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Speak up for science 2013: excerpts from Alexandra Morton’s speech

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Alexandra Morton addressing the Vancouver crowd of Stand Up for Science

Alexandra Morton addressing the Vancouver crowd of Stand Up for Science

Last September several scientists gathered on the step of the Vancouver Art Gallery to speak up for science, joining other similar demonstrations across the country.  The speeches are as relevant now as they were four months ago.  I have collected some excerpts to share in this blog; the last two featured exceprts from Sarah Otto and Thomas Kerr.  The bulk of the material comes from the Vancouver Observer.

One of the speaker was Alexandra Morton. Morton is a marine biologist who specializes in salmon and salmon diseases.  What she has uncovered on the West Coast has prompted her to speak out and as a result she is a well known figure in environmental circles.  She is controversial, but her work has resulted in recalls of tainted farm salmon in grocery stores, and she received the Sterling award and the Ransom Myers annual lecture speaker invitation (see story here), as well as being recognized as a Kick Ass Canadian.

Alexandra Morton keeps a blog (a great source for day-to-day events), but an easier overview of her work may be the recent documentary Salmon Confidential.  The documentary is potent enough to have inspired a virulent, anomymous attack on a mirror website (here).  Its synopsis reads:

When biologist Alexandra Morton discovers BC’s wild salmon are testing positive for dangerous European salmon viruses associated with salmon farming worldwide, a chain of events is set off by government to suppress the findings. Tracking viruses, Morton moves from courtrooms, into British Columbia’s most remote rivers, Vancouver grocery stores and sushi restaurants. The film documents Morton’s journey as she attempts to overcome government and industry roadblocks thrown in her path and works to bring critical information to the public in time to save BC’s wild salmon. The film provides surprising insight into the inner workings of government agencies, as well as rare footage of the bureaucrats tasked with managing our fish and the safety of our food supply.

Here are some excerpts from Morton’s talk:

I am standing up for science because the evidence suggests that our life depends on it. We can sense that something is going very wrong but we are unable to get to work on it, we are unable to start fixing it. This is the quality of nightmares, where you are stuck and unable to respond to something that you know is going to affect your children and yourself.


Saving this planet is not a spectator sport. It does require your involvement and so we need to each pick up the tools of science and when you go and put your money down on the counter or you stick your interact card into one of the little machines, you should know what it is you are purchasing. Why are the bees vanishing from the planet? Because people are making money at it. Why are they shattering the earth’s crust to get the last little bit of gas out? Because people are making money at it. Why are atlantic salmon in the pacific risking everything, our economy, First Nations, the oxygen we breathe? Because Norway is making money at it. Your the fuel source. Has anyone seen Matrix? We’re the fuel source, that’s us. And so its very very important to know you actually are the only ones in control. You can feed the monster that is destroying our planet or you can help us rebuild a world that we can pass on to our children. We all know that what our children face is pretty bleak. I don’t know what Stephen Harper is thinking – he has children, all the work that we are doing will benefit his children, Obama’s children, our children, the babies of killer whales, the young salmon. There are no losers in rebuilding our planet.

As I see it there is one thing that we need to do. We need to learn how to work with the natural forces that made us, made our planet, made everything we love on this planet.

In 2011 we had the Cohen inquiry into why our biggest population of wild salmon is declining and I read the records of a government scientist who said he saw the evidence of European viruses known to kill massive numbers of salmon, he saw evidence that those diseases that are in the farmed salmon that are in the ocean in British Columbia. This changed my life. I responded. I have organized a national salmon sampling program. I have sought out two of the best labs in the world for these specific viruses and we agreed wtih the original government scientist, the BC provincial vet. We felt he was right. We found sequence of these three viruses in the farmed salmon of BC and in some of the wild salmon.

I had the feeling the government wasn’t going to react so I sent the filmmaker Twyla Rosovitch to Norway to film the experts, the Norwegian scientists who by the way were free to talk to us. They said the virus is dangerous, there is no way to stop it in Norway, it can keep salmon from swimming up rivers. They said, we suggest you contain it. The laboratories and I published in Virology Journal, the top journal on viruses. We published that the virus had come to BC in approximately 2007 and it matched a virus in Norway. How did that happen? Viruses don’t fly.

What has government’s response been? Complete silence. We have a Norwegian virus spreading through the farmed salmon and wild salmon in BC. Nearly 100% of the farmed salmon in BC that we are buying in local supermarkets are infected with this virus. What else happened? The lab I’m using was stripped of its international authority, humiliated amongst his peers. Nobody will say why.

What else has happened? In the last very short while, the original government scientist, the BC provincial fish farm vet, resigned from the vet college of BC. He is no longer able to practice veterinary medicine in BC. Two Canada Food Inspection Agency veterinarians, one has resigned and one has been suspended.

Does that feel like the situation is being handled with this virus? That anything is being done?


…. I am taking up the role of regulator…. People ask me how I will get the government to accept the results of my research. I don’t have enough years left in my life to get them to accept the results. I need you to accept the results, to stand by my findings.


2 Responses

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  1. […] The speeches are as relevant now as they were four months ago, unfortunately.  So I’ve collected excerpts to share for the next few posts. Previous posts include excerpts from the speeches of Sarah Otto, Thomas Kerr, and Alexandra Morton. […]

  2. […] the next few posts. Previous posts include excerpts from the speeches of Sarah Otto,Thomas Kerr, Alexandra Morton, and Lynne […]

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