Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Oceans Update July 2024

June was action-packed, for sure. One day we’re on the remotest of B.C.’S shores, removing harmful debris from the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area and the next, responding to Minister Diane Lebouthillier’s bombshell announcement regarding salmon farm licensing. We filed a petition for an emergency order to save Southern Resident Killer Whales from tanker traffic and launched a new campaign urging restaurants and fish sellers to take farmed salmon Off the Table.  Everything seems to land in June, as the prospect of summer holidays beckons. 

It’s looking unlikely that we’ll be taking much of a vacation, given the right mess that salmon are facing. Another five years of salmon farming, with business pretty much as usual, means that we’re going to need to be extra vigilant to detect and demand action on farms whose practices are harming wild salmon. And we face yet another round of consultation on the draft Transition Plan, due for release at the end of July. You can read all about our take on the situation in this issue of Oceans Update. 

The foundations that funded us, historically, for the salmon farming campaign have long since moved on to other issues. We’ve been relying on private donations to see this 30-year campaign through to the finish and it looks like the Minister just moved the goalposts five years out.  Will you help us today to keep the campaign going until we have actually closed down the last salmon farm? Your support would be very gratefully received!  DONATE NOW.

Can DFO be trusted to implement fish farm ban? 

The majority of First Nations, commercial fishers, and concerned British Columbians heaved a sigh of relief when Fisheries Minister Diane Lebouthillier said Canada would “ban” open net-pen feedlots of Atlantic salmon in British Columbia.  After fighting to protect wild salmon for thirty-years, we may have finally achieved something here.  It may not happen as quickly as we’d like to see given the perilous state of wild salmon, but we must applaud the politicians who have taken this brave step, and we must acknowledge the support that workers will need during this transition. 

But this initial relief comes with urgent, pressing, questions.  How will the ban be given the force of law?  And, more importantly, until then, how will endangered wild Pacific salmon be protected from the plume of pollution, parasites, and pathogens spewing from the open net-pen feedlots staining coastal British Columbia? 

Without being given legal force through legislation or regulations, the promised ban remains little more than another political promise vulnerable to ever-changing political winds.  Our praise for that promise is coupled with healthy skepticism: the same folks now promising a ban by 2029 previously promised a “transition from” open net-pen feedlots by 2025.  With at least one federal election between now and 2029, it’s possible those now promising a ban will not be around when the ban is supposed to take effect. 

A bigger mystery is how the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will protect wild salmon from polluting open net-pen feedlots for the next five years.  The Minister also announced that licences will be issued for five years and promised “stricter” licence conditions and regulations, but provided no detail.  Those licence conditions, and more importantly, their enforcement will fall to DFO. 

It’s no secret that the public, and successive Ministers, have very different views than DFO bureaucrats on the harm open net-pen feedlots cause.  DFO has consistently denied any connection between the pathogens and parasites flowing out of salmon farms and wild salmon health.  For years, DFO has refused to incorporate conditions of licence that measure or address sources of harm despite repeated and insistent calls from conservation groups and First Nations to do so.  DFO still allows the stocking of open net-pen feedlots with fish infected with piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) and has not reviewed the efficacy of its sea lice management measures. 

Now, despite DFO’s denial, the Minister has recognized the harm, exercised her discretion, and applied the precautionary principle by promising to remove this harmful industry from BC.  Her decision should be a fatal blow to DFO’s decades long mismanagement by suppression and denial.  Instead, we have an unresolved contradiction: on one hand, open net-pen feedlots must be removed to protect wild Pacific salmon; while on the other hand, those harmful feedlots can be governed by the ineffective regulatory regime and regulated by the same people whose objectivity and efficacy has been called into question by Mr. Justice Cohen, Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development, and Parliament’s Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO). 

Endangered wild Pacific salmon need decisive action such as the announced ban.  They also need urgent change to how they are protected while we wait for that decision to take effect.  Open net-pens in B.C. are being phased out because they threaten the survival of wild Pacific salmon.  New licence conditions to address this threat should have already been collaboratively developed.  Instead, they will be tacked on by DFO in five-year licences granted at the end of June.  Rarely are conditions altered during the term of a licence, but that might be exactly what needs to happen to ensure we have any wild salmon left to protect when the promised ban takes effect. 

