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Did CBS’s “60 Minutes” get it right on salmon farming?

September 4, 2014

By Ian Roberts, Communication Manager

On May 12, 2014, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a 14 minute program profiling British Columbia’s farm-raised salmon, and I spoke on behalf of the thousands of professionals who share my passion for fish culture. Since the show aired, I have been asked by many people how I felt the show represented our business. Was it a fair, current, and accurate representation of our business?

Marine Harvest's Ian Roberts on CBS's 60 Minutes segment about BC salmon farming

Marine Harvest’s Ian Roberts on CBS’s 60 Minutes segment about BC salmon farming

I feel the producer of the show, Peter Klein, did a fair job of providing balance to the very polarized perspectives offered about our business and I felt my messages were accurately communicated to the audience. My key message was clear: aquaculture is an increasingly important part of providing healthy food for a growing population and can help conserve sea life in our oceans and that we are a group of dedicated, responsible, and professional providers of healthy food.

Unlike most other television programs that have covered our business before, Peter had the luxury of time to research the topic. I was first contacted to participate in August 2013, we filmed in October, and seven months later the show aired. In that time, Peter and his research team were able to fact check the information provided by me as well as the opinions of other people interviewed for the program. Peter learned that BC salmon farmers are pleased to engage in dialogue about our business and that today’s operations are technologically advanced. I was pleased to have the time to correct urban legends as well as misinformation pitched to 60 Minutes by critics of our business. To be clear, we don’t mind being critiqued, but expect criticisms to be based on fact, not speculation.

Six months before the episode aired, the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) provided 60 Minutes with a science-rich document to assist their research. You can view this document at http://www.salmonfarmers.org/cbs-60-minutes-backgrounder-salmon-farming-british-columbia.

But even with the facts provided to them, 60 Minutes still managed to get some things terribly wrong. Here are my thoughts on the errors and omissions in the show:

  1. The story suggests that dolphins and whales “steal fish” from our net pens. That has never been the case. Dolphins and whales never disturb our fish, and have never shown interest in our farms.
  2. A camera was dropped 300 feet to the bottom of the ocean near a salmon farm. What is described as “the brown waste of a farm” is what the bottom of the ocean naturally looks like at a dark depth of 300 feet.  The dozen healthy Pacific prawns in the same image were overlooked.
  3. Alexandra Morton claims that “nobody [is] actually looking at the wild fish carefully” and says that “the virus [ISA] is already present in these waters.” This is incorrect: thousands of fish health screenings on wild, hatchery-raised, and farm-raised salmon have been completed by professionals in Alaska, British Columbia and Washington State. Not a single test confirms the presence of any exotic fish viruses or diseases, including ISA. These test results were provided to 60 Minutes in the BCSFA background document (pg. 10), but for some reason they chose to omit this information.

While not included in the original TV episode, there are two additional online segments available at 60 Minutes Overtime. One segment provides the viewer very accurate information on the benefits of eating salmon – wild-caught and farm-raised. That is, Dr. Sanjay Gupta confirms that all salmon are extremely low in unwanted contaminants (PCBs) and very rich in healthy Omega 3 oils. Another segment profiles a company that Marine Harvest Canada has provided assistance to while it attempts to raise salmon to market on land at an affordable cost.

Did you miss it the show? You can view all three segments on the 60 Minutes Overtime website at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/saving-wild-salmon/.