Apology over sea lice and salmon claim

Journal apologises to Marine Institute for ‘inadequate editorial procedures’

A research journal has apologised to the Marine Institute for applying inadequate editorial procedures when allowing publication of conflicting research findings from another author.

The author claimed the institute had published "fundamental errors" when assessing whether sea lice from farmed salmon could cause damage to migrating wild salmon smolts.

The conflicting view on the risks of salmon farming kicked off a row that has culminated in the Journal of Fish Diseases apologising to the Marine Institute, downgrading the conflicting claims to the status of an opinion and promising to revise its author guidelines.

The original paper, from Dr David Jackson of the Marine Institute and colleagues, said that while there was significant loss of salmon smolt migrating away from Irish rivers due to sea lice infestation, this was unlikely to be a major factor influencing the conservation of wild salmon stocks.


A study submitted to the journal by Martin Krkosek of the University of Toronto and colleagues and published last August was critical of the work by Dr Jackson. Prof Krkosek said it had statistical errors and other faults, however the institute challenged this and issued a rebuttal.

It has now emerged that the Journal of Fish Diseases has published the rebuttal. It has also reclassified the Krkosek paper, downgrading it from being peer reviewed to being a "comment", effectively an opinion piece.

Comment pieces are not peer-reviewed by external experts, they are assessed by journal staff only in order to speed up publication.

Whether a research report is peer-reviewed is an important distinction. It means that other experts in the same field have read and considered the research and passed it as being properly conducted and interpreted. The Marine Institute research had been peer- reviewed before publication.

The institute welcomed the journal's acknowledgment of its error in publishing the Krkosek paper as a "short communication" rather than as a comment piece, said the institute's chief executive officer Dr Peter Heffernan.

The institute also welcomed the journal’s apology for inadequate editorial procedures, he added.

As the national agency for marine research, the institute stood firmly over its science, Dr Heffernan said. It had a “very strong track record” for providing high-quality advice and research.

“The Marine Institute paper presents an analysis of a long-term dataset from eight locations along Ireland’s west and south coast to determine the impact of sea lice on migrating salmon,” he said.

“It concludes that while sea lice-induced mortality on outwardly migrating salmon smolts can be significant, it is a minor and irregular component of marine mortality in the stocks studied and is unlikely to be a significant factor influencing conservation status of salmon stocks.

“Access to quality research is vital both to the Marine Institute, as an independent scientific agency, and to the wider scientific community,” Dr Heffernan added.

“We emphasise the importance of solid statistical analysis in delivering solid evidence-based research.”

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom

Dick Ahlstrom, a contributor to The Irish Times, is the newspaper's former Science Editor.