Rick Routledge & Alexandra Morton

October 24, 2012

Salmon Farms and Disease

SFU fish statistician Rick Routledge and independent biologist Alexandra Morton have won the university’s Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy for their research documenting potential threats to B.C.’s wild salmon from coastal fish farms.

The pair received their prize during an evening ceremony October 24 at SFU’s Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue before delivering their Sterling lecture, Salmon Farms and Disease: The Importance of Both Academic Freedom and Community-Engaged Research.

The Sterling Prize honours work that provokes and/or contributes to the understanding of controversy, but the two researchers say the recognition does nothing to mitigate the damage caused by the debate surrounding fish farms.

“The controversy has been very counterproductive,” says Routledge, who coastal fish farmers have labeled an activist.

“It has delayed vitally important regulatory changes that are needed if we are to reduce the currently unacceptable risks to the preservation of abundant runs of wild Pacific salmon.”

Morton agrees, but noted government and industry ridicule of their research has had an ironic impact on public support.

“What they don’t understand is the more we get attacked the higher our credibility rises,” says Morton.

“I simply remain dedicated to using science to measure and define the impact of farm-salmon pathogens on wild salmon. My observations suggest the impact is very serious and government is afraid to do anything about it.”

The duo have been alternately vilified, lauded and dismissed since they first teamed up in the early 2000s when they linked sea-lice infested Broughton Archipelago fish farms to passing juvenile wild salmon deaths and declining salmon runs.

Since then other researchers have corroborated their research and extended their findings.

Most recently, Routledge and Morton incurred fish farmers’ wrath when they announced they’d discovered infectious salmon anemia, a viral disease affecting farm-raised Atlantic salmon, in wild salmon in Rivers Inlet.