Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Oceans Update September

Send a letter today - remind the Prime Minister to keep his promise

You may have already sent a letter or signed a petition to remove open-net pen salmon farms in the last six months, but as Prime Minister Trudeau and his new Fisheries Minister work to reveal the long-awaited Transition Plan for B.C. salmon farms this fall it is more imperative than ever to let them know they have to keep their promise. 

Send a letter to remind Prime Minister Trudeau that his government needs to fulfill its promise and transition all open-net pen salmon farms out by 2025. Tell him you expect to see that in the new Minister's mandate letter.

Salmon Farm Transition: to what, when and how?

Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent cabinet shuffle gave us a new Fisheries Minister: Diane Lebouthillier is the seventeenth person to hold that office since our campaign to reform salmon farming began. Mme. Lebouthillier hails from the Gaspé; her Parliamentary Secretary, Mike Kelloway, is from Cape Breton. Once again, we face a big job of education! The best interpretation we can come up with for these appointments is that the Prime Minister wanted to ensure that his Fisheries Minister could deliver on the mandate to remove B.C. salmon farms without suffering for it in local polls.  That is faint recompense for the loss of former Minister Joyce Murray, who put so much time into understanding this file. 

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) was expected to release the long-awaited Transition Plan for B.C. salmon farms this month, but with the new appointments in place, we expect further delay. In fact, further delay would be helpful, as it’s going to take some time to unpack all that’s wrong with the Transition Plan consultation for the new Minister. 

In the final round of consultation, the Department was clearly pushing an extension for farms beyond the 2025 date in the former Minister’s mandate (the new Minister doesn’t yet have her marching orders). The questions it posed for consultation tried to direct respondents to reflect on the potential loss of employment and economic activity—both Provincial concerns. The potential outcomes for wild salmon, should the farms be removed, didn’t really figure into the questions at all.  This is not surprising, as DFO continues to insist they do no more than minimal harm to wild salmon. In that fiction, removing the farms would have no effect. 

Meantime, the industry is busy investing in technology that doesn’t solve the problem. It is no doubt responding to the consultation framework, which asked that they ‘reduce or eliminate interactions’ with wild salmon. The ‘interactions’ were never specified, so there is no way to measure reduction or elimination. The technology being installed is intended to reduce the impact of lice on the farms but has not been shown effective at eliminating sea lice altogether. It also does nothing to control the liquid and solid effluent, which we now know to be laced with bacteria and viruses that cause disease in wild salmon.  It also continues to rely on open-net pens to grow the fish to market size, so the DFO version of ‘transition from open-net pens’ includes a transition to…open-net pens. 

We can only hope that, with the number of pressing issues on the new Minister’s agenda, she listens to her B.C. colleagues, all of whom are supportive of the mandate because you have told them you insist that they get the job done!   

Take Action:  Tell the Prime Minister’s office you still care

Eco-certifications in the hot seat

Certifications are supposed to help shoppers make environmentally friendly purchases. Yet watchdogging by conservation organizations, including Living Oceans, shows that certifications often fail to live up to their promises to shoppers. The last couple of months has seen a flurry of exposés on greenwashing by seafood certifications.  

First, Living Oceans led an alliance of more than 80 groups across the globe calling on the Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and GLOBALG.A.P. to revoke their certifications from Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania, due to unequivocal evidence that salmon farms operations in the harbour are the primary threat to the endangered Maugean skate. Instead of taking the concern seriously, both certifications so far have dug their heels in by stating farms meet local regulations and, thus, meet their certification requirements. 

But surely if local regulations aren’t adequately protecting an endangered species, shouldn’t that be enough of a red flag for sustainability certifications to not grant certification?! Apparently, not so. Similarly, and closer to home, since 2015, Living Oceans and our SeaChoice allies have been calling out the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) for weakening their requirements and deferring to local regulations that don’t protect endangered wild salmon.  

It's not just Tasmania or British Columbia that are experiencing a greenwash of farmed salmon. This month our Scottish counterparts, WildFish, released a report aptly titled Responsibly Farmed? The report investigates ASC, RSPCA Assured and the Soil Association Organic certifications. Examples of irresponsible practices include how salmon farms managed to keep their ASC certification despite breaching (weak) sea lice requirements; and how parasiticide chemicals are allowed under the Soil Association’s so called “organic” certification. WildFish summed up the certification schemes as being “little more than a greenwashing operation”.  

