What is killing B.C.’s wild salmon?

Monday's Earth Week special: Documentary chronicles governmental bullying, slandering and muzzling of top Canadian scientists.

Biologist Alexandra Morton

Monday’s Earth Week special: Documentary exposes disease risk

Off-put is the best way to describe Twyla Roscovich’s reaction to biologist Dr. Alexandra Morton’s proposition to make a film about the health of B.C.’s fish. Roscovich is no stranger to environmental filmmaking, nor the subject of salmon. Her film RainWolves focuses on the reliance of coastal wolves on wild salmon. Her most recent work takes a different look at this keystone species in Salmon Confidential.

“When Alex first called me I was like, blah. Diseases? What?” Making a film about the lesion besieged bodies and softening hearts of B.C.’s wild and farmed salmon lacked a certain majesty. Still, Roscovich agreed and signed on to make a short 10-minute film that turned into the 109-minute Salmon Confidential.

“It ended up being this big documentary,” Roscovich recalls. “I did not intend for that to happen.” She didn’t intend for the film to go viral either. To date it’s been viewed more than 70,000 times at salmonconfidential.ca.

It isn’t hard to see how Roscovich’s commitment to the film expanded. Five minutes in and your blood reaches a slow simmer — boiling isn’t far off. The film chronicles governmental bullying, slandering and muzzling of top Canadian scientists, including those on the public payroll. Confidential also follows Dr. Morton as she attempts to navigate unprecedented governmental interference to officially confirm something she claims to already know.

It comes down to the little discussed ISA virus (the headliner in a list of diseases) and its relationship to B.C.’s salmon. ISA stands for infectious salmon anemia. It’s an internationally reportable disease that has major trade ramifications for the aquaculture, or fish farms, that are found to have it.

It has even larger ramifications on wild salmon populations and the massive network of life these athletes of the deep support.

Interestingly, when found in eastern Canada’s fisheries, entire fish stocks were culled in these mostly Norwegian- owned corporations. Canadian taxpayers picked up the tab for the companies losses. When that became too expensive, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Department of Fisheries decided on another course of action — putting them on ice in our grocery stores. Currently, there is no research indicating ISA virus has any effect on humans. Norway has reported ISA virus in their farms. Eggs from these farms are used to start the country’s Canadian fisheries.

Footage from the Cohen Commission in December 2011 might be the most damning against the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Department of Fisheries (DFO). The commission was formed to get to the bottom of the health of B.C.’s fish.

“You can just look in their eyes, all of these guys. That’s the thing about documentary filmmaking,” Roscovich says. “People can read body language. They pick up on the subtle clues about how people are feeling.”

We certainly see some clear human emotions in these moments.

A statement on DFO’s webpage made by minister of Fisheries and Oceans at the time, Keith Ashfield, says, “After Canada’s reputation has needlessly been put at risk over the past several weeks because of speculation and unfounded science, additional in-depth, conclusive tests, using proper and internationally recognized procedures, are now complete and we can confirm that there has never been a confirmed case of ISA in B.C. salmon, wild or farmed.”

Fisheries and Oceans communications advisor Michelle Imbeau adds, “Canada has stringent federal regulations in place to protect Canada’s aquatic species (farmed and wild) from disease and will continue to work diligently with our partners to ensure they continue to be strictly enforced.”

The documentary isn’t all doom and gloom. “The thing about salmon is they want to bounce back,” Roscovich’s assures. “Anytime we’ve managed to keep salmon farms out of migratory routes, millions of healthy salmon return the next year.”

Roscovich sees economic claims from fisheries and government — that reporting ISA and other diseases afflicting the salmon population will destroy the salmon industry — as preposterous.

“The government suggests that aquaculture [fish farms] brings in around $800 million. Sports fishing alone brings in closer to $1 billion,” Roscovich says. “The government and corporations just don’t know how to make money from wild salmon.” M

Victoria screening of Salmon Confidential April 23, 7pm and 9pm at UVic’s Cinecenta Theatre (3800 Finnerty). Dr. Alex Morton and filmmaker Twyla Roscovich will be in attendance for discussion. Check out the film, donate and get more information at salmonconfidential.ca.

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