Karen Wristen 
Executive Director 
Living Oceans Society 

kwristen [at] 

+1 (604) 788-5634 

Photo credit: Government of Canada

Emergency Order Sought to avoid a “Bright Extinction” 

Back when the Trans Mountain Pipeline was being approved, it appeared there were a number of things that had to be done for the protection of endangered species from the probable impacts of the project—things that weren’t really within the wheelhouse of the Canadian Energy Regulator. The federal government, anxious to see the project move forward, undertook by way of an Order in Council that it would do those things.  

Fast forward to today: the pipeline is in operation, tanker traffic has begun to increase and those things are still not done.  

It doesn’t help that the tanker route goes right through the critical habitat of endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. The whales are most at risk from ship strikes and noise pollution, but the spectre of oil pollution also looms large. Then there’s the shortage of Chinook salmon, their preferred diet. The government was to have come up with a plan to protect them, complete with baselines, monitoring and assessment for effectiveness, before the pipeline began to operate. 

It isn’t the case that they’ve done nothing; just that nothing they’ve done has been completed or effective in reversing the declining trend in the whales’ numbers. 

Living Oceans and colleague organizations turned to Ecojustice for help. They have filed a petition on our behalf, to the Ministers of Environment and Fisheries, citing the imminent threat to SRKW survival. A previous request, in 2018, was rejected; but the whales’ plight has only increased over that time, while the threats—including TMX and the Roberts Bank Terminal 2 project—have only multiplied. 

A “bright extinction” is one that occurs right under our noses, from causes we understand and can control, but don’t. Our aim in filing the petition is to ensure that we don’t let the SRKW become extinct on our watch. 

Learn more about the latest court action

Clear the Coast 2024:  Cox Island 

We’re just back from our first expedition of the season, with a satisfying 28 bags of harmful plastics debris collected (plus dozens of strings of stuff that just doesn’t fit in a bag). Our volunteer team was pumped to try out new base camps on Cox Island, the nearest of the Scott Islands group. 

Cox is a large, heavily forested island completely ringed with treacherous rock, so our crews were dropped by helicopter. We chose the steep, cobble beaches of the southern shore, as they were most likely to afford protection from high tides and northwest winds. Finding level spots for the tents proved challenging; many of us awoke in a downhill jumble on our first morning. 

We divided into two crews of 6-7 people to cover the maximum amount of territory. Our beach was the only one that proved to have a walkable trail over one headland, allowing us access to both east- and west-facing beaches on the Island’s southernmost point. The other crew were camped in the central south coast on a large beach that kept them occupied for the three days we were out there. 

Anticipating the potential for landing a boat in calm weather, we had backup from Jason Rose in his Hurricane 749, an aluminum-hulled shallow-draft vessel that, with Jason at the helm, can get into remarkably treacherous places safely. He picked up our crew once we were done with both walkable beaches, to go on to a third small pocket beach that was heavily impacted. 

While we never saw any of the seabird life that used to abound on Cox, we were visited by raccoon and mink, the descendants of a 1930s attempt to establish a fur-ranching business on the Island. It was interesting to see that the raccoons were coloured chocolate brown, unlike their urban cousins. Also unlike their urban cousins, they took no interest in our food stores! 

The incredibly beautiful bay on which we were camped was also home to sea otters and seals, which were very curious about our activities, but kept their distance. A pod of five orcas did a swim-past and breach. Birds we never saw called from the impenetrable forest behind us from dawn to dark. We all left with the blissful feeling that comes from working hard to restore a wild place for the amazing creatures that live there. 

Our deepest thanks to our volunteers, who are already itching to get back there to the places we didn’t clean!  

