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Oceans Update September 2022

Salmon Farm Removals: Progress Report

At Living Oceans, we’re living the process of salmon farm removal daily. For readers who are following at a more sane distance, we’ll begin with a short recap of the progress to date:

In the Broughton Archipelago, near Port Hardy and Port McNeill, First Nations are leading the removal process. As at the end of 2022, 14 farms will have been closed; 5 continue to operate into 2023 pending ongoing discussions concerning their future. In the south-eastern part of the region, a further 3 farms operated by Grieg Seafood (which is not subscribed to the Broughton Agreement) continue to operate with the consent of only one of the Nations who share that territory. A fourth farm has been proposed but not yet approved for the same region.

In the Discovery Islands, near Campbell River, 16 Atlantic salmon farms previously closed by order of former Fisheries Minister Jordan in December of 2020 remain closed, while two smaller farms growing Pacific salmon species were allowed to continue to operate. Fisheries Minister Murray is currently consulting with industry and the Nations concerning the ultimate fate of those farms, in accordance with a Federal Court ruling. A decision on those farms is anticipated early next year.

All of the other farms on the coast were granted 2-year licences in June of this year, to provide time to create the Transition Plan that will fulfill the government’s promise to “work with the Province and First Nations to create a plan to transition salmon farms from B.C. waters by 2025”.

Wild salmon are responding

Early indications are that the closures to date have had positive impacts on wild salmon survival. Pink salmon, which return on a 2-year cycle, rebounded in one Broughton river (the Ahta, or Hada) from an estimated low of about 900 fish to over 11,000 this year, after their migration route was cleared by some of the earliest Broughton Agreement closures. This performance recalls to mind the 2003 experimental fallowing of 4 Broughton farms, which resulted in the pink populations of the region rebounding from what was then a shocking low of 77,000 fish to 978,000. These numbers remain a far cry from the 3-4 million fish that the region was producing before salmon farming expanded into the Broughton, but they do signal a clear capacity to rebuild given half the chance.

Sockeye salmon returns are indicative of the impacts of farms as well: to the north and south of B.C.’S salmon farms, sockeye returned in record numbers this year. Bristol Bay, Alaska saw the highest returns ever on record. The Columbia River predictions were exceeded by 60%, with most of those fish being Okanagan native stocks. But on the west coast of Vancouver Island, only Barkley Sound (where there are no salmon farms) saw a doubling of expected returns. The Fraser River sockeye, which were exposed to active farms in the Discovery Islands and beyond as they migrated out to sea, are returning at little more than half of their predicted numbers.

Next year’s Fraser sockeye returns will be the first to show what impact the closure of Discovery Islands salmon farms has had. The smolts sampled in 2020 as they passed through that area were remarkably free of lice and were not exposed to elevated levels of bacteria and viruses known to occur around those farms.  They were, however, exposed to farms along the northerly portion of their migration through Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound. Only time will tell how many survived.

Transition Plan Consultations: False Start

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) was tasked by the Minister with undertaking consultations on the content of the Transition Plan that will guide the removal of salmon farms from B.C. waters. Living Oceans attended a consultation on September 1. Several First Nations consultations had taken place prior to this. The combined outrage of those consulted on the plan resulted in the whole procedure being stopped in its tracks by the Minister.

Why the outrage? The Plan that is supposed to ‘transition salmon farms from B.C. waters by 2025’ had morphed under DFO’s hand into a plan to regulate them a bit better and leave them in the water until “some time down the road”. (Direct quote from consultation facilitator; 2025 had somehow become meaningless.) The industry should be allowed time to experiment with “promising technologies” that might “reduce interactions” with wild salmon.


Semi-closed containment system trailed by Cermaq in Clayoquot Sound. Credit: Clayoquot Action.

Meanwhile, the only ‘promising technologies’ we’ve seen implemented were the floating bag  trialed by Cermaq in Clayoquot Sound   (which killed its stocked fish) and the addition of “tarps” to net pens, heralded by Grieg Seafood as “cutting edge technology” in the media. Both systems continue to spew pathogens, pollutants and parasites directly into wild salmon habitat.


Semi-closed containment system trailed by Cermaq in Clayoquot Sound. Credit:Clayoquot Action.

While this may sound purely evil in view of the dire condition of our salmon stocks, it arises naturally within the alternate universe in which DFO’s aquaculture management has been operating for 30 years—a universe in which salmon farms have no adverse impact on wild salmon; the sea lice come from somewhere else and are a natural phenomenon; and the viral and bacterial disease wasn’t either introduced or amplified on salmon farms but is also, alas, a natural phenomenon that’s been really hard on wild fish. In this universe, all of this proves that farmed fish are essential to feed the world.

