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Oceans Update Fall 2021

Marine Debris Update

Clear the Coast 2021 succeeded because of great volunteers and the kindness of strangers. Plagued by mechanical issues aboard Karen and Jasper’s 65-year-old sailboat, Living Oceans almost didn’t make it to our own cleanup. But our volunteers are now so skilled and so loyal that they led their own cleanups while waiting on us.

Living Oceans members Terry and Eric Grantner, Brenda Stewart and Bruce Joiner led an expedition including Eric Sundby and Lee Sichello that cleared the Hecht Beach area near Winter Harbour.

David Jensen travelled by paddleboard from San Josef Bay to Lowrie Bay, where he single-handedly collected over one tonne of debris, often buried in the salal by last winter’s extreme storms—all the while wondering where the heck was the team that was supposed to be helping him! What a treat when we finally connected: not only was Lowrie, normally a two-day job for a half-dozen people, all ready to be bagged up; but David proved to be a deadly euchre partner as well.

San Josef Bay yielded another surprise: persons unknown had already collected all the debris and stashed it in a safe spot above the tide-line. We must have just missed them, because the beach was clean as a whistle.  Whoever you are, know that your efforts resulted in three full lift bags of debris being lifted off the beach—probably about half a tonne.

The delays in our trip unfortunately made it impossible for some volunteers to join us and we regret missing out on reuniting with past volunteers and meeting some new ones. Stalwart Jodie Bergeron and first-time volunteer Janet Lawson joined us for the voyage to Sea Otter Cove. Kudos to both of them for hanging in there as we overcame setback after setback; we hope to see them both again next year!

On lift day, we combined forces with local volunteer group Epic Exeo and heli-lifted some 60 bags of plastic debris from beaches stretching from Grant Bay in the south to just north of Lowrie Bay. We don’t have a weight on that yet, but it should be about 5-6 tonnes.

Shout out to Matt Tjepkema with BC Timber Sales Seaward tlasta Business Area for reaching out and offering to move the largest share of that recovery for us by road from the helicopter drop site.  Also to Penta Transport, who agreed to take the load on backhaul from the dropsite on Ronning Main into Port Hardy; and to Ashley Tapp of Epic Exeo, who has taken on the herculean task of sort it all.

David Jensen and skipper Jasper Shore sorting debris at San Josef Bay, where the northern debris caches were dropped on September 7. 

No shoutouts to the Clean Coast, Clean Waters Fund that the BC government created to fund this kind of work. At the end of the first week of July, we regretfully pulled the plug on our joint application with Quatsino First Nation that would have seen us training and deploying a team of Youth Guardians. Fund managers Price, Waterhouse, Cooper advised that our application would be approved (sometime soon) but by that time, most youth had secured other employment for the summer. We sincerely hope to revive that project next year and are already seeking funding to undertake training in advance of the cleanup season.

Salmon Aquaculture in the Courtroom

All of the salmon farm corporations affected by the closure of Discovery Islands farms last December are now suing the federal government to have the decision overturned. Having lost all interim court challenges attempting to put fish back in the pens, they will now occupy another 5-6 days of the Court’s time in October, arguing their judicial review applications.  Living Oceans and several other groups are represented as intervenors by Ecojustice, who will argue that the decision was not only within the Minister’s discretion, but required in order to comply with the precautionary principle.

Global Salmon Farming Resistance

Imagine the power of a coalition of every organization in the world that is trying to protect ocean ecosystems from the destruction caused by open netpen salmon farms! We did; and this year, it became a reality. Dozens of groups representing 13 nations came together to share science, strategy and resources. We were proud to host the coalition’s first action, a letter to Canada’s political leaders in advance of the September 20th election. Stay tuned for much, much more to come!

Safe Salmon Update

Speaking of the power of coming together, you did us proud in the leadup to the election. Hundreds of letters went out to MPs letting them know that experimental, semi-closed salmon farms are not the answer to protecting wild salmon! Living Oceans has long been concerned that all of our efforts to date will come to little more than tinkering with the ocean netpens—unless we make it clear that we’re on to that trick.

Semi-closed systems were the focus of a brilliant video released by Clayoquot Action this past month, showing that all the effluent from a pilot site in Clayoquot Sound is still being pumped directly into this UN Biosphere Reserve. That’s especially troubling, since the technology exists to remove the solids from the effluent – and it’s the solids that carry the largest amount of PRV (piscine orthoreovirus). The virus causes jaundice/anemia in Chinook salmon and a disease similar to Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation in coho. Brought here in imported salmon farm eggs in the early days of salmon farming, the virus is now virtually everywhere in the wild and farmed salmon populations.