If you love the outdoors and are interested in wilderness camping, hiking and stewardship to participate in a large project to remove plastic marine debris from shorelines on Northern Vancouver Island and the Scott Islands we are looking for Field Technicians for full-time seasonal work. Apply by July 18, 2024

Court Upholds Discovery Islands Salmon Farm Closures

Ruling has wide implications for the conduct of science within the  Department of Fisheries and Oceans 

In a ruling released June 7th, the Federal Court of Canada upheld a decision of former Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray to keep fish farms out of the Discovery Islands, an important migratory route for wild salmon. Claims by B.C. salmon farmers and First Nations that challenged the fairness and reasonableness of the Minister's decision were dismissed. The decision in question was made by Murray following extensive consultation with the industry, First Nations and civil society.  

Conservation groups – including SeaChoice partners David Suzuki Foundation and Living Oceans Society-- intervened in support of the decision, with representation from Ecojustice. Our submissions highlighted the unique nature of the region near Campbell River B.C. where the 17 salmon farms in question operated.  

“It’s a great day for Fraser River salmon,” said Karen Wristen, Executive Director for Living Oceans Society. “We have long maintained that the narrow passages of the Discovery Islands confined and retained parasites and pathogens from the farms. Migrating juvenile salmon were forced to swim through this soup—little wonder that their early marine survival was so low.” 

The salmon farming industry and two First Nations challenged the decision to refuse further licences on several grounds, but stressed most of all that the Minister had rejected the advice of her Department to issue the licences, basing her decision in part on more recent science than the Department had conducted or reviewed. This, they contended, was unreasonable and unfair to them, as the Minister was not qualified to assess the significance of the science. 

In making these arguments, industry was attempting to obtain judicial sanction for the stranglehold that the Aquaculture Management Division has had on “official science” for decades. By burying, denying or discrediting independent science and doing little of their own to investigate the actual impacts of salmon farms on wild salmon, Departmental scientists maintained the stance that salmon farms have ‘less than minimal’ impact on wild salmon. Meanwhile, over 50 papers authored by dozens of independent scientists and some within DFO itself say the opposite: sea lice, bacteria and viruses emanating from the farms are all associated with poor outcomes for wild salmon. 

The industry strategy backfired.  Far from obtaining judicial sanction for their comfortable relationship with Departmental science, industry’s arguments had the reverse effect. The Court observed that the Minister, unlike the Department officials who advised her, clearly had her overarching duty to protect wild Pacific salmon firmly in mind when refusing the licenses. Her reliance on all available sources of scientific opinion was reasonable, the judgment concluded. 

The Court’s ruling effectively forecloses any future opportunity for salmon farming in open-net pens in the Discovery Islands. The region formerly produced nearly 40% of B.C.’s production of farmed salmon and was valued by industry for its productivity. The same features that made it an exceptional farming area make it an exceptionally important region for tiny wild salmon smolts to feed and grow. 

Living Oceans has partnered with the Atlantic Salmon Foundation and authors Catherine Collins and Doug Franz to bring you a website that lists restaurants and fishmongers who’ve agreed to take farmed salmon off the table. The campaign originated in Scotland with an organization called WildFish and has now spread to Australia, Iceland and Canada. 

The idea behind the campaign is of course to liberate consumer power and reward those businesses that have done their due diligence and realized that farmed salmon is simply bad for people, the planet and especially, bad for wild salmon. 

Get ready for the Ocean Exposures Photo Contest 

This annual event has been held by Living Oceans Society for over 20 years. We champion ocean protection and educate the public on why ocean health is important. 

You protect what you love, so we view this event as an opportunity for people to get out into nature, find out more about the creatures around them, understand the challenges to ocean health and fall in love with the environment. Together we can protect and showcase the amazing beauty of nature. 

Help us show the beauty of the ocean and support the protection of this important resource. Be ready to share your best photos. Submissions will be accepted starting July 31.  

In the meantime, get inspired by the 2023 winners’ photos here

We’ll share the contest opening on social media. Follow us for timely updates: 

Facebook  Instagram  Twitter 

Photo credits: Sara Ellison, Mark Cantwell, Chris Sherwood, Amanda Nelson, Wendy Davis, Catherine Anderson 

Letter to the FAO: Stop Promoting the Farming of Carnivorous Fish!

To commemorate World Oceans Day, the Global Salmon Farming Resistance penned a joint letter to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, asking it to stop promoting aquaculture of salmon, sea bream, sea bass, tuna and shrimp. “The bottom line is that in our current world there is NO farming of carnivorous fin fish which is environmentally sustainable. We need concrete, enforceable international standards for the remediation of damaged environments and the expansion of genuinely sustainable aquaculture options,” said the member groups. 

The FAO has correctly observed that aquaculture is essential to feeding the world’s growing population. It has set ambitious targets for growth: by 2040, it is calling for growth of 75% over 2020 production levels. The organization references “sustainable aquaculture” in its publications, but does not explicitly call out those aquaculture sectors that contribute to the depletion of the world’s forage fisheries. 

“It’s not only the depletion of the fundament of the ocean’s food web that’s the issue,” said Karen Wristen, Executive Director for Living Oceans. “It’s the fact that the fish used in aquaculture feed is being taken from the plates of some of the world’s least advantaged people and reduced into a smaller portion of expensive fish for the developed world’s tables.”  Conversion rates vary depending who’s calculating them, but the world’s largest feed manufacturer claims it takes 2.4 kilos of wild forage fish to make 1 kilo of farmed salmon. 

The FAO is live to the issues with aquaculture and the dire state of many of the world’s fisheries, but has yet to take a firm stance on what constitutes “sustainable aquaculture”. 

See the full article this article refers to on the FeebackGlobal site


Tell grocers to put a stop to human rights abuses in their seafood supply

Recent investigations have revealed the hidden reality of the human rights abuses – from forced labour to debt bondage, inhumane working conditions and more-- associated with some of the seafood that ends up on the shelves of North American grocers.  

Major grocers and companies hold significant influence over what ends up on our shelves. Unfortunately, most palm off their responsibility to flawed certifications or others within their supply chain. That’s why SeaChoice is calling on shoppers to send their grocer a message: it’s high time to take true responsibility for the seafood they sell. 

So far, more than 3,000 shoppers have told grocers such as Sobeys, Loblaws, Costco and Walmart that enough is enough.  

Add your voice today

Stop Funding Overfishing 

More than one third of the world's fish stocks are overexploited 

In June 2022, World Trade Organization (WTO) members reached a historic agreement to tackle harmful fisheries subsidies, including those subsidies that go to illegal, unreported, or unregulated (IUU) fishing, the fishing of overfished stocks, and fishing in the unregulated high seas. 

Now we need governments to ratify the treaty at home so it can enter into force. You can help to keep the pressure up! Let’s make it happen. Join the #StopFundingOverfishing campaign. Find out how you can make a difference.  

Global groups call greenwash on BAP-labelled farmed salmon  

Recently, Living Oceans led a global alliance of 76 groups denouncing the Best Aquaculture Practices’ farmed salmon certification as greenwash.  

The groups cited damning evidence of numerous BAP certified farms and facilities associated with environmental damage, illegal activity, and/or negative impacts to endangered species. Examples were from all major salmon farming regions: the U.S., Norway, Chile, Scotland, Australia – and of course, Canada.   

In B.C., Cermaq and Mowi farms are BAP certified. The BAP standard has no metric limits on sea lice numbers on certified farms, or any restrictions on farms releasing disease agents such as Piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) or Tenacibaculum maritimum – despite the risks they pose to wild salmon.  Farms with sea lice levels as high as 51 lice per fish likely have entered the marketplace under the guise of the BAP label.  

Unfortunately, BAP and other farmed salmon certifications have become entrenched in grocers’ sustainable seafood policies. Several Canadian grocers use the BAP certification and label to sell open net-pen salmon as ‘sustainable’, including Loblaws, Sobeys, METRO, and Walmart. Read our cheat sheet on farmed salmon certifications for seafood shoppers. 

Jurisdictions such as the European Union have recently introduced mandatory environmental and human rights due diligence for corporations.  This means large companies will be required to address negative environmental and social impacts within their supply chains, regardless of certification. Living Oceans and SeaChoice are advocating for Canada to follow suit with similar due diligence requirements.  

Coastal Marine Strategy released: implementation next big step

BC’s first Coastal Marine Strategy was released July 11.  It is a holistic vision with a 20-year horizon to guide how we will steward and manage the coast – in a more proactive and coordinated way than before. Excellent news, for sure; but now the hard work of translating it into enforceable legislation and regulation begins.  Because we all know how many good plans are collecting dust while piecemeal development erodes the integrity of our coasts. 

The Strategy was co-developed by the Government of BC and coastal First Nations, and included public feedback from those who live and work along the coastline. Implementation of the new Strategy will be co-managed by the Province and First Nations. 

Why is this big news? Because this shows BC is taking its responsibility to care for the coast seriously and is committed to fixing the problems stemming from the fragmented way the Province has been managing coastal issues. The partnership with First Nations is a big step toward reconciliation, particularly because the Nations involved live and work on the coast and have often borne the brunt of poor land management practices. 

The Strategy outlines four themes: healthy coastal marine ecosystems, resilience to climate change, thriving coastal economies and communities, and informed governance. Under these themes are nine goals and 24 supporting actions to achieve its vision. 

Read more about it

View the Coastal Marine Strategy.

B.C. waters home to Canada's largest marine protected area

Canada’s newest marine protected area is the largest to be recognized under Canada's Oceans Act. Established in partnership with the Council of the Haida Nation, the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, the Pacheedaht First Nation and the Quatsino First Nation, the area is huge, spanning more than 133,000 square kilometres. It stretches from the U.S. territorial boundary to around the mid-point between Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii. 

The area has been named, Tang.Gwan — hacxwiqak — Tsigis. This name combines a Haida word meaning deep ocean, a Pacheedaht word meaning deepest part of the ocean and a Quatsino word referring to a monster of the deep. 

As the name suggests, the MPA was established to protect 47 seamounts and all of Canada’s hydrothermal ocean vents—biological ‘hotspots’ that also have cultural significance for the Nations. Fisheries and Oceans Canada claims that this MPA brings Canada half-way toward the goal of 30X30. As always, the actual achievement of that goal will depend on the management plans and their enforcement, not just the ocean area designated for protection. 

Find out more

Photo public domain NOAA.

What We’re Reading

A short list of inspiring reading or information we’ve been digging into. 

Facing the red flag: The imperative of Atlantic mackerel recovery report by Christina Callegari 

“An ocean without mackerel, one of the key forage species in the Atlantic, would have dire effects on the ecosystem and people. Many marine animals, including the endangered porbeagle and shortfin mako sharks, marlins, seabirds, porpoises and whales, hunt the energy rich mackerel. Indigenous peoples have fished the abundant mackerel for millennia in this region and continue to do so for food, cultural, and economic value. The commercial lobster fishery, which is the economic backbone of many of our coastal communities, has relied heavily on mackerel for bait. It remains one of the last marine fish that everyone in Atlantic Canada can access for food and recreation – a strong Maritime tradition and a favorite pastime of newcomers. Mackerel connects everyday people to marine ecosystems.” 

“Salmon Wars” tells the story of salmon in the Northwest in a way you haven’t heard before — through the voices of one Yakama Nation family who have been fighting for salmon for generations. 

Marine collagen is all the rage in anti-aging. What does that mean for fish?  

"Like any fishery or aquaculture product, there can be sustainable or unsustainable sources," said Roebuck of Living Oceans. 

"It is impossible for consumers to know what species is being utilized and whether they are contributing to overfishing, marine degradation or even illegal activities." 

  • A Sea Full of Turtles

Bill Streever’s, A Sea Full of Turtles, is a study in optimism. Yes, humans have proven to be the species most responsible for extinction events, but without hope who will do anything about it? Hopelessness sinks the human race into lethargy and inertia. After all, why fight for nature if the battle is already lost? Streever’s book is an ode on how important optimism is not only as part of life but as a touchstone in the conservation movement and how much can be done if you stay hopeful. 

Visit Ecolit books to view a full Q & A with the author 

Purchase the book from your local bookstore.