Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.
A B C

Oceans Update Summer 2021

Salmon Farms: 25% of a promise kept

Removing fish farms works!

All of the signs are pointing to an early fall election and it’s a critical one for wild salmon. Our next federal government inherits salmon and herring teetering on extinction, whales still starved for want of Chinook salmon and something on the order of 93 salmon farms yet to be closed down.

The current government was elected on a promise to “work with the province to develop a responsible plan to transition from open net pen salmon farming in coastal waters to closed containment systems by 2025.” Thanks primarily to the efforts of First Nations, 27 industrial salmon feedlot sites are scheduled to close over 2022-2023 in the Broughton and Discovery Islands. But that’s only about a quarter of the job done and time, as they say, is a-wasting.

We need your help to pull out all the stops during this election cycle, to ensure salmon farms are removed from B.C. waters before all of the salmon and herring are gone. Your donations allow us the freedom to lobby politicians for the change you want and right now, it’s the most effective thing we can do to protect wild salmon. Can you help us with a donation today?

All of the federal parties are putting their platforms together right now and they’re taking the pulse in every province.  B.C. voters have already told the pollsters that the salmon crisis is top of mind. We need to tell all parties that you understand the salmon crisis has a lot of causes, but that you expect them to fix the big one that’s relatively easy to reverse: closing salmon farms has immediate impact on wild salmon survival.

Help us to reach out to the public and the politicians to ensure that nobody standing for election in this province is in any doubt: their success depends on the strength of their commitment to removing this menace from our waters; and working on restoring ocean health.

Argentina did it--just the other day, their legislators passed a bill unanimously banning open netpen salmon farming, making it the first country in the world to do so.  Hats off to our friends at Rewilding Argentina, who pulled together a diverse base of support and demanded action from their representatives.  It can work...but only if we speak up.  Read on in this Oceans Update to find out how to send a letter to your MP!

As always, thanks for all you do.

Ocean Exposures Photo Contest is ON!

Humpback tail scene

Our annual photo contest, Ocean Exposures, is now open for entries!  Visit our website for contest details.

Aquaculture Eco-Certifications. Legit or industry greenwash?

certification logos

Eco-certifications can be found on all types of farmed seafood from Atlantic salmon, shrimp, basa and tilapia. But can we really trust their promises of ‘responsible practices’? One tell-tale sign is who is included – or excluded – in the schemes’ behind-the-scenes systems that make an eco-certification legitimate or a potential greenwash.

Eco-certifications are less likely to be considered ‘greenwash’ if they have buy-in and support from civil society stakeholders such as environmental NGOs, Indigenous peoples and other local communities. But obtaining such support means schemes need to be inclusive and transparent – or risk being seen as ‘the fox guarding the henhouse’.

Living Oceans and SeaChoice reviewed how inclusive and transparent the three most prominent aquaculture eco-certifications, Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) and GLOBALG.A.P., are to civil society stakeholders. Our latest report, Accountability in Seafood Sustainability, found all three certifications engage with civil society stakeholders in some form or another, though, some more so than others.  

It is an unfortunate truth that, globally, aquaculture operations often lack transparency and consultation – both from the industry and governments. Concerningly, our report found some auditing practices of the voluntary eco-certifications are no better. For example, consumers and civil society stakeholders won’t find any published audit reports to demonstrate a farm’s compliance with the BAP or GLOBALG.A.P. standards. In addition, both lack a requirement to consult with local stakeholders during farm audits. Even more concerning is the fact that the governance body, that oversees their standard criteria, for GLOBALG.A.P. is exclusively industry members.

While the ASC was found to be the most inclusive and transparent eco-certification; this doesn’t guarantee meaningful stakeholder engagement or a robust and scientifically rigorous standard. Something Living Oceans knows all too well given our experience actively watchdogging the ASC certification in B.C. salmon farms and around the world.

So, should you buy that eco-certified farmed salmon? The transition of open-net pen salmon farms from B.C. waters to land-based closed containment needs to happen to protect our wild salmon. For this reason alone, Living Oceans recommends avoiding open-net pen farmed salmon period – eco-certified or not.

