.


Opened in 1966, the diversion dam consists of a series of moveable gates that, when lowered, divert water into the headworks of the Tehama-Colusa and Corning canals, feeding 17 separate water districts between Red Bluff and Woodland. Ancillary waters from diversion operations pool to form Lake Red Bluff, which has benefited the city's economy, officials said.


Troubles surfaced in the late-1980s after local chinook salmon populations were added to the federal endangered species list. When the dam gates are lowered and the river is blocked, fish cannot migrate. To help protect the fish, in 1986 dam operations were reduced from year-round to six months each year. Eventually the irrigation window shrank to about two months out of the year, further reducing the water supply to farming operations in the valley.


Debate simmered for many years as farmers struggled unsuccessfully to regain year-round water access and environmental groups fought to protect endangered fish. The issue came to a head in the summer of 2008 when several environmental groups filed suit in federal court seeking, at least in part, to end diversion operations entirely. A federal judge ruled that these water diversions do harm endangered fish populations and ordered the gates to come up permanently this year.


A $200 million pumping plant is currently under construction at the dam site that is expected to provide valley farmers with access to an alternative irrigation source. That project is expected to be completed by May 2012. The dam gates were raised at 0700 HRS and Lake Red Bluff is expected to be completely drained by 4 September 2011. For more information check out the 30 August Orland Press Register article: www.orland-press-register.com/news/water-7855-year-red.html.

17:34/05. ORCA POPULATIONS SUFFERING FROM BIOACCUMULATION OF PERSISTENT ORGANIC POLLUTANTS: Marine experts are concerned about an invisible threat to orcas that has been building in our seas since World War II. That was when industries began extensively using chemical flame retardants, such as PCBs. These chemicals were later found to harm human health and the environment, and governments around the world banned their use in the 1970s. But their legacy lives on in the world's seas and oceans, say biologists, where these long-lasting chemicals have accumulated and are posing a modern threat to animals such as orcas.


In New Zealand the orca population is made up of fewer than 200 individuals and as such is listed as threatened. "They hunt in New Zealand waters in the shallows for the rays and in deeper waters for the sharks," says Dr. Ingrid Visser, who grew up watching the orcas in her native New Zealand. "[These] orca are unique as they are the only population that has so far been recognized to specialize in hunting for rays and sharks." According to Dr. Visser's studies, this diet could be the reason the population is not growing.


As large mammals, killer whales consume a large amount of prey. But this position at the top of the food chain, as "apex predators," also makes them particularly vulnerable to changes in their prey. That is because orca feed on fish that in turn eat polluted prey or absorb pollution from the water. So the orcas ingest and concentrate all of the pollution in the food chain, in a process called "bioaccumulation."


New Zealand orcas are not the only ones living with pollution, according to Alex Rogers, Professor in Conservation Biology at the University of Oxford, UK. "Studies have identified high levels of flame retardant chemicals in orca particularly from the Northern Hemisphere, for example from the north Pacific, particularly off Canada and the Arctic," he says. "These chemicals have also been found at high concentrations in orca from the Southern Hemisphere."


"The two main groups of flame retardant chemicals, PCBs and PBDEs have a range of effects on animals including interference with thyroid function and vitamin A metabolism, negative effects on neurological and reproductive development and impacts on immune function," says Prof. Rogers. But despite actions to limit use of these chemicals, also referred to as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), marine experts suggest the damage has already been done. "PCBs are not water soluble, they only dissolve and accumulate in fatty tissue," says Dr Paul Jepson from the Zoological Society of London.


Dr. Jepson says this fat solubility is a considerable issue for female cetaceans such as killer whales who feed their young for up to a year on high fat milk to kick-start their development. "You get this huge maternal transfer. It's been calculated that in whales and dolphins about ninety percent or more of the mother's body burden of PCB can be offloaded, particularly to the first calf.”


"Even though PCBs have been banned they're just so resistant to break-down in the environment. The decline of these pollutants is happening very slowly," says Dr Jepson. "We're not really finding any decline at all in PCBs in our harbour porpoises ... levels in the UK appear to have plateaued since about 1997." For more information check out the 30 August BBC Nature article: www.bbc.co.uk/nature/14663732.


17:34/06. LOUISIANA OYSTER POPULATION SUFFERING DRASTIC DECLINES: Louisiana’s best known seafood staple – the oyster – is facing an uphill battle. "We didn't have a good reproductive cycle this spring," said seafood processor Mike Voisin, of Motivatit Seafood in Houma, a member of the state's Oyster Task Force.


The problems began last year with the BP oil spill, when oil and dispersants poisoned the Gulf of Mexico and the state opened fresh water diversions from the Mississippi River. That fresh water killed oysters, which rely on a delicate balance of fresh and brackish water to survive. More fresh water was released during high river levels this spring, and there are now even fewer oysters.


In an average year, Louisiana produces about 250 million pounds of oysters. However, this year, it is expected to be half that amount -- and it will be even less than that next year. “I’lI project next year, 2012, we'll be down to about 35 percent of our traditional production," said Voisin, who is also on the Commission for Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.


Part of the problem is that in addition to the fresh water, spat -- or baby oysters -- have not been growing as they usually would in the coastal waters of Louisiana, especially in those impacted by the spill. "I get oyster fishermen calling me all the time telling me the new rock that they're putting out there, they come out a couple weeks later, no spats on the rocks," said St. Bernard Councilman Fred Everhardt. "This is a prime time for spat."


"We have our work cut out to rebuild our oyster industry, especially when you think about, it takes two to three years to rebuild that stock," said Ewell Smith, with the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board. For more information check out the 25 August WWLTV News article: www.wwltv.com/news/local/Louisiana-oyster-industry-faces-challenging-years-ahead-128414103.html.



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