And it’s not just salmon farming certifications that greenwash. The French marine organization, BLOOM, didn’t hold back with their new report, on the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), titled The Death Label: The MSC’s fake sustainability but true destruction of tuna populations. The report finds that MSC has consistently weakened its standard in order to certify some of the world’s largest tuna fisheries that use unsustainable Fish-Aggregating Devices (FADs). FADs are associated with bycatch of juvenile tuna, sharks and turtles. Until 2011, 100% of MSC-certified tuna was from small-scale low impact fisheries such as pole and line. Today, around half of all MSC certified tuna are from FAD fisheries (approx. 1.2 billion kilos). 

Undoubtedly, these certifications are making dubious and uncredible endorsements of farms and fisheries that are harmful to our oceans and marine life. However, importantly, major grocers should also bear responsibility for promoting the certifications instore. Both BLOOM and WildFish call out the grocery stores for misleading consumers with these certifications.  

Meanwhile, a petition has emerged telling the major Australian grocers to stop selling BAP and GLOBALG.A.P. certified Macquarie Harbour salmon. It’s a global petition – so add your name today!  

Living Oceans and SeaChoice have created a handy guide for shoppers on how the farmed salmon certifications stack up. We also score Canadian grocers and major seafood brands based on whether they use credible certifications, or not. Check out how your grocery store scores on Seafood Progress.  

Amazing Pink Salmon Returns and Salmon Farm Closures

This year saw phenomenal returns of wild pink salmon to the Fraser River, together with stronger-than-expected sockeye returns.  This has Living Oceans’ staff cautiously optimistic that removing salmon farms works to improve early marine survival and thus, adult returns of fish.  Is it proof? No, all the scientists say they’d need to see a sustained trend in favour of increased returns and rule out other factors.  But it is evidence that tends to support the proposition that young wild salmon were dying from exposure to salmon farm lice and pathogens. When this year’s adult pink salmon went to sea as smolts, the Discovery Islands and the Broughton salmon farms were almost all closed. 

This year’s evidence doesn’t stand alone. We have three examples of situations where increased returns of spawning salmon followed the removal or fallowing of farms during the outmigration:  

  • In 2003, farms in the Broughton area were free of adult salmon during the outmigration period under the terms of the Broughton Archipelago Action Plan.  In 2004, returns to the Wakeman River, Kingcome River, Ahta River, Kakweiken River, Ahnuhati River and Glendale Creek showed dramatic increases. A subsequent paper authored by, inter alia, Richard Beamish and Simon Jones, confirmed that early marine survival of pink salmon had increased from 1-2% to 34% and attributed the increase to a combination of reduced lice pressure and increased nutrients, saying, “The processes responsible for the high marine survival cannot be identified with certainty, but they could include increased freshwater discharge in 2003, which may have resulted in lower salinity less favourable to sea louse production, increased inflow of nutrient-rich water to the study area, and the introduction of a Provincial Action Plan that required mandatory louse monitoring and established a fallowed migration corridor for pink salmon.”1 

  • In 2022, following the closure of farms identified as being on the migration route of the Ahta River pink salmon pursuant to the terms of the Broughton Agreement, returns to the Ahta River increased by a factor of 10. 

  • In 2023, Fraser River salmon are returning in higher numbers than the most generous pre-season estimates following the closure of Discovery Islands salmon farms and most of those in the Broughton.  The pink salmon run size was upgraded from a pre-season estimate of 6 million fish to 15 million.  Pink salmon abundance appears to be higher than usual globally this year; however, it remains to be seen whether such abundance occurs in areas with active salmon farms such as Klemtu and the West Coast of Vancouver Island. 

In addition to the evidence of increased returns following reduced exposure to active salmon farms, there is evidence of improved outcomes for juvenile salmon following farm removal. In a paper in press (Routledge and Morton, 2023), authors report a 96% decline in average sea lice per juvenile wild pink and chum salmon sampled in the Discovery Islands over the period 2020 to 2022. The decline in lice infestation could not be explained by variations in temperature or salinity and was co-incident with the closure of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands. 

