Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sea Lice in Ireland, Not a Problem?

The seafood business is ever evolving, ever changing.  Information gets updated, thrown away, revisited, proven and disproven on what seems like a weekly basis.  It's hard to keep up with what's fact and what was just yesterday's headline.  Adding to the confusion are the plethora of groups publishing 'facts' about what seafood is safe to eat, what is good for the environment and what is bad.  Bad press sells, especially when it comes to farmed seafood.  Oftentimes the public will take what is stated in print - be it over-zealous or questionably influenced - as the final answer.  With all the studies out there, the fact that the people publishing these articles are supported and influenced by outside parties with hidden agendas gets lost sometimes.  Whenever I research a seafood related subject, I try to glean information from as many reputable sources as I can.  I even read through some of the non-reputable sources, just to get the full picture.  I usually begin my search with government associated agencies, such as NOAA, and end with third party audits and those associated closely to the source, such as fishermen.

A recent article published in the Journal of Fish Diseases here , got me thinking about what is considered common knowledge, how it became that way, and what it means for the future of the seafood business.  The article presents a study done in Ireland by the Marine Institute that suggests sea lice infestation from salmon farms may not have as negative or encompassing effect on wild salmon stocks as was once thought.  Sea lice are marine parasites that occur naturally on many wild fish but are notoriously associated with salmon farms.  It is believed by many that the infestation of salmon farms by sea lice pose significant threats to surrounding wild salmon populations.  Just a few sea lice can kill young wild salmon fry.  If you do an Internet search for "sea lice and salmon farms" you will find that the two are associated with the mortality of wild salmon.  However, this recent study makes claims that previous investigations were flawed in their design and that what was once held as common knowledge, now, under closer scientific inspection, does not appear to be the truth.  The experiment highlighted in the article makes a claim that sea lice affect less than 1% of wild salmon stocks and are not a significant detriment to the wild salmon population in Ireland.  Norway did a similar study and found similar results.  

So, who do we believe? Who do we listen to?  Is this report a clearer view of what's happening?  Are sea lice in Canada responsible for the deaths of thousands of wild salmon and one of the major reasons wild salmon stocks there have declined?  The purpose of this post is not to answer that question, but to highlight the fact that common knowledge is not always the truth, it's just common.  That could be because previous studies were flawed or they were influenced by the private interests of invested parties, or the science was just outdated, in any case it's always important to question our sources and their motives.  So, I am just presenting another article that just happens to fly in the face of common beliefs shared by anti-farmed salmon lobbyists.  It's just another piece of this puzzle that we are trying to put together to get a clearer view of what it means to eat informed.      

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