In short, the course on which DFO was set would compound its decades-old failure to adopt precautionary, ecosystem-based management of fisheries by perpetuating the salmon farming industry until wild salmon and the ecosystems they support are dead and gone. It is hardly conceivable that anyone charged with regulating a public resource would do such a thing. It can only be explained by institutionalized denial of the facts exposed by scientists working in the public interest. And in that regard, DFO excels.

As we go to press, we have no idea what will come of the Minister’s intervention in the consultation process. We have written to her to assure her that there are no promising technologies on the global horizon that will prevent the harm that industrial open net-pen salmon farming does to wild Pacific salmon, other than land-based, closed containment. We have asked that the public survey briefly opened by DFO be completely redrafted to eliminate the underlying assumption of business as usual with some regulatory tweaks and permit Canadians to provide their views on the desired end-points of the transition, as well as the route to getting there.

In our view, the Transition Plan should focus on supporting alternate economic development opportunities for the First Nations and coastal communities that will be on the front lines of transition. It should provide retraining and interim support for workers. And it should offer incentives to industry to upgrade their land-based hatcheries to full grow-out operations. Most importantly of all, it should give industry a firm date at which all net-pen salmon farms will be removed from B.C. waters, whether they accept the incentives to begin land-based operations or not.

A huge success: Clear the Coast wraps up for 2022

Author: Karen Wristen, Executive Director


Photo: The 2022 Clear the Coast crew. (Left to right: Leo Routledge, Charles Lam, Eric Grantner, Lee Sichello, Jasper Shore, Karen Wristen, David Jensen and West Coast Helicopters Pilot Mike Aldersey)

Living Oceans’ volunteer crews managed to remove an estimated ten tonnes of plastic debris from northern Vancouver Island beaches this year, in two expeditions in June and September. The bulk of that debris came from Cox Island, the nearest of the Scott Islands and part of the marine National Wildlife Area established primarily to protect seabird colonies. We also worked on the Laura Creek area of the North Coast Trail, as well as our ‘usual’ beaches at Lowrie Bay, Sea Otter Cove and San Josef Bay.

The June expedition was a lightening-fast ‘glamping trip’: sharing helicopter time with the Cape Scott park operator, we dropped in a crew of six and all our supplies and set to work immediately. With only a couple of kilometers of hiking involved, in two days we had the beach scoured and lifts ready for the helicopter. Each of us hooked up a lift and then headed back to camp to be collected at the end of the third day. Laura Creek was one of the worst-impacted stretches of the North Coast Trail and one that we hadn’t cleared since 2019—we found it covered in cargo spilled from the Zim Kingston container ship, as well as the usual fishing and aquaculture debris.

We had planned our usual two-week boat trip into Sea Otter Cove for August, but had to cancel when our supply/transport boat blew its engine cooling-water pump two days out from Vancouver. We lost two weeks to repairs and returning home. All was not lost, however…


Photo: A substantial debris pile collected by volunteers

Our newest partner in plastic cleanup, David Jensen, had planned to be out on his paddleboard for most of the summer, joining us when we arrived and staying on for the heli-lifts. As an experienced outdoorsman, used to working alone and living off the land, he was not to be deterred by the absence of the entire crew and supply boat. He just carried on collecting and piling debris, confident that we’d figure something out. David single-handedly collected most of the total tonnage we brought in this year; and he bagged and prepared lifts to the extent he could with the supplies he carried on his paddleboard. In total, he prepared or identified 13 caches of debris for our crew to tackle when they arrived.


Photo: Volunteer David Jensen

David has recently started his own organization, aptly named Lonepaddle Conservationists Society and if you’d like to donate in appreciation of his awesome feat, you can find his website at www.lonepaddle.org.


Photo: Ropes are a common form of marine debris

With the generous support of the Shaw Family Foundation and the Canadian Wildlife Service, we were able to secure two days of helicopter support which we put to maximum good use! On September 17, our crew drove out to Cape Scott Provincial Park to meet a helicopter that took us directly to Cox Island, where two crews of three tackled two of the worst beaches. With an expensive helicopter waiting, and weather unlikely to remain fair for long, we worked at top speed to clear beaches so exposed that much of the debris was well above the usual high-tide line.

Our first full load was ready by about 2pm and from then until 6pm, we kept the helicopter busy moving debris back to the Park’s parking lot for transfer to a truck. Six very tired workers were then dropped into our favourite campsite at Sea Otter Cove to prepare camp and dine by firelight.

It was a short and subdued campfire for sure: everyone was needing sleep to prepare for the next day’s work, lifting David’s 13 caches! But the night sky was so compelling, it was hard to leave the comfort of a reclaimed tailgate cover (courtesy of the Zim Kingston spill, it made a surprisingly comfortable fireside sit-upon), so a certain amount of star-gazing and story-telling did take place before a night unfortunately punctuated by frequently-distressed geese. We theorized a wolf was on the prowl.

