Press release spins sea lice study

Dear editor,The story “New study on sea lice on juvenile Fraser River Sockeye,” which ran Feb. 17, 2011, is a very good example of how a press release can vary greatly from the actual peer reviewed study it purports to describe. You see, while the actual study is peer-reviewed and therefore, held to some standard, a press release can take whatever twist it likes. Here’s three twists from this latest study; 1. While the press release states that sea lice from salmon farms have been “fingered in Fraser Sockeye die-off,” the actual study says “it is unlikely that the average number of (sea lice) observed in the Sockeye (2-3 lice/fish) would cause direct mortality for healthy fish.” In fact, the study did not even look at mortality and probably didn’t need to.  2. The press release says “environmental conditions may have been partly responsible for the difference (in sea lice levels at the North coast), but concluded that neither temperature or salinity differences could explain the much lower incidence of sea lice infections.” (sea lice prefer high salinity levels). But the study actually states that salinity level at reference area away from farms (North coast) was 16.97%, whereas the areas near farms had salinity levels no lower than 27.38%.3.While the press release suggests that a processing plant (8 km away) may be the source of an unusual spike in sea lice numbers at one sampling site far away from any farms, the study says “alternatively, this single location may have been home to a large congregation of resident fishes that were heavily infected with sea lice.” Interestingly, the fish at this remote sampling site hosted the largest amount of sea lice found in the study – but this anomaly was apparently “inconsistent with the model assumptions” – and resulted in the data being  thrown out. Yes, it’s a bummer when data doesn’t match your assumptions.Research is good and concerned British Columbians both inside and out of the industry need to know more about the environment around them. This study is a very important part of that discussion. Spinning that research however, is not helpful at all.Cory PercevaultCampbell River