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March 24, 2005

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Article not biased
I disagree completely with assistant deputy minister Bud Graham's statement (in his letter that appeared in the March 10 edition of SFU News) that the SFU News article, Scientists seek funds for sea lice research, (Feb. 10), was biased. The article accurately conveys the considerable anxiety that was expressed at the meeting in question. Of course, this begs the more fundamental question: did the meeting generate a biased perspective of the science surrounding this very contentious issue? My answer is emphatically “no.”

I base this both on the record of scientific research as published in peer-reviewed, scientific journals, and on plain, common sense. The weight of scientific evidence published in peer-reviewed scientific journals points to the following: that sea lice proliferate in salmon farms, that the progeny from these abundant louse populations infest juvenile wild salmonids as they migrate past the farms, and that these infestations are frequently high enough to be lethal. Much of the evidence is circumstantial, but circumstantial evidence has to be taken seriously when it consists of major collapses to wild salmon stocks whose juvenile migration routes take them past salmon farms, and when these collapses occur both in Europe and North America.

It also makes such obvious common sense. Humans crowded into refugee camps are an ideal breeding ground for lice. It is therefore natural to anticipate that sea lice will proliferate in crowded net pens. In addition, sea lice begin life as free-swimming, microscopic nauplii. Tidal currents carry these immature lice out to the surrounding waters as surely as a sneezing human spreads respiratory viruses into the surrounding air. And when the infested wild fish are tiny juvenile pink salmon without tough scales to protect them, it makes sense to expect them to be particularly vulnerable.

Indeed, my concerns go beyond the need for research funding. Heavily infested juvenile pink salmon are again showing up in the Broughton Archipelago this year. The aquaculture industry and government regulators clearly do not have the problem under control. The situation warrants firm government intervention and a moratorium on further salmon farm expansion until the impacts of sea lice on wild Pacific salmon can be brought under control.

Rick Routledge
Professor of statistics

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