Beyond Open-net Pen Aquaculture: Briefings

open netpen

The amount of science, political processes, and corporate spin out there about salmon farming can be overwhelming. That’s why SeaChoice has made understanding the issues and current state of play on salmon farming in Canada simple with our new ‘Beyond Open-net Pen Aquaculture’ briefings.

These briefings are designed so that anybody interested can engage political representatives on this issue and help us take the next step towards more sustainable aquaculture systems and the protection of wild fish and marine ecosystems.

First , we outline a vision for the Aquaculture Act – legislation that if done right could help to manage the environmental threats posed by aquaculture for the first time in Canada’s history. Instead, the current draft looks to favour industry interests.

Second, learn how disease and sea lice continues to plague the industry from coast to coast, with wild salmon paying the price.

Finally, we make the case for transitioning all salmon farms out of the water and into land-based systems.

Find all the briefings on the SeaChoice website.

Salmon on Trial: Cermaq Seeks "Reconsideration"

Licenced to kill

As we go to press with this newsletter, Living Oceans is back in court fighting to keep the Wild Salmon Narrows in the Discovery Islands free of farmed Atlantic salmon.

Multinational salmon farming giant Cermaq is once again trying to have the courts undo the good work it’s taken us all 20+ years to accomplish:  the Fraser River salmon migration route was free of farmed salmon (and their viruses, bacteria and parasites) this year, for the first time in decades.

The argument this time is that it was somehow unfair, and a breach of the previous court order, for the Minister to consult with First Nations on an application to transfer fish into farms in the Discovery Islands—just after she’d consulted with them about phasing out salmon farms there.

Minister Jordan has been quite clear about closing down the Discovery Islands farms; and she’s also been careful to make a decision that does not necessarily set a precedent for removing other salmon farms. As usual, our lawyers from Ecojustice did a spectacular job of laying out the legal authority for making the decision that she made to refuse the transfer licences and pointing out the potential harm to wild salmon that could follow on a reversal of that decision.

Hearings in these judicial review proceedings continue to suffer from the absence of the First Nations whose rights and views on salmon farming are discussed at length and form an important component of the information considered by the Fisheries Minister as she considers each application to transfer fish into the Discovery Islands. Their applications to intervene or be added as parties to the litigation were denied by the Federal Court and are currently under appeal.

Justice Strickland advised at the conclusion of the hearing that she would try to have a decision out by the week’s end. For the sake of the smallest return of wild Fraser River salmon ever seen (the 2020 return, whose young will migrate out of the river next year), we hope her decision will put a stop to these attempts to undermine Minister Jordan’s brave decision.

Clear the Coast 2021

Our marine debris program has been waiting for news of a provincial grant from the Clean Coast, Clean Waters fund for months now.  Currently, we have no indication if or when a decision will be forthcoming.  The purpose of the grant was to stimulate the economy in areas hard hit by COVID-19 and to provide opportunities for youth employment.  We partnered with Quatsino First Nation and are excited to be planning to mount our first ever Youth Guardians expedition with them.  But the youth are now out of school and understandably anxious to find a summer job, so the slow progress with the approval may end up defeating the whole purpose of the grant.

Meantime, we’re still planning to go ahead with our ‘usual’ cleanup out at Sea Otter Cove, where two years’ worth of debris awaits.  We couldn’t get there last year on account of COVID, but our intrepid volunteers are ready to go in August.  We hear that last winter’s storms tossed debris high into the treeline, so it may be more of a challenge to recover than in years past.

Working together this year with a local team of volunteers, Epic Exeo from Port McNeill, we expect to recover as much habitat as we have in the past.  Epic Exeo will cover the road-accessible beaches from Grant Bay to Palmerston and give us co-ordinates for their debris caches.  We will pick it up and get it to recycling/landfill.

