I love salmon, but one of the things that I keep in mind when purchasing salmon is the effects that farmed salmon have on the environment and on wild salmon populations. SeaChoice has marked farmed salmon as “Avoid,” due to its use of resources (having to catch wild fish to feed to the farmed fish), the possibility of farmed fish escaping, disease, parasites, and the risk of pollution.
This morning I was glancing through my news and came across an article titled “Salmon farm opposition ‘threatens many jobs’”. But when I read it, I thought it sounded very much like a press release. So, out of curiosity, I went to the BC Salmon Farmers Association website, and found a press release on the same subject.
And would you look at that. The “news” article from Canwest is basically the press release, word-for-word. All the “journalist” did was add a brief note about the anti-fish farm walk on Vancouver Island.
This is lazy journalism at its finest/worst. In March, an Australian group did a study looking at news in that country, and found that nearly 55% of news stories originated as press releases or some other form of public relations. In other words, companies were driving the news, rather than journalists going out and finding the news. No similar study has been done in Canada that I’m aware of, but I would not be surprised to find a similar situation here.
In this Canwest article, there is a lot missing. The journalist did not talk to anyone about the environmental effects of fish farms, but only quoted the press release to say:
Studies showed that Pacific salmon had developed a natural ability to resist sea lice damage and even shed them once they reached a certain size, she argued.
Reports also showed that sea lice numbers on wild salmon in areas away from farms were about the same, and sometimes more, than on wild fish in areas with farms, she noted.
What studies? Who did these studies, and – more importantly – who paid for them? I hunted around for these studies, and couldn’t find them. Granted, it was not an exhaustive search, but if they were published in a peer-reviewed journal I should have found some trace of them. However, in my 10-minute search, I did find a bunch of other studies that seemed to make opposite claims to the unnamed studies:
* Declining Wild Salmon Populations in Relation to Parasites from Farm Salmon in Science (2007)
* Sea Louse Infestation in Wild Juvenile Salmon and Pacific Herring Associated with Fish Farms off the East-Central Coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia in North American Journal of Fisheries Management (2008)
* How sea lice from salmon farms may cause wild salmonid declines in Europe and North America and be a threat to fishes elsewhere in Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology (2009)
Anyway, I’m taking this as a personal reminder that news is not always news; sometimes it’s just a regurgitated press release.