Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Oceans Update Fall 2017

Letter from Executive Director Karen Wristen,

I look forward to a couple of weeks away each August, reconnecting with our loyal Clear the Coast volunteer team, meeting new members and getting my sleeves rolled up for some serious slogging on North Island beaches.

This year, I got more than I bargained for when our boat’s starter motor decided to pack it in just as we were leaving!  Sea Otter Cove is not the sort of place where you can just call for a tow; there’s hardly anyone about…Read all about our adventures--and misadventures—with the Clear the Coast campaign, salmon farming and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and of course, our upcoming legal challenge to the Kinder Morgan TransMountain Pipeline Expansion project, appearing in the Court of Appeal in the first week of October.

Bring home the Bags!

Our Clear the Coast campaign is a victim of its own success this year:  about 3,000 cubic feet of plastic debris lies bagged and ready at two North Island drop sites, waiting for us to pick it up and truck it to recycling facilities.  Can you help us with that?

We need to send a flatbed truck with a crane out on North Island logging roads to recover the bags, most of which are too heavy to be lifted any other way.  Two full-day trips are planned and we need to raise the money to get that material in, as well as feed and house our volunteer team while they sort it all out.

Your donation today will help us declare yet another successful season of marine habitat restoration.

Clear the Coast: getting more for your money!

Clear the Coast innovated again this year, always trying to do more with a budget that just keeps shrinking. With the generous help of Cape Scott Water Taxi and park operators 43K Wilderness Solutions, we placed debris collection bags at stations on the Cape Scott and North Coast trails and invited hikers to “Pitch In”.

The response was amazing:  trail users filled 34 bags along the north coast alone!  Our other, organized trips throughout the summer collected the balance of an estimated 10 tonnes of material at beaches along the West coast of the Island, from Grant Bay up to Cape Scott.

Summer student Maggie Dietterle led expeditions to the southern, road-accessible beaches and engaged dozens of friends, family and park users at Grant Bay, Hecht Beach, Raft Cove and Cape Palmerston.

Project Manager Rob O’Dea joined Maggie and two volunteers for a gruelling trip to Christensen Beach on the North Island trail, which we’d never cleaned before.  We thought we were overdoing it to send out 12 collection bags for the effort but, no; Rob says they could have filled twice that number. Faced with a shortage of bags and a very long hike out to the San Jo Bay parking lot, they called it quits at 12 bags (roughly 40 cubic feet) and seven long strings of buoys and larger items.

Executive Director Karen Wristen led the team that placed collection bags at other stations on the North Coast and Cape Scott trails in July. She returned by boat in August with partner Jasper and long-time volunteers Terry and Eric Grantner and Jodie Bergeron to Sea Otter Cove and Lowrie and San Josef Bays.  Read Karen’s blog on how that all turned out [here].

On the Labour Day weekend, we worked with the team at 43K Wilderness Solutions and West Coast Helicopters to get all that material off the beaches, and all in the space of two days!  We managed that by calling on volunteers both new and old to go out to all of our caches and make them ready for lifting.  The founder of our Clear the Coast campaign, Will Soltau, emerged from retirement in Sointula to help hook up bags at Grant Bay; and a team from the clothing retailer Lifestyle Over Luxury chose Raft Cove for their volunteer contribution.

By spreading our staff resources more thinly and relying on our seasoned volunteers, new recruits and the kindness of strangers, we covered more ground and restored more habitat than ever before.  And we were once again humbled by the observation that there is still so much more to be done.

As we go to press, we’re planning the last phase of the work:  the debris was heli-lifted to two drop sites on logging roads and now we have to get it in to the 7-Mile Landfill in Port McNeill where it will be processed for recycling or landfill. This year, TerraCycle has agreed to take all of our rigid plastics to be reprocessed into new consumer packaging, which reduces our transportation costs while recycling more than we can accomplish on the North Island.

We would all be most grateful for your help with funding this last phase of the work. 

We sincerely appreciate the generosity that our supporters have shown us in the past and want to acknowledge funding from Nachiko Yokota, the Sitka Foundation and the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, that has gotten us this far.  The Province has promised us $1500 in Parks Enhancement Funding and the federal government’s Canada Summer Jobs grant helped pay Maggie’s student salary; but that’s the extent of government support for this work right now.

