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If the foot fits

MLA Harold Long put his foot in his mouth this week with his uninformed comments about a scientific study showing high levels of toxic contamination in farmed salmon.

MLA Harold Long put his foot in his mouth this week with his uninformed comments about a scientific study showing high levels of toxic contamination in farmed salmon.

In an interview with Powell River Peak editor Laura Walz (see page A15), Long claimed it is safe to eat two fillets, or about ten meals, of farmed salmon each month, although the study published in the respected journal Science Jan. 9 said eating more than half a serving of farmed B.C salmon a month could increase risks of cancer and other health problems.

Long said "there was twice as much PCBs and other pollutants in farmed salmon," though in fact the study found farmed Atlantic salmon had about ten times as much contamination as wild Pacific salmon. Long also questioned where the contamination of wild salmon could possibly have come from, as if the concept of water pollution was one he had never encountered before.

For your information, Mr. Long: The wild salmon pick up PCBs and other pollutants from the fish they eat in the oceans, which sadly are polluted to a greater or lesser extent throughout the world. Farmed salmon have higher levels of contamination because the fish chow they eat typically comes from fish caught in coastal waters, which are more polluted than the open ocean. Scottish farmed salmon is more contaminated than B.C. farmed salmon because the North and Baltic seas which provide feed for the Scottish farms are so heavily polluted.

Long said he had not read the Science article, nor had he read newspaper articles or other reports commenting on the study. He got his information from watching part of a TV report.

It is mind-boggling why any politician would comment publicly on an issue about which he has so little knowledge. In his eagerness to defend salmon farming, Long couldn't be bothered to seek out the facts.

The whole episode is reminiscent of a similar gaffe by John Reynolds, back in the 1980s when he was Minister of the Environment for B.C.'s Socred government. The issue of the day was dioxin pollution from pulp mills, which was making crabs too toxic to eat. Reynolds blithely waved aside the expert opinion from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and insisted that the contaminated crabs were safe.

It is disheartening to see this kind of head-in-the-sand defensiveness perpetuated. The correct response to bad news is to seek a solution. In the case of pulp mill pollution, more stringent restrictions on dioxin emissions have rendered Howe Sound crabs safe to eat once more - but that would not have happened if Reynolds' denials had won the day. Similarly, the government should now respond to the Science report by seeking ways to make salmon farming healthier, not by denying that a problem exists.

What seems to have been overlooked in the panic over the bad news about salmon farming is the good news contained in the Science report. The cleanest, healthiest salmon in the world are the wild Pacific salmon of Alaska and B.C. We have a unique, valuable and irreplaceable resource in B.C.'s wild fishery, and the Science report provides hard numbers to prove it. That source of relatively pure, healthy fish is something B.C. should be proud of and seek to protect. That our elected representative would try to deny its importance is incomprehensible.

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