Facts are important — so let’s see them

Russell Wangersky
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Last week, former fisheries minister Trevor Taylor used his column space in this paper to tear a strip off the Liberals’ Jim Bennett for asking questions about the aquaculture industry in this province.

Taylor was at pains to point out that he’s not a particular expert: “Admittedly, I am no fisheries scientist, but in the 20-odd years I have been associated with the fishery I have seen a good many scientific papers.” He didn’t mention that, of course, he was at one point acting minister of fisheries and aquaculture, directly responsible for the conduct of the regulated aquaculture industry, at a time when the provincial government was a crucial equity investment partner in the industry.

One of the cornerstones of Taylor’s argument seems to be that anyone questioning the effects of aquaculture should have the facts.

“It is appropriate to demand high standards of our aquaculture industry. In spite of being one of the best run in North America, our industry undoubtedly can do better. It is also important to deal with facts when demanding accountability,” he wrote.

That’s a good point. Let’s deal with facts and accountability: for one, Taylor suggests that things like sea lice are naturally occurring; that’s true enough.

Are they a problem for aquaculture programs here? Let’s see.

Ask the provincial department of fisheries under the province’s access to information law, as someone recently did, for the province’s sea lice monitoring records for the years 2008 to 2012 and you’ll get this answer: “The department has identified aquatic animal health information as highly confidential and has implemented policies and security protocols in order to protect this information. As stated under Section 9(4) of the Aquaculture Act, information prescribed as confidential shall not be released to the public.”

The short answer? The information was not released, in part because the commercial interests of the aquaculture industry would be affected. (These are not my access to information requests: they are requests made to the department by an unnamed third party and posted on the province’s public engagement website.)

How about a request for details of bacterial kidney disease in farmed finfish in the province?

 “The department has identified aquatic animal health information as highly confidential and has implemented policies and security protocols in order to protect this information. …”

How about a request for details on mortality rates for farmed salmon for the years 2011 and 2012, and the causes of death for those fish?

 “The department has identified aquatic animal health information as highly confidential and has implemented policies and security protocols in order to protect this information. …”

Taylor says in his column that he’s read about mortality rates in wild fish: “There is one thing they all have in common: they have an estimate of natural mortality. The estimate varies but is generally around the 20 per cent mark. Approximately 20 per cent of fish in the wild die of natural causes every year.” He makes no mention of the fact that the corresponding mortality rates in farmed salmon are a state secret in this province.

The bottom line? The department has flatly refused to release information, even under access law.

So, if you actually want the facts while demanding accountability, something former-minister-of-the-Crown Taylor finds so vital, you might have a hard time finding them.

He’s of the opinion the information is all right there. Talking about infectious salmon anemia, for example, he says “Salmon that become infected and die in a farm are documented and declared; it is public knowledge.”

Really? Finding information on aquaculture problems in this province is like pulling teeth. My bet is that even a former fisheries minister couldn’t get the answers.

But first, you know, he’d actually have to ask a question or two.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. Email: rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: North America

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Recent comments

  • Ben
    May 28, 2013 - 21:14

    On the fishery I think I will agree with Taylor's take on it any day over Bennett or Wangersky. Too bad fishermen didn't listen to Taylor a few years back. Perhaps the plant workers might not be fighting adjacency issues today.

  • Ted
    May 28, 2013 - 21:08

    Well I for one am glad to see Taylor write such an article. What I read out of it was why try to destroy an industry if you don't have concrete facts to back it up. As for Wangersky...I expect to see his name on a ballot next time around and everything will sure to be fixed. As has been expressed in the past few weeks, journalism is at its worst in the province and in the country. I heard a former newspaper editor I was in company with say the same thing. It's not about having facts and getting to the truth, it's all about selling a story by smearing as any people as you can. It's actually very sad. Way to go Wangersky...I think you upped Cochrane on this one. Yep that's the plan....

    • In the know
      May 29, 2013 - 11:10

      Wangersky didn't smear Taylor, he pointed out that Taylor's assertion that one should have the facts before speaking out against Aquaculture. The facts are shielded from those asking questions by legislation that protects the industry's commercial interests. Taylor's recommendation is impossible to meet given the secrecy that the industry hides behind. What do you suggest journalists do when seeking information that government refuses to release citing their self serving laws that they themselves put into place? Your partisan accusations are unfounded and not supported by fact, as was Taylor's column.

  • Pierre Neary
    May 28, 2013 - 14:19

    This is not the first bizarre rant by Taylor.