West Coast Helicopters’ Mike Aldersey is a storied pilot in these regions: he can fly a longline like nobody else. Let’s just say we gave him lots of opportunity to show us his stuff the next day! Between repositioning crews to the various lift sites, he picked up some prepared lifts on his own while we worked to bag and string up all manner of debris from tiny plastic particles to broken boats and enormous tires. David’s agility on the paddleboard meant he’d gotten into places we could never have reached in our boats, but the helicopter could either land, or hover low, to get the crew in there to clean up.

The last little pocket beach we tackled yielded nearly a tonne by itself, including two huge hawsers (4” diameter tow ropes) and innumerable bundles of smaller rope that might have refloated to entangle whales, sea lions or seals. There were so many fishing floats that we lost count; enormous pieces of foam; Zim Kingston debris and finally, a 100 foot long piece of PVC pipe.

That beach alone confirmed our belief that the only way to really get ahead of the plastic debris circulating in the region is to do more of exactly what we did: hopscotching crews from one pocket to the next, cleaning and lifting as we go. There’s no way to get these massive amounts of plastic out by water, given the treacherous rocky approaches to shore on the North Island. Doing the work by helicopter is really the only answer, albeit an expensive one. 

We are deeply indebted to all of our supporters who’ve donated to Clear the Coast; and to B.C. Parks, the Shaw Family Foundation and the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment and Climate Change Canada, all of whom provided support for this year’s operation. We also thank Dan Carter of Port Hardy, whose trucking services have expanded to include bed and board for our volunteers as well as connections to whatever we need whenever we need it. Thanks to Lee Sichello for opening his home to volunteers as well as volunteering himself; to Christoff for supporting David and Jasper; and to our longtime volunteers Eric Grantner, Charles Lam and Leo Routledge for the hard work, high spirits and humour you bring to our expeditions.

 

Would you like to get involved with Clear the Coast?

Through Clear the Coast we work to protect sensitive foreshore, recovering habitat polluted by ocean plastics. Learn how you can volunteer with us and support our work.

Please note that, while we are extremely grateful for the work that David Jensen has done and confident in his expertise, we do NOT recommend that paddleboarders attempt to follow in his footsteps without contacting him first.  The west coast of Vancouver Island has some of the most dangerous waters in the Province, with few safe landfalls, especially in these northern regions. A thorough understanding of the winds, tides, currents and perils of landing is required; and fresh water supplies can be limited to non-existent.

 

The ASC eco-label’s new sea lice limits protect salmon farmers, not wild salmon

In British Columbia and globally, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) eco-certification continues to lower their bar on the criteria net-pen salmon farms should meet in order to be certified. This time, in the new Salmon Standard published this September, they do so by allowing fish to be certified as “responsibly farmed” as long as they meet sea lice limits set by governments. These are the exact same limits that have failed to protect juvenile wild salmon from sea lice outbreaks; and they are an order of magnitude higher than the limits in the original Salmon Standard. The new standard is set to take effect from February 1, 2023.

For BC farms, the change doesn't mean much. The ASC had already begun allowing BC salmon farms to be certified if they met Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) ’s sea lice regime - with bad results. Since 2015, salmon from ASC farms with dangerously high lice loads have been sold into the marketplace with their “farmed responsibly” label. There were next to no repercussions for certified farms who breached DFO’s three  motile limit, from either DFO or ASC. Instead, wild salmon paid the price (as well as none-the-wiser shoppers).

Perhaps in acknowledgement that giving the green tick to salmon with high lice loads doesn’t look too great, the ASC has introduced a new 21-day deadline for farms to bring lice levels down below the limit or face not the loss of labelling privileges. While this hopefully means we will no longer see ASC-certified farms with sea lice levels as high as 31 lice per fish entering the marketplace, nothing prevents a farm during the three-week period from harvesting and selling their fish with the ASC label.

During the consultation phase of the sea lice changes, multiple conservation groups criticized ASC’s move to simply defer to local regulations – arguing that ASC should go beyond regulations to be considered credible. Unfortunately, the ASC did not heed the conservation community’s calls. Instead, it appears they chose business-as-usual practices over wild salmon protections.

 

Catching the polluter: new collaboration to report container ship debris

2,000 containers of consumer goods have been spilled into the North Pacific over the last few years, contaminating BC’s shorelines and putting marine life at a serious risk.

In response, Living Oceans and Rugged Coast Research Society have teamed up to promote a simple tracking app to report container spill debris washing up on Vancouver Island’s remote beaches. By creating a detailed database of container spill debris locations and concentrations, we will be able to inform clean up efforts and help build cases to hold those responsible for these disasters accountable.

The reporting app is available for free download and is accompanied by a simple guidance document, including photo references of the debris we are looking to track.

If you’re exploring Vancouver Island’s remote coastlines, help protect what you love and report marine debris! Download the app today.