We couldn’t do this without your help.  Ever since 2014, you have provided the means to keep this little bit of paradise free of plastic pollution and we’re starting to see the benefits in reduced debris loads on most beaches.  Still, every tide washes in plastics that may have been set adrift anywhere in the Pacific. Until the problem is solved globally, we will need to remain vigilant.  And with your generous support, we will!

Safe Salmon: Now is the time to stand up for wild salmon like never before!

safe salmon logo

Now is the time to stand up for wild salmon like never before!

With rumours of a summer election call and every pollster in the country remarking on the Liberal lead, this is the very most critical time for action.  Politicians are taking the public’s temperature prior to writing their election platforms and the polls are telling them that in B.C., concern for wild salmon is tied as a top-of-mind concern for voters!

All MPs need to be told that your concern for wild salmon demands real action on removing salmon farms—not transitioning them to some fantastic new technology, but removing them—from B.C. waters for good.

Living Oceans partnered with Watershed Watch and Georgia Strait Alliance to bring you an easy tool to use to write you MP from our Safe Salmon website. Two clicks will do it: write today! If you can take a minute to personalize your letter, it will be even more effective.  Either way, please share the tool widely and encourage everyone you know to sign—a simple email to your friends and family asking them to consider writing is the best way we can increase the impact of this campaign.

After the election call, as the parties line up their candidates, we’ll be offering you another opportunity to address all the candidates in your riding.  Stay tuned for that one and let’s be sure we’ve done everything we can to elect a government that will, finally, rid our precious coastal salmon habitat of the pestilence and disease that these farms have spread.

Stunning news for the Commercial Salmon Fleet

Salmon fishing

Fisheries Minister Jordan announced today that nearly 60 percent of commercial salmon fishing in the Pacific Region will remain closed for 2021; and hinted that the closures would persist until stocks of concern are rebuilt, a process she said may require “multiple generations”.  In the meantime, she aims to reduce the size of the fleet with a voluntary licence buy-back and transition strategy.

This will be the sixth time since 1970 that the federal government has tried to protect the salmon fishery by reducing the size of the fleet. In 2021 dollars, over $437 million has been devoted to licence and/or vessel retirement. The largest and by far most expensive buy-backs, between 1996-2000, reduced the size of the fleet by 62 percent.

There have been plenty of treatises written on the effects of those buy-back programs but one thing is clear: neither the salmon nor the coastal communities that once thrived on the salmon fishery were saved by fleet reduction. Arguably, by removing small, owner-operated vessels from the fishing fleet, past buy-backs simply served to concentrate the licences in the relatively well-capitalized corporate fleet, which then invested in bigger, better gear to capture more of the dwindling stock.  Fishing pressure was ultimately reduced by only a small fraction of the reduction in fleet size.

We are not arguing against a licence buy-back, however: it seems the only fair way to deal with salmon fishers who will not likely see another significant opening for a decade or more. Prior buy-backs relied on the assumption that those who elected to hang on to their licences would see better returns almost immediately. That prospect can’t be held out today. We look to the government to ensure that its transition strategy is sufficiently funded and robust to provide a future for fishing communities.

What we argue for is a complete rethinking of the way in which the commercial fishery is managed; and an end to the jurisdictional infighting that has allowed habitat destruction to continue to this day, despite the certain knowledge that it has pushed many populations of salmon to the brink of extinction. And when we refer to “habitat”, we’re not just talking about the wholesale destruction of spawning habitat, but also the coastal marine habitat that is so critical to early marine survival of salmon smolts. Salmon farms, industrial and agricultural effluents and foreshore developments impair the quality of the sheltered waters in which salmon begin their life at sea.

Rethinking fisheries management is a job that is best not left to those who have been doing it these past 50 years: nothing they’ve tried has worked. It’s long past time to tap the collective wisdom of First Nations and fishermen who know the fish and what they need to survive; to re-engage in habitat science and restoration work devoted to restoring a healthy marine environment.  Above all, we must give up the fantasy that salmon can be managed without regard for the ecosystems in which they play such a complex role.