May 2, 2008: SALMON OF THE AMERICA'S CHALLENGES NEW YORK TIMES ON CHILEAN INDUSTRY REPORTING


SALMON OF THE AMERICA'S CHALLENGES NEW YORK TIMES ON CHILEAN INDUSTRY REPORTING

Salmon of the Americas Inc.
Response to: NY Times Article
By: Eric McErlain, CounterPoint Strategies
Dated: May 2, 2008


On March 27, 2008, a story ran in the New York Times reportedly describing the current state of the Chilean farmed salmon industry: Salmon Virus Indicts Chile's Fishing Methods.

In the opinion of our industry, the report contained a number of errors and omissions that we believe need to be clarified and/or corrected. Below is the text of a letter dated May 2, 2008, that was sent on our behalf by CounterPoint Strategies outlining our case to the newspaper's foreign editor. If and when we receive a response, we'll reprint it here in this space.


SOTA LETTER TO THE EDITOR CHALLENGING CHILEAN FISH ARTICLE

May 2, 2008

Ms. Susan Chira
Foreign Editor
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

Dear Ms. Chira:

On March 27, our client, Salmon of the Americas Inc., a non-profit trade association that represents salmon producers in Chile and Canada, sent a request for corrections and clarifications to an article in the New York Times by Alexei Barrionuevo [Salmon Virus Indicts Chile’s Fishing Methods; 3/27/08]. We have yet to receive a substantive response.

The following are the specific points that our client requested be clarified and corrected:

  1. The use of colorants: The article states, "The O.E.C.D. said the industry needed to … better regulate the colorant used to make salmon more rosy, which has been associated with retina problems in humans."

    There has never been any scientific data (or any data) linking retinal damage to eating farmed salmon. Astaxanthin, the carotenoid most frequently used in the feed of salmon farming is FDA-approved and has been regulated since 1995. Not only isn’t it risky, it is sold in food stores as a powerful and beneficial antioxidant – a fact that is easily verified.

    Astaxanthin is the caretonid that makes the flesh of farmed salmon red, it is not a dye or colorant. The European Union, Japan and the United States have approved its used in aquaculture and is deemed completely safe. There are other caretonoids used in salmon farming that have the same effect of making flesh red. Some are for organic farming, others are made from algae and barley. Some caretonoids might have associated risk if consumed and overdosed in pill form, such as Vitamin A, but the implication that there may be a risk eating Salmon is totally false.

  2. The use of hormones: The article reports that bags of salmon feed observed by the reporter contained “hormones to make the fish grow faster.” But hormones are not and have never been used in salmon feed in Chile – a fact confirmed by regular FDA inspections. That too is a fact easily confirmed by well-known public sources such as Sernapesca, the government agency that regulates fishing and aquaculture in Chile. Had Mr. Barrionuevo been interested in the approved substances that are used in aquaculture in Chile, he would have seen that hormones have never been used in the industry’s history.

Jaime Quiroz, Port of Castro Administrator

Alfredo Bustos, Operations Manager Port of Puerto Montt

Security Guard hired by outside contractor
of Port of Puerto Montt

Port of Castro Guard

While awaiting your reply, we have conducted a further review into the matter and some additional, troubling problems with the story have come to light.

Here are those specifics:

  • Mr. Barrionuevo writes that Sernapesca executives never responded to multiple requests for an interview. But Sernapesca officials told us that they had never received any such requests from Mr. Barrionuevo. Our inquiries suggest that he never contacted them.

  • Mr. Barrionuevo described Adolfo Flores as the Port Director of Castro, Chiloe Island. In actuality, Mr. Flores is simply a security guard who works for a third party contractor. I’ve enclosed an English translation of a letter from Patricio Cuello, the general manager of the Port of Puerto Montt, which administers Castro, confirming this . We have also enclosed photos of Mr. Jaime Quiroz, the Castro Port Administrator and Mr. Alfredo Bustos, the operations manager of the company in charge of the Port of Castro, as well as shots of typical security personnel at both Castro and Puerto Montt.

  • Later, the article quotes a local fisherman, Victor Gutierrez, who says that recent catches have been far smaller than normal. But in Chile, all fishermen must be registered with local authorities in order to work as an artisan fisherman or commercial fisherman. According to government sources in Chile, there is no fisherman by the name of Victor Gutierrez registered in the Cochamo area. We would like some explanation for how Mr. Barrionuevo verified this source. In addition, it would have been responsible for Mr. Barrionuevo to have checked with fisheries biologists for an alternative explanation to the smaller catches—such as change in runoff, temperature and ocean salinity in the area.

  • Mr. Barrionuevo quotes unnamed researchers as saying that the industry has been reluctant to pay for scientific studies into sanitary conditions at the salmon farms. However, according to Sernapesca, the industry spent $16 million between 2006 and 2007 on a variety of research and development projects, including studies concerning sanitary conditions, vaccines, genetics and new feeds. In addition, during the last 4 years the Corporación de Fomento de la Producción (CORFO) and the Comisión nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONICYT) have established special research and innovation programs for aquaculture and particularly for the salmon cluster in conjunction with the Technological Institute of Salmon (INTESAL). In turn this has sparked a remarkable increase in research projects and publications in Chile and elsewhere.
  • Though Dr. Felipe Cabello is quoted extensively in the article, his long-time collaborative ties to environmental activist and anti-salmon farming groups like Pure Salmon were obscured from readers. Had the reporter done his homework, he would have tracked down real experts on fish health such as Dr. Pete Smith of the University of Galway, or U.S. fish health researchers at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

  • Mr. Barrionuevo also quotes Wolfram Heise, director of the marine conservation program at the Pumalin Project as saying: "It is simply not possible to produce fish on an industrial scale in a sustainable way … You will never get it into ecological balance."

This is an extremist position that is not even representative of the environmental movement as a whole. What’s more, there are many credible sources that believe salmon farming actually takes pressure off of wild stocks and allows them to be rebuilt. In other words, there is a strong difference of opinion among experts on this point – as there are on virtually every other assertion cited by activists in the piece. But none of those other sources or perspectives are included. We would like to know how the Times justified this manifest imbalance in the reporting?

Obviously, we regard this reckless reporting with the utmost seriousness. We have pointed out specific errors and we are going to have to insist on some reply.

Sincerely,

Eric McErlain
CounterPoint Strategies

CC: Clark Hoyt
Jill Abramson

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