The following is a Letter to the Editor sent by Ian Roberts, director of communications at Mowi Scotland Limited, and former director of public affairs at Marine Harvest Canada (now Mowi West).
It is a sad reflection of our world today when a recent story on IntraFish celebrating the career advancement of women in seafood becomes a stark reminder about cyber-bullying.
An anti-salmon farming campaigner – well known to salmon farmers in British Columbia – decided to make the IntraFish story an opportunity to attack the aquaculture sector by questioning the ethics, credibility and professionalism of the woman featured in your story. It is a cowardly assault on a young professional’s character and career.
But perhaps more telling and no less concerning is the activist’s response to those colleagues defending their peer. Some salmon farmers commenting on the campaigner’s Facebook page were quickly blocked and their comments removed.
Comparatively, a post published by Mowi, the woman’s employer, which asks for respectful dialogue, has allowed for wide-ranging comments to remain -- even those that wish to defend cyber-bullying or divert to criticism of the company and salmon aquaculture generally.
It is very noble (and I still believe the right thing to do) that seafood companies allow for stakeholders to engage and express their ideas, thoughts and opinions on public channels. But the same respect and openness is rarely provided by activists.
While it may not be evident to most of us, this activist strategy of blocking dialogue on their own social pages, giving the illusion of consensus while exacerbating chaos and controversy on seafood company channels, has been very damaging to the seafood sector’s reputation.
In today’s world where we most often communicate via social media, journalists have turned to social channels to find news, secure sources and undoubtedly create a story and headline based on the tonality of the social thread.
Journalists will therefore be presented with social media that is often void of voices that support fisheries and aquaculture -- but not because we didn’t try. The result: many news stories that take aim at our business of salmon farming have concerningly lacked the voice of a salmon farmer, leaving us to chase to have our perspective included.
Over the years the trickle of activist-led headlines about salmon farming in British Columbia -- ranging from non-existent fish viruses to false prophecies of wild salmon extinction -- have slowly eroded public confidence in our business.
And we’ve now clearly seen how these attack campaigns affect government decisions about our business.
Despite the most recent Canadian government science that confirmed BC salmon farms to be less than "minimal harm" to wild salmon, politicians sympathetic to the activist agenda and weary of urban voters that have been heavily influenced by the news headlines, have chosen to (admittedly) ignore science and used public perception as the excuse to shut down a significant number of BC salmon farms.
Maybe surprisingly, I still believe that openness, transparency and allowing space for all perspectives is the right path for all us working in seafood. I have always been proud to work in a sector that fosters this approach. It’s just a very sad day when cyber-bullies manage to influence government decisions that effectively put hundreds of hard-working families out of work.
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