Fish controversy nets Sterling prize
The often viciously targeted authors of more than a decade of research on the fate of British Columbia’s wild salmon have netted a befitting prize from Simon Fraser University.
Rick Routledge, an SFU fish population statistician, and Alexandra Morton, an independent fish biologist and SFU honorary degree recipient, are the 2012 recipients of SFU’s Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy.
Routledge and Morton will be presented with their Sterling Prize at a brief ceremony on Wednesday, Oct. 24 at the Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue, SFU Vancouver, Asia Pacific Hall. At 7 p.m., after the ceremony, the two will deliver jointly their lecture: Salmon Farms and Disease: The Importance of Both Academic Freedom and Community-Engaged Research.
The Sterling award honours work that challenges complacency and provokes controversy or contributes to its understanding. The duo is happy to receive the award but the two know it doesn’t mitigate the damage caused by controversy.
“The controversy has been very counterproductive,” says Routledge whom 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 notes 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.”
Governments, the aquaculture industry and lobbyists have repeatedly and alternately vilified, lauded and dismissed Routledge and Morton since the duo first teamed up to study the potential impacts of aquaculture on Canadian wild salmon stocks.
That was in the early 2000s when they linked sea lice infested fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago to the death of juvenile salmon going by them and declining salmon runs in B.C.
Since then they’ve contributed to many published scientific papers and had their reputations vindicated by other researchers who’ve confirmed and extended their findings.
Most recently, Routledge and Morton incurred the wrath of the aquaculture industry when they announced at a news conference they’d made the first discovery in B.C. (Rivers Inlet) of the infectious salmon anemia virus (ISAv) in wild salmon.
Hundreds of media, including correspondents in the U.S., the UK, Norway, Turkey and Croatia, covered the discovery.
Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.
Backgrounder: Controversial research inspires change
The work of Rick Routledge and Alexandra Morton has been tied to the federal government taking back responsibility for fisheries management in B.C. from the province’s government. The duo’s work also contributed to the federal government launching its 2009 Cohen Commission’s inquiry into the decline of Fraser River wild salmon.
Within less than a month of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DF0) dismissing their latest ISAv findings, a reactivation of the Cohen Commission in December 2012 to investigate them led to a stunning revelation in testimony.
DFO had positive test results for ISAv for 100 per cent of Cultus Lake sockeye tested. DFO had known about the potential threat of ISAv or an ISA-like virus since 2004.
Meanwhile, south of the border, U.S. government officials were taking note of all this and passed a bill calling for more research into the potential harm that ISAv might cause to wild Pacific salmon.
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