We’re continuing to talk to Members of Parliament and the B.C. Legislature about government programmes to support this critical work.  In the meantime, it falls to those of us who appreciate how important it is to remove plastics from the ocean before they enter the food web, or strangle or entangle wildlife, to work at reducing the problem at both the source and in the intertidal zone. Thank you, for caring enough to help.

Kinder Morgan delivers another blow to Southern Resident Killer Whales

Living Oceans was shocked to learn last week that Kinder Morgan has been interfering with salmon spawning in several rivers in B.C.’s interior, before their route is even approved.  Salmon spawning deterrent mats—a relatively new approach to “protecting” salmon—were laid in a total of eight salmon spawning streams with no permits whatsoever.  The NEB called a halt to the activity, but the company is seeking permission to continue.

When we saw the news, we started checking Kinder Morgan’s NEB filings to figure out which streams were involved—and the news got worse.  “It would be ironic if it weren’t so sad,” said Karen Wristen, Executive Director.  “The very salmon runs that are most critical to the survival of the Southern Resident Killer Whales are the target of Kinder Morgan’s illegal activity.”

Early spring Chinook are a red-listed run, with returns this year said to be ‘very poor’ according to folks in Valemount, B.C., where viewing the Swift Creek Chinook run is a major attraction at the Visitors’ Centre. Those few fish that completed their 1200-kilometre journey to the spawning grounds were met with bright orange mats laid over the spawning gravel, making it impossible for them to build their redds in portions of Swift Creek rated as having high potential for spawning.

This new technique for ‘protecting’ salmon has only been used a couple of times and we can find no evidence that its impact on the spawning success and survival of wild salmon has been assessed.  Kinder Morgan’s idea of monitoring and followup is to watch to see if the mats successfully prevent spawning—not to see if the returning fish actually find adequate alternate habitat and spawn successfully.

Swift Creek is just one of over 40 watercourses in which Kinder Morgan maintains that it must construct its river crossings outside of the safe work window (Least Risk Biological Window) for salmon and cannot implement DFO’s “Measures to Avoid Harm”.  The only reason given appears to be Kinder Morgan’s construction timetable.

 “The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission requires a pipeline company to bore a tunnel under fish-bearing streams,” said Wristen. “But the NEB is apparently content to take Kinder Morgan at its word that it must dig trenches through all these watercourses. There is no public process around these approvals, which may or may not have been given already.”

Marvin Rosenau, an instructor in the Fish Wildlife and Recreation Program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, has had bitter experience as an environmental monitor for watercourse crossings.  He explained that the greatest danger to fish occurs when the coffer dams erected during construction of the trenched crossings are removed. “You get a pulse of silt going into the river,” he told us. “Downstream redds can be buried and juvenile stages of salmon can be suffocated by the silt.”

Living Oceans and Raincoast Conservation Foundation sent a letter to the NEB demanding answers to questions regarding its apparent failure to require the protection of salmon spawning habitat.

“The Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline was bad enough for the whales, without this. Rebuilding Chinook abundance is one of the key actions needed to prevent the whales from declining into extinction, said Wristen. “Now, they face not only the noise, pollution and danger of ship strikes; but the pipeline is also likely to reduce their major food source.”

Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline in Court

Some 18 lawsuits filed against the approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline are being heard starting Monday October 2, 2017 in the Federal Court of Appeal. Several First Nations and the Cities of Burnaby and Vancouver will be making arguments alongside ourselves and Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

We were very pleased to join First Nations applicants in a media conference Monday morning, outlining our concerns as the Court begins its hearings.

The Province of British Columbia, represented by Thomas Berger, has been granted intervenor status in the lawsuits and will argue that neither the NEB nor the federal government properly assessed marine and coastal risks of the project. Mr. Berger conducted Canada’s first real environmental assessment, appointed as a Commissioner by the federal government to assess the potential impacts of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. His report provided Canada with what may have been its first accurate picture of the impact of northern development on aboriginal communities.

The argument of Living Oceans and Raincoast will be presented by Margot Venton of Ecojustice on October 4 and 5.

Karen Wristen and our legal counsel Margot Venton, Dyna Tuytel, and student Olivia French at a rally outside the courthouse

SeaChoice rejects "good alternative" ranking of farmed salmon

Last week, the U.S.-based Seafood Watch (SFW) program released an upgraded ranking of B.C. open-net farmed salmon to a “Good Alternative” or “Yellow”. SeaChoice swiftly rejected the ranking.

