Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Oceans Update Winter 2014

Oceans Update | Winter 2014

Letter from the Executive Director

Our year is getting off to a brisk start: two lawsuits, two new proposals to work on citizen science projects and a report released today, Justified in the Circumstances: Whales or Supertankers? And of course, the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline hearing—please note that if you intend to participate, you must apply by February 12 through an online portal and the application process is complex. You can find instructions on our website.

One of our lawsuits seeks judicial review of the Joint Review Panel’s recommendations for the Enbridge pipeline and tanker project, citing several errors in law. One of those alleged errors is detailed in Justified in the Circumstances, which explains how the approval process for tanker projects is completely at odds with the Species at Risk Act.

The other lawsuit seeks to overturn decisions of the federal health and environment ministers that permit manufacture and export of genetically modified Atlantic salmon eggs. You can read quick updates on that case, and about our work on marine planning, community-supported fisheries and Fukushima-contaminated water, in this edition of Oceans Update.

Karen WristenThanks to all of you who donated to support our work last year!

Best regards,
Karen Wristen,
Executive Director


Legal action launched to stop genetically-modified salmon

Living Oceans is taking part in a legal challenge against the federal government to block the commercial production of genetically modified (GM) salmon in Canada. We want to stop GM salmon because of the risk they pose to wild salmon populations which are already under pressure worldwide.

“This is the world’s first genetically modified food animal to go into production,” said Karen Wristen, Living Oceans Executive Director. “This was done without any public debate at all and under circumstances that look like a deliberate attempt to prevent public comment. Canadians have a right to know about decisions like this in advance of them being made.”

In November 2013 the federal Ministers of the Environment and Health approved AquaBounty’s application to export GM salmon eggs from its Prince Edward Island facility to Panama where they will be grown into fish for sale in the U.S. We want a court to decide if the government violated its own law by permitting the manufacture of GM salmon.

Will you please help us shed light on the government's decision to allow the commercial production of GM salmon?

Donate to our legal fund

Ecojustice lawyers are representing us in court. They’ll argue that the approval is unlawful because it failed to assess whether GM salmon could become invasive, potentially putting wild salmon and entire ecosystems at risk. Ecojustice provides lawyers’ services without charge but court costs, expert fees and other out-of-pocket expenses will have to be paid.

This case came up quite suddenly—neither the government nor AquaBounty would even admit that they were reviewing GM salmon for manufacture and export. When we found the notice in the Canada Gazette indicating that they had given the green light there were only 30 days to get into court. With no time to write funding applications, we had to act fast. We did so knowing that you've been generous with us in the past when urgent action was needed and in the fervent hope that you'll support us again as we fight to protect wild salmon.

Risks to wild salmon

Farmed fish escaping from open net-pens and hatcheries are a serious, ongoing problem that threatens wild fish. We already know that both feral juvenile Atlantic salmon as well as mature escaped non-GM farmed Atlantic salmon have been found in B.C. streams, meaning that they’re able to breed in the wild. Government reviews have found that GM salmon may be able to survive and breed in the wild and yet the decision to permit production and grow-out relies entirely on physical containment measures to prevent their escape.

The effects of an escape of GM fish into the wild, including potential interbreeding with wild salmon, could be irreversible. The full environmental impacts of GM fish will only be known if an escape happens. Any risk of GM salmon escaping into the wild is unacceptable, especially when their potential to become an invasive species has not been properly assessed and the future of Atlantic salmon is already threatened.

Genetic material from Chinook salmon and the eel-like species ocean pout were inserted into Atlantic salmon eggs to create AquAdvantage salmon. According to the fish manufacturer, AquaBounty Canada Inc., the genetically modified salmon grows to market size faster than conventional salmon.

No public information on GM salmon assessment

The entire process for assessing AquAdvantage salmon has been shrouded in secrecy. Environment Canada and AquaBounty refused to acknowledge that an assessment of the GM salmon was underway. There have been no public consultations on the GM salmon in Canada.

Sea to Fork brings sea change for local fishermen

Living Oceans is launching the Sea to Fork program this coming spring to connect Vancouverites with local fishermen and their catch. By buying directly from small-scale fishermen, shoppers will receive the freshest seafood while helping to keep B.C.’s small-scale fishers in business for generations to come.

Jenna Stoner, Sustainable Seafood Campaign Manager

“Sea to Fork will be more than just an excellent source of fresh, high quality seafood; it will foster a sense of community, support food security and protect our oceans,” said Jenna Stoner, Living Oceans Sustainable Seafood Campaign Manager. “It’s just as much about the experience as it is about buying fresh fish.”

Commercial fishing is a tough way to earn a living, but until the 1980s the ocean provided a good livelihood for many of British Columbia’s coastal families. Today however, our ocean heritage and the livelihood of small-scale fishermen are on the endangered list, driven there by the growth of industrial fishing fleets and the companies that control the industry and supply chain. Profits that once flowed into coastal communities now go to corporations and their shareholders. It’s understandable that the next generation isn’t taking up the family business when it’s impossible to make a decent living. The companies often dictate the price that small-scale fishers will get for their catch. That makes it even harder for the small operators who now have to compete with cheap, unsustainable international imports that make up over 80 percent of the seafood available in B.C.