Even if semi-closed systems were operated with the sewage diversion in place, the liquid effluent from the farms carries its own load of viruses and bacteria like Tenacibaculum maritimum, which the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative has shown to have a very strong correlation with poor returns, particularly of Fraser River sockeye.

The good news is that it seems all parties got the message: all parties have made specific commitments to remove open netpens from BC waters.  With no opposition in the House of Commons, we will be reminding the new government that we expect further action on this file: we need a transition plan that supports local communities through a transition to land-based salmon farming, regenerative aquaculture or other economic development opportunities while attacking all the causes of salmon decline with a renewed commitment to rebuilding stocks.

WWF Report on ASC

WWF review confirms aquaculture eco-certifications in need of reform

Last month, WWF-Australia released a report that confirms eco-certifications, including the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), need urgent reforms if they are to fulfill their purpose to drive sustainability improvements at salmon farming operations. It echoes much of SeaChoice’s own findings and recommendations to ASC over the years as part of Living Oceans’ watchdogging of the eco-certification.

The review focused on Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania, which has become an unfortunate poster child for how a rapid and reckless expansion of salmon farming can result in unmitigated ecosystem degradation. Several of the very salmon farms that contributed to the degradation, including benthic damage and lowering oxygen levels, were eco-certified with ASC’s “responsibly farmed” and BAP’s “best practice” labels.

(Photo credit: Tasmania Fish Farm photographed by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner)

 As a participant in WWF’s review, we share some of our key takeaways from the report: 

  • Certification criteria must go beyond farm compliance with local laws and regulations, as this is not enough to ensure environmental responsibility. This is particularly the case where local regulations are weak and enforcement lacks. 
  • Farm-level certifications currently do not effectively address the cumulative impacts of the industry within a given area or waterbody. 
  • ASC sanctioned loopholes likely contributed to delayed action to address and reverse impacts at certified farms. This includes ASC’s exclusion of intermediary farms from compliance with their standard (meaning a year or more from the production cycle is never assessed for environmental impacts) and ASC’s approval of problematic variances that weakened standard rules. 
  • The BAP certification does not publish audit reports, nor were they made available for the reviewer on request. Local stakeholders are not consulted during the BAP audit process. This lack of transparency and disclosure leaves serious questions as to how auditors managed the adverse impacts at BAP certified sites. 

While the scope of the review was limited to Macquarie Harbour, these findings are consistent with other areas where these certifications are present - including Canada.

Since 2015, the ASC has continually watered down their standard by exempting the industry from stringent criteria and, instead, deferring to DFO regulations. B.C. certified farms defer to DFO’s regime for sea lice (some ASC farms had 20+ lice per fish) and Area-Based Management (despite DFO not having any ABM regulation).  ASC also continues to allow auditors to exclude interim farms (commonly used by the B.C. industry) from compliance with their standard. We even called out Mowi for their misleading claim that all of their farms are ASC certified (they’re not).

Transparency and meaningful stakeholder engagement are vital for any credible certification system. The industry is BAP certified in B.C. and in Atlantic Canada. The audit process to attain BAP is shrouded in secrecy. SeaChoice has called on BAP to publish audit reports that demonstrate a farm’s compliance with their standards and consult with local stakeholders during audits. 

As a co-founder and supporter of the ASC, WWF’s acknowledgement that eco-certifications are in need of reform is significant. If certifications are to fulfill their purpose of driving improvements at the industry level, then these failings need to be urgently remedied - or they risk losing market support. Because eco-certifications should deliver on their promises to shoppers.

Ocean Exposures Photo Contest 2021 Results!

Here are this year's winning photos!!

Kim Silvey's 'New Life' won 1st place Below the Surface Category

Charlotte Philp's 'Anemones' won 2nd place Below the Surface Category

Sharon Yon's 'Under Sea Garden' won 3rd place Below the Surface Category

Kim Silvey's 'Hitching a Ride' won 1st place Coastal Wildlife Category

Dan Hillert's 'After the Fog Lifted' won 2nd place Coastal Wildlife Category

Zack Qiu's 'Time to Act Cute!' won 3rd place Coastal Wildlife Category

Kim Silvey's 'Three Working Cranes' won 1st place Work or Play on the Ocean Category

Sharon Yon's 'The Arne A' won 2nd place Work or Play on the Ocean Category

Jan Heerwagen's 'Low Tide Curves' won 3rd place Work or Play on the Ocean Catagory

Tammy Tait's 'While They Work Above We Play Below' won our Sea Huggers Choice award