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Oceans Update Winter 2021

Alberta Witch Hunt Meltdown

Premier Jason Kenney’s chief conspiracy theorist, Steve Allan, missed two deadlines last year for the delivery of his report on the “foreign-funded anti-Alberta activists” who oppose the Province’s dreams of ramping up tarsands exploitation. He’s just missed his third:  the final report, which was due at the end of January, is now put off until May.  Among the reasons for this missed deadline:  it occurred to someone that, in order to have any semblance of fairness, they might have to show the ‘evidence’ they’ve collected to the groups named in the report and maybe even hear from them.

The most basic rules of procedural fairness for any enquiry are that it should hear the arguments for and against any issue to be decided; and that it should subject any evidence it may consider to the scrutiny of all parties. Oops.

Earlier, Allan’s inquiry released some commissioned ‘research’ that will presumably inform the final report. Reading it, I was surprised to learn that Living Oceans was but a pawn in a well