Eating local can include sustainable seafood
Sea to Fork aims to turn that around by giving the people of Vancouver access to the amazing seafood supply at their doorstep. The ocean will benefit too. Industrial fishing isn’t only hard on local fishermen—it’s hard on ocean ecosystems. Small-scale fisheries are usually more environmentally friendly than industrial fleets that focus on high volume landings and result in more bycatch.

With Sea to Fork you can find out first hand where and how your meal was caught.

Should you worry about Fukushima radiation on Canada’s Pacific coast?

There are many scary doomsday stories currently circulating about the long-term, large-scale consequences of the catastrophic events that occurred in Japan on March 11, 2011 that led to the destruction of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant and the subsequent release of radioisotopes. Because of all the scary stories, we have been fielding questions from people concerned about the consequences and confused about the overwhelming (and often contradictory) amount of information out there. 

In an effort to answer your questions and to address our ongoing concerns about the potential ecological and health implications of the largest-ever accidental deposition of radiation into the Pacific Ocean (that is likely still ongoing) we went wading through the sea of information looking for some sound science from people who might actually know the score. Although there seems to be a shortage of good information and we certainly do not have all the answers, here are a few well supported and well researched facts that we found:

Radiation from Fukushima is detectable off British Columbia’s coast, but at levels 20,000 times below maximum permissible levels for drinking water.

Canada's Line P made up of 26 seawater sampling stations that are being used to monitor for radioactive elements.

DFO’s Institute of Ocean Sciences (IOS) has been conducting oceanographic surveys three-times-per-year along a line of 26 stations running west from Vancouver Island out to 1,500 kilometers offshore. The stations collect and analyze seawater samples for traces of radioactive elements. During their last survey in June 2013, IOS detected radioisotopes from Fukushima (Cesium-137) at levels elevated above background levels at all of the stations along the line, but at  very low concentrations: between 0.9 to less than 0.5 Becquerels per cubic metre of seawater. This is well below maximum permissible concentrations in drinking water (set at 10,000 Becquerels per cubic metre).

It is still safe to eat seafood, although some fish have been found to have very low levels of radiation.

A few scientific studies have been conducted to assess the contamination levels of Pacific seafoods and the associated health risks. The Pacific bluefin tuna is a highly migratory species that migrates from Japan to the west coast of North America and so it serves as a good proxy for these types of studies. Scientists have found that Pacific bluefin tuna did have trace amounts of Fukushima-derived radiation when sampled off the coast of California, however the doses are well below what any of us are exposed to on a day-to-day basis.

Events at the disabled Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant are still unfolding and we know more radioactive water is still leaking into the Pacific albeit at much lower levels than right after the explosions. The situation demands continued monitoring and that the results be shared. For now, the very low levels at which Fukushima-related radiation is being detected in seawater samples off our coast lead us to believe that it is still safe to eat locally caught fish from the Pacific, as long as they are recognized as a good choice by SeaChoice. And it’s still safe to get out on the beaches, enjoy the ocean and also pitch in and help to Clear the Coast.

For more information visit this informative website by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

‘Great Bear Sea’ marine plan going public

As the population of the coast increases, humans are putting a greater strain on the ocean. Less than three percent of Canada’s Pacific waters have some form of protection from over-use or unrestrained development. Without a plan that restrains unwise industrial uses of our coastal waters we risk losing the benefits the ocean provides free of charge. Some of those things are difficult to put a price tag on: oxygen, carbon fixing and weather stability. Other benefits are easier to calculate, such as recreational opportunities, food webs and other resources that provide livelihoods for many people on the coast.

Living Oceans has represented the conservation sector at advisory tables for the Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP), comprised of the Province of British Columbia and 18 First Nations who are planning for the long-term health of the North and Central Coast. Some people call this region the ‘Great Bear Sea’ because its waters wash upon the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest.

The MaPP region is made up of Haida Gwaii, the North and Central Coast, and northern Vancouver Island.

There have been plenty of MaPP advisory meetings at which local governments, recreational and commercial fishermen, forestry, aquaculture, tour operators and others have had their say.

“We all see the world differently and there were a lot of opposing opinions at the beginning of the planning sessions,” said Gord Curry, Living Oceans Local Marine Planner. “But over time we all came to see that each sector relied on a healthy ocean. That cleared the way to exploring which solutions best meet everyone’s long term interests.”

Gord Curry, Local Marine Planner

At the MaPP planning sessions we championed ecosystem-based management  and ocean zoning as a way to select places that should be protected, along with how and where responsible industrial activity and future development could take place.

Starting in March and through the spring, people in Haida Gwaii, the North and Central Coast, and northern Vancouver Island will get a chance to provide input and feedback on the MaPP plan for the Great Bear Sea. The people who work and live here hold the most knowledge of what is special. They are the ones who can offer the most practical insights into how we can use the ocean without using it up. Their input is critical to a successful ocean plan. 

Will your favourite ocean places be protected from development? Find out more about the Great Bear Sea planning process and how you can take part.

North Island diver/kayaker survey

Did you dive or paddle in northern Vancouver Island in 2013? We need your knowledge. Please complete our brief survey if you dived, kayaked or canoed between Campbell River and the Scott Islands last year.

DIVER survey | PADDLER survey

Your information will be used to inform our study on the local recreational economy and important natural areas where people dive and paddle. Your information is strictly confidential. If you have any questions, please contact sshaikh [at] (Sharlene Shaikh), Ecosystem Services Analyst.