Industry has been quick to jump on these findings to discredit them, saying that their ‘independent’ biologist (the one who does all the sampling for all the farms every year) didn’t find any difference in lice levels after farm closure. Could be because he invented the concept and location of some “pre-exposure” sampling sites, with no scientific merit; and is comparing lice levels on smolts exposed to salmon farm effluent with lice levels on smolts exposed to salmon farm effluent. Little wonder he found no difference! 

Purchase “Gumboot Guys” and Support Living Oceans

We are excited to announce, from the editors of Gumboot Girls and Dancing in Gumboots comes Gumboot Guys. The writers of this book have generously decided to donate all royalties from the book to the Living Oceans Society. 

“Gumboot Girls and Dancing in Gumboots chronicled the fascinating and inspiring stories of the 1970’s migration of women seeking a new way of life on BC’s West Coast, from Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii to the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. But what about the men who came in search of their own adventure, who became smitten with boats and the smell of salty air? Now, Gumboot Guys joins the two previous collections in chronicling this exciting decade, when all seemed possible.” 

Read a book with first-hand stories of a generation of men who answered the call of the sea and support ocean health! You can preorder now through Caitlin Press Gumboot Guys | Caitlin Press 

Show your support for the writers and editors by following them on Facebook and thanking them for their support 

There will be an event to celebrate this wonderful gesture of generosity and the wonderful book that has been born out of the creativity and hard work of the editors and writers. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to get the invitation. 

Clear the Coast 2023: Good news and bad news

When the dust finally settles behind us on northern Vancouver Island’s logging roads, Living Oceans will have cleared just over 10.5 tonnes of plastic marine debris from sensitive foreshore environments in 2023, bringing our total collection to date to nearly 70 tonnes. 

Those numbers may not seem staggering until you consider how lightweight plastic is and what the volume really looks like. 

If we could pile up those 70 tonnes of plastic debris into a perfect cube, it would stand about 635 meters high, wide and deep. If we stood atop that cube next to the CN tower, we’d be nearly 30 average building stories higher than the tower’s peak.  It would dwarf Vancouver’s tallest building, the Living Shangri-La Hotel, which just tops 200 meters. 

It boggles the mind to think we’ve had our hands on that much plastic!  Of course, not one of us does it alone. 

I have to thank the many unknown hikers who took the trouble to pile debris above the high tide line, where it would wait safely until we came along to bag it. Some names were passed along—Suzanne & Brett, Maria & David, I hope you’re reading this and know how much we appreciate what you did.  Every hour that you save us searching for plastic means more beaches can be cleared of dangerous debris. 

Thanks also to passing sailor Jay Blackmore, who stayed to work with us for a day and generously replenished our freshwater supply. 

Our volunteer teams were a mix of veterans of Clear the Coast and new members joining us for their first full-on wilderness work camp experience. The dry conditions meant hiking to beaches near our base camps was easy; but the extremely high tides during our August expedition limited our work days and forced us to establish ‘suburbs’ to the base camp in the forest clearings usually favoured by napping bears. In Sea Otter Cove, we were treated to a visit from the wolf pack and serenaded well into the night. The bears and wolves foraging in the intertidal zone remind us that we do this work for them, as well as for the marine life that is threatened with entanglement in or ingestion of floating marine debris. 

Occasionally, we are also reminded that we do this work for other people, too. I recently received a lovely email from a woman volunteering for our next cleanup, who had just returned from Guise Bay on the Cape Scott Trail.  She wrote, “I was saddened but also extremely grateful when I looked at the photos of the work you all did there in June. I can’t imagine how devastated I would have been had I come across a beach in that condition, prior to your clean.” Only a month later, she had found enough debris already re-accumulated to make a pile above the high-tide line.  

This work takes many friends and allies, and we are fortunate indeed to count among them David Jensen of Lonepaddle Conservationists Society. David’s story this year is both wonderful and tragic.  