The upgrade was due to scoring-shift in their Disease criterion. SFW cites there is “insufficient evidence” that disease and sea lice transmission from farmed salmon to wild salmon is having population-level impacts. SeaChoice disagrees with this conclusion. In fact, recent science indicates serious concerns remain in this respect.

Latest peer-reviewed research shows elevated sea lice due to ineffective management continues to be an issue. Studies have suggested the indirect morality impact on Fraser River sockeye by sea louse Caligus to be significant. A recent Strategic Salmon Health Initiative paper confirmed that heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI) occurs in B.C. and appears correlated with piscine reovirus (PRV). PRV has been found in B.C. wild salmon, and further study is required to establish the role salmon farming plays as a potential PRV/HSMI conduit to wild salmon.

To add to this, some of the most fundamental and basic data needed for determining population dynamics and potential impacts is simply not available for B.C.’s wild salmon. A recent study found wild salmon monitoring by Fisheries and Oceans Canada is woefully insufficient and the conservation health of around half of B.C. wild salmon populations are unknown.

The assessment failed to provide any conclusive evidence of no impacts to wild salmon from disease or pathogens originating from salmon aquaculture. It did however acknowledge uncertainty and science gaps remain. To wit, “Importantly, there is also no evidence that there is no impact”. Given this, SeaChoice believes the SFW assessment failed to take a precautionary approach.

Unfortunately, the industry has already indicated this ranking will hopefully boost their sales and lead to further farm sites. SeaChoice is calling on the Canadian government to respect the Cohen recommendations that salmon farms should be removed from wild salmon migration routes, if the science shows the disease risk to be more than minimal.

SeaChoice advises consumers to continue to avoid B.C. open-net farmed salmon. Canada’s only seafood ranking body, Ocean Wise, does not recommend B.C. farmed salmon. Consumers should opt for more sustainably farmed options such as land-based closed containment farmed salmon, Arctic char and rainbow trout. 

Tanker Moratorium goes to the House

Bill C-48, the long-awaited tanker ban, goes to second reading and debate in the House of Commons Monday, October 2. The bill proposes to restrict oil transport for listed types of oil, in volumes greater than 12,500 metric tonnes. It would prevent tankers from stopping, or unloading “crude oil or persistent oil”, at ports or marine installations located along British Columbia’s north coast from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaska border.

Living Oceans has been advocating for such a formalized moratorium for more than a decade.  On two prior occasions, private members’ bills were introduced but failed to result in legislation.  In 2010, the House of Commons supported a ban in a vote on a motion put forward by Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, whose riding includes the Great Bear Rainforest and thousands of coastal jobs that depend on a healthy marine environment.

The current Bill was a prominent part of the federal Liberal election platform and featured in the mandate letter of Transportation Minister Marc Garneau. Push-back from the shipping industry has been as relentless as it was predictable.  We look forward to the debate!

What's Behind the Label

The Canadian aquaculture and fishing sectors are increasingly keen to market their products as ‘responsible’ and ‘sustainable’ to environmentally and socially conscious shoppers. Seafood eco-labels are now common-place at our local supermarkets, with the most prominent eco-certifications being the global Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

Our new report, in collaboration with our SeaChoice partners, reviews if and how these schemes are contributing to environmental improvements in Canadian aquaculture and fishery practices. The short answer – not enough.

Living Oceans reviewed all ASC certifications and audits to date. We found emerging patterns with the implementation of the Salmon Standard in Canada that suggest the ASC is lowering its sustainability bar to accommodate current industry practices. Despite the claim a farm must be ‘100 % complaint’ with the Standard, we found B.C. farms regularly rely on ‘variances’ to the Standard criteria in order to be certified. We also found up to a year of the production cycle is never assessed by auditors for compliance. Furthermore, due to inadequate suspension and revocation rules, farms in major breach of the Standard can and have sold their product with the eco-label. For example, a certified farm that experienced 7 sea lion deaths (5 above the Standard threshold), a breach that would have disqualified the farm from initial certification, has twice successfully harvested and entered the market with the ASC certification.

Likewise, problematic findings were found with the MSC certification. Several certified fisheries experienced significant timeline extensions and flexible interpretations of the application of the Standard requirements.   While SeaChoice’s analysis of requirements of certification to directly improve fishery practices’ impacts on habitat, non-target species and ecosystem function to be minimal.

Read the report at:

seafood labels