Thursday, 5 May 2016

Krisi Miller - Muzzled by Harper, Freer under Trudeau - Fish Farm Viruses, PRV

An update on the dark years of prime minister Stephen Harper, when government scientists were not allowed to talk to the media, with respect to Kristi Miller, geneticist with DFO has been published in Nature:

You should read it. Miller had discovered that the viral-signature of returning sockeye ended up causing up to 90% prespawn mortality going up the Fraser and published her findings:

Miller was not allowed to speak to the media, and at the Cohen Commission into the loss of Fraser sockeye, was kept in a separate room until testifying.

Nature says: "The starkest example for her came in 2011, when Miller-Saunders (then Miller) and her colleagues published a paper in Science that investigated why unusual numbers of sockeye salmon (Onchorhynchus nerka) were dying in British Columbia’s Fraser River on their way to spawn (K. M. Miller et al. Science 331, 214–217; 2011)."

"The topic was sensitive in part because some scientists and environmentalists had previously raised concerns that fish farms could transfer diseases to wild salmon."

Now, it is common knowledge that fish farms wildly amplify disease and once the infection sets in can release 65 billion virus particles per hour, and there are several dozen fish farm diseases.  Hence the worry over wild Pacific salmon being killed by them. Miller's work detailed the symptoms of viruses rather than identify specific viruses. And you will recall that four scientists recanted their work on the Cohen stand, including Michael Kent who worked on SLV at DFO, a virus wiping our farmed chinook salmon off Quadra Island - and on the outmigration route of Fraser sockeye. Sad indeed.

"Science had alerted journalists about the paper days ahead of its publication under an embargo, giving reporters time to conduct interviews and write their stories. Many journalists had contacted Lake with requests to speak with Miller-Saunders, and Lake had been busy setting up interviews during the days before publication. But the permission process dragged on, and Lake and Miller-Saunders had to postpone those interviews repeatedly.

"Then, on the day of the paper’s publication — 14 January — Lake got word from Ottawa that Miller-Saunders had been denied permission to talk to reporters at all. “Obviously, journalists were very upset, and it sort of snowballed from there,” Lake says. Many reporters wrote stories about the muzzling of a government scientist rather than about the genetics of salmon.

"The “Kristi Miller debacle”, as Lake calls it, was just one high-profile example of scientists being silenced. But there were hundreds of others, she says. “It was like an iron curtain was drawn across communicating research to Canadians.”"

And why did DFO and Harper forbid Miller talking? The federal government maintained it was inappropriate for Miller-Saunders, "to speak to reporters because she was part of a judicial enquiry into the management of sockeye salmon, known as the Cohen Commission. At a public enquiry of the commission in 2011, the DFO assigned Miller-Saunders a media officer and a bodyguard, whom Miller-Saunders describes as a “very nice burly man”. Miller-Saunders was kept in a separate room, away from the media and public, when not testifying. Her husband and daughter were there with her. “It was all very friendly and meant to keep me from distraction and being a distraction,” she says.

"Because she was not permitted to speak for herself, a media officer answered all questions on behalf of Miller-Saunders. “It was all a very surreal experience,” she says. University scientists on the commission, by contrast, could speak to the media freely."

Now, I watched the proceedings and it was hard hitting stuff for anyone who is up on fish farm problems. The third session, on fish farms diseases, Cohen initiated, because of DFO research on ISA, the Kibenge report, that it did not give to Cohen, but gave several hundred thousand other documents. When lawyer Dade lead Miller to it, she had to admit that the diseases may be 'the smoking gun'. Her visual reaction of realizing she might have inadvertantly spoken too far,in this climate of repression, and a former government worker myself, I squirmed as much as she did, realizing she might be the day's news, and Commission's ultimate revelation. It was stunning, Go back and watch the video.

But the conflict of interest that the government had with fish farms, DFO supporting them, which Cohen said should end, had Harper defending Norwegian fish farms against Canadian wild salmon, and Canadians. So Miller was not allowed to talk with media.

"The decision to muzzle Miller-Saunders was clearly political, says Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre. “There are all sorts of enquiries where experts talk about their findings outside of the hearing room.”"

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