After working alone on his paddleboard for several weeks, as he prefers, David had amassed 12 caches of debris ready for the helicopter—certainly over 2 tonnes of debris he collected single-handedly. When we arrived at Sea Otter Cove in late August, he was still working on the last one up by Hanson’s Lagoon. We asked the helicopter pilot to go find him and bring as many of his caches as possible back to Sea Otter for sorting, so they could go directly to the recycling depot or landfill. 

By the time the debris was safely landed in Sea Otter, the weather was turning. David was facing a very rough paddle of about 12 km in a building sea if he were to join us in the shelter of Sea Otter before the storm really hit. Rather than risk it, he accepted a ride from the helicopter…and that’s when things went south.  Literally. 

Both of his paddleboards and a surfboard dropped from the helilift, smashing on contact with the rocks and water below. Over $8000-worth of gear was lost in seconds. 

To understand the magnitude of this loss for David isn’t all that hard. He works winters to support his paddleboard habit, which involves getting himself into places that no boat will safely go, to bag up marine debris for Living Oceans’ annual cleanup.  

Why does he do it? A recent interview with chek News takes a dive into his motivations. He does this as a volunteer, because he is offended by plastic debris on otherwise pristine shores. He cares deeply for the health of the wildlife that visits his summertime doings. And he clearly thrives on the feeling of a job well done. 

All of this will explain why we’ve decided to launch a Go Fund Me campaign to help David replace his gear. If you’d like to help, please CLICK HERE and be sure to share! 

Get Ready to Support Blue Friday

Living Oceans was honoured to be chosen by the non-profit Blue Friday as its grant recipient for the 2022/2023 plastic marine debris removal season. Blue Friday is a brand-driven philanthropic endeavour that seeks to turn the concept of “Black Friday” on its head: “Our mission is to change the conversation around Black Friday and give people the ability to both shop and also make a positive impact. Our brand partners dedicate a per cent of sales to ocean conservation and we put that money to work on measurable, impact driven projects. By supporting our partners on Black Friday, you're supporting ocean conservation.” 

Blue Friday’s goal for our grant was to remove 10,000 lb of harmful plastics from the remote and inaccessible shores of the Scott Islands and northern Vancouver Island. We are pleased to be able to report that we more than doubled that goal, bringing in 10.5 metric tonnes, or 23,184.54 lb., of plastic debris. 

Blue Friday was started by a group of young entrepreneurs including former Living Oceans volunteer Jeff Duke, who not only donated corporate profit to our past cleanups but also brought his staff to help us do the work. Now, he’s attracted a cohort of like-minded businesses that understand that their customers appreciate values-driven vendors. 

Check out the Blue Friday partners at  Shopping with them on Blue Friday (November 24, 2023) will help us do even more next year—because Blue Friday has chosen us as their funding project for a second year! Sadly, we can pretty much guarantee that we’ll meet our exceed the goal for another year: there is just so much plastic and foam out there. 

Running your own business and like what you see? Contact Blue Friday and see what level of engagement works for you. 

Last Chance to Submit Your Photo to the Ocean Exposures Photo Contest

Wow! The photo entries so far for the contest this year are amazing. We know it is going to be extremely difficult for our judge, Andrew S. Wright to decide the winners in the “Below the Surface”, “Coastal Wildlife” and “Work or Play on the Ocean” categories. 

It’s not too late to be nature’s champion! Help showcase the beauty of the ocean and support the protection of this important resource by unleashing your inner shutterbug and letting your creativity shine.  

There are still a few more days until the contest closes. You don’t want to miss out on the best prize packages in the history of the contest – worth between $100-$850. You have until midnight September 30, 2023, to upload your photo submissions. Visit the PHOTO CONTEST WEBSITE to learn more about eligibility requirements and enter the contest! 

Need some tips on taking great photos? Our newest sponsor, Learning Photography Canada [link], has provided a video the great pointers. Take a look at the video now. [link] 

Don’t forget that the winner of ‘Sea Huggers Choice’ is decided by you! Voting will be open from October 1 - 31, 2023. Keep an eye on our social media Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to get the link to vote for your favourite photo.  

The photo contest winners will be announced between October 31-November 6, 2023.  

We are able to provide wonderful gift packages for our winners because of the amazing support of our sponsors.  

Need some inspiration? You can view the 2022 winning photos here

Help thank our sponsors by visiting their website and following them on social media: