Genetically Unsound?: Science, Technology, and Risks in Salmon Production

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Valerie BERSETH, University of British Columbia, Canada
Tim HAWKINS, University of British Columbia, Canada
Jordan TESLUK, University of British Columbia, Canada
Ralph MATTHEWS, University of British Columbia, Canada
Rapid advancements in the field of genomics in recent years have produced technologies that are revolutionizing human-environment interactions. New levels of precision in our capacity to understand and alter plant and animal genomics are pushing the boundaries of environmental sociology to consider genes as important objects of sociological inquiry. This paper uses the controversies around salmon hatcheries in Canada and the United States to look at contrasting perspectives on the social construction of nature and ecological modernization in environmental management. Hatchery programs have responded to declines in Pacific salmon stocks by breeding juvenile salmon and releasing them into rivers and waterways. However, genomics research has shown that hatchery-produced salmon are biologically and behaviourally distinct from “wild” salmon, fostering concerns that hatchery salmon are replacing vanishing wild stocks and polluting their gene pools. Two key debates have emerged: are hatchery fish wild? And, should hatcheries be “modernized” through technological innovation or should they be closed to protect wild stocks? We trace these two debates through an analysis of interviews with 20 genomic scientists and 25 hatchery managers in Canada and in 234 newspaper articles from 2005 to 2015. We demonstrate that conflicting constructions of nature at the genomic level have consequences for environmental governance (e.g. endangered species protection) and can forestall solutions to environmental issues. These findings suggest the need to move beyond perspectives that treat nature as socially constructed to also consider nature itself as a constructed entity.