Characters on Emmy-winning “Boston Legal” support suit to stop lice-spreading salmon farms

by Randy Hartnell and Craig Weatherby

It was heartening to watch last week's episode of the popular drama-comedy show “Boston Legal”. The episode, titled “Finding Nimmo”, included a sub-plot in which Boston lawyers Denny Crane—a legendary attorney played by William Shatner—and Alan Shore (James Spader) embark on a male-bonding trip to the famed Nimmo Bay Resort, perched on the banks of a salmon river in British Columbia (B.C.).

We'd been alerted that the subplot would shine light on the threat to wild salmon from sea lice spread by salmon farms.  And, advance reports in the seafood trade press noted that a salmon-farm industry group would run large ads in four major U.S newspapers, in an attempt to blunt the program's impact.

In fact, the episode presented a remarkably strong critique of Canadian salmon farms. While there are other negative aspects of salmon farming, the show's script focused on the sea-lice threat posed to migrating wild salmon that must swim past pest-infested salmon farms sited in B.C.

We thought our readers might enjoy a rundown of the relevant scenes, which do a good job of making the key points (script highlighted in red):

Scene 1: Denny and Alan relaxing on a deck by the river, near fellow guest Peter Barrett, a Canadian lawyer.

Denny Crane (Shatner):  I'm a heterosexual. And I catch salmon like one.

Peter Barrett:  Well, you won't be catching them for long I'm afraid. Wild Pacific salmon are being wiped out.

Denny Crane (Shatner):  What are you talking about?

Peter Barrett:  Sea lice are killing them. The weight of evidence points toward the fish farms.

Denny Crane (Shatner):  Fish farms?

Peter Barrett:  The penned fish in the fish farms host the lice, which attach themselves to the baby wild salmon migrating past the pens and it's destroying them. I'm actually here because I'm going into court in Port McNeal tomorrow to try to enjoin another fish farm from going in. Boy! Would I love to go in with the Denny Crane by my side!

Denny Crane (Shatner):  You one of these environmental lawyers?

Peter Barrett: Is there something wrong with that?

Denny Crane (Shatner):  They're evildoers. Yesterday it's a tree, today's is a salmon, tomorrow it's ‘Let's not dig Alaska for oil ‘cause it's too pretty.”  Let me tell you something. I came out here to enjoy nature. Don't talk to me about the environment.

Alan Shore (Spader), turning to the camera:  All reality. None of it scripted.

Scene 2: Nighttime, in the cabin shared by Shore and Crane. Shore is shown in bed, reading A Stain Upon The Sea: West Coast Salmon Farming, (Note: This very real book is by environmental scientist Alexandra Morton, who co-authored a recent study that measured the sea-lice threat to wild salmon posed by salmon farms (see “Farmed Salmon Seen Spreading Sea Lice” in the April 8, 2005 issue of Vital Choices.

Alan Shore (Spader):  Oh my God. This book? The Stain Upon the Sea? It's all about these sea lice.

Denny Crane (Shatner):  Interesting.

Alan Shore (Spader):  They call them cling-ons.

Denny Crane (Shatner):  Did you say Klingons?

Alan Shore (Spader):  They really could wipe out salmon if something isn't done. They have to do something.

Scene 3: Shore and Crane show up in the Canadian court, wearing waders and British-style lawyer's wigs.

George Knott (lawyer for the salmon farms):  There's just no scientific evidence that the sea lice are causing the death of wild salmon.

Peter Barrett (lawyer bringing suit):  That is ridiculous! Sea lice wiped out the stock in Norway, they wiped out the stock in Scotland.

D.A Valarie Murrow (representing the salmon farms):  All we're saying is let's wait and do the research. This is a vendetta against the farmed fish.

Peter Barrett:  This is no such thing. We have no issue with farm fish all long as they can raise their stock in an environmentally sustainable manner and not host millions of sea lice. Closed containment systems have been shown to work.

Judge Sean O'Byrne:  Okay gentlemen. I've heard your arguments. I have your briefs. I'll review the matter as well as the science.

Alan and Denny march in.

Denny Crane (Shatner):  Greetings! Oh Canada. Denny Crane.

Alan Shore (Spader):  Good morning, my Lord. My name is Alan Shore, and Mr. Crane and I are attorneys from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We seek permission to be heard on this issue as friends of the court.

Judge Sean O'Byrne:  Mr. Shore. We don't wear wigs in Canada.

Alan Shore (Spader):  Oh!  (Removes wig.)

Judge Sean O'Byrne:  Nor do we wear waders.

Alan Shore (Spader):  My Lord. We've just spent the last two days in your rivers. In your countryside. It is the most spectacular nature I have ever seen. And the fish! They're enough to make one believe in a Higher Power.

Judge Sean O'Byrne:  Yes. How many of the Higher Power's creations did you torture?

Alan Shore (Spader):  Fifteen. Denny didn't catch any.  I get your implication Judge, and I acknowledge the hypocrisy of a fisherman pleading for the survival of a species only so that he'll be able to continue dragging them to shore by the lip in perpetuity.

But causing a fish discomfiture and causing it to become extinct are two very different things.  And we're talking about Pacific Salmon!  This is a species that goes back to the Ice Age. One that is born in a river, migrates up to two thousand miles in the sea, then returns to the very place of birth to spawn.  Against enormous miraculous odds, bringing nutrients on its journey to sustain the bald eagles, the grizzly bears, the wolves, even the rain forests themselves.

An entire ecosystem depends on them. If Charlotte the spider were still alive today she'd be writing in her web, “Some fish.”

Judge Sean O'Byrne:  Yes. Well, forgive me, but I find it insulting to be lectured by an American on the environment.

Denny Crane (Shatner):  Watch it Judge. We're a super power. Don't make us add you to the Axis.

Alan Shore (Spader):  Being from the United States I have an expertise on the issue.

Judge Sean O'Byrne: Do you?

Alan Shore (Spader):  Yes! Remember! We're the country that's practically wiped the grizzly bear off our maps. We got rid of bull trout.  To see a Florida panther?  You have to go a hockey game. We seek to count hatchery salmon as wild so the numbers go up and we can take the actual wild salmon off the endangered species list.

Almost a hundred different bird and animal species have gone extinct in the last thirty years. While our national policy remains, “It's not a priority.”  I know all about economic interests trumping the environment.

And truthfully, if we were talking about the Virgin Island screech owl or the Fresno kangaroo, I might not care, but this is the Pacific Salmon!  The sea lice are killing them!  Once they're gone Judge, my God!  They're gone! Oh!  Yes.  Mindful that abroad people tend expect shock and awe when Yankees arrive on the scene, we shall leave you with two small, but lasting words.

Denny Crane (Shatner):  Denny Crane… eh?

Denny and Alan leave.

It seems that “Boston Legal” creator David E. Kelly knows the facts and takes the issue seriously.  Given the gravity of the threat, we're happy to see the issue brought before a wide audience.