  • Rick
    May 28, 2013 - 12:58

    People are waking up all over the Maritimes to the harmful environmental effects of open pen feed lots. In nova Scotia and New Brunswick open pen feed lots firmly put the nail in the coffin to wild atlantic salmon in the Bay of fundy there is no debate it is factual. The lessons were not learned and now the same slow process is taking place in NLsalmon rivers. Sea lice, escaspes, interbreeding of escapes, ISA increase predators seal and avion all have negative outcomes for wild stocks It only took 10-15 years to loose all the stocks in the Bay of fundy and this will happen in NL in the same time period as the provincial governments think that this dirty industry will bring jobs andd econimic prosperity to rural NL.This industry brings a few low paying jobs but that cannot be outweighed by the loss of stocks and how many people tourists come to fish and see the the fabled island, no one comes to NS or south NB to fish for wild Atlantic salmon THERE ARE NONE LEFT! Millions of tourist dollars will be lost if the NL wild salmon are lost. I bet the provincial government has the numbers on how many tourist/recreational fishing dollars are spent? People come tro NL for its beauty not for its industry. People dont sell out the province to this industry unless they do it in a green manner land based is the only direction presently these aquaculture fish are pollution not protein!

  • crista
    May 28, 2013 - 10:35

    Reading your article and speaking of the problems you were talking about in the article did not read any thing about the gill nets???? that were left and lost on the ocean floor over the years and the pollution that is discharged that goes undetected unless it is some how reported???? and yes capelin can, of natural causes.Now speaking about the G-8 and nafta agreement,then you are talking about politics and bussiness???? and then you can decide that for your selves???? then you have the 200 mile limit from the 12 mile limit and the zoned out areas and then you have international waters????and newfoundland and labrador gets what it always got???? and still gets????

  • Silver Leapers
    May 28, 2013 - 09:51

    It is like dealing with the mafia when confront government on ths issuue, the fox is watching the hen house...the private aquaculture companies own the government...they are purposely threatening wild salmon stocks by producing 2-20 times the numbers of cages fish compared to wild fish and in doing os harbouring disease and increasing mutation rates (lack of depredation of caged fish), etc etc....its an environmental Holocaust! And we stand by and do nothing in the face of this tyranny ???

    • terry
      May 28, 2013 - 10:15

      What frustrates me about the aquaculture Industry is we have the benefit of knowledge! We have seen every finfish aquaculture industry in every other province and country destroy wild salmon stocks and threaten sea life in and around the places they operate, yet we continue down a similar road with a "HOPE" that the same results won't happen here??? Using the same exact procedures and practices?? We need to wake up and look at alternatives.. Let's go for landbased facilities and as the government is so keen to prop up this industry with tax dollars at least we won't threaten other species that have tremondous economic value to the province also!!

  • Gordon
    May 28, 2013 - 08:33

    You are not allowed to question salmon feedlot aquaculture in Newfoundland. If you do ask questions you will be accused of trying to shut down an industry. These feedlots are not even subject to environmental assessment, they are exempt. The feedlot industry threatens wild fish stocks (and the coastal ecosystems that depend on them) and uses the marine coastal environment as a waste dump. But don't ask questions or you will be accused of being out to destroy rural NL.

    • Darell
      May 28, 2013 - 09:41

      I've never seen any of these numbers from the chicken companies, hog companies, beef and dairy industries, etc. I don't think their veterinarians would be so eager to give this info out either. In the agriculture world this kind of info can shut industries down if other countries have access to it! So why should company specific information from aquaculture be any different? These days companies have to be globally competitive in order to survive and this info could constitute a competitive disadvantage if it was given out.

    • In the know
      May 28, 2013 - 09:56

      Darrell, chicken and hog companies, beef and dairy industries etc. raise their product in closed containment environments. The aquaculture industry raise their product in the open ocean, where there is zero containment of their disease and waste. That's why the aquaculture industry is different. Being globally competitive with third world nations cannot dictate that we drop our environmental oversight to third world standards. The public's resource (i.e. the ocean environment and the many species affected by the industry) is directly affected by aquaculture, and the public has the right to know. Your comment is a straw man argument, and not a good one at that.

  • Steve
    May 28, 2013 - 07:38


  • T Mack
    May 28, 2013 - 07:00

    Excellent work, as usual. One of the 2 best journalists in NL.

    • Eli
      May 28, 2013 - 08:37

      Surely you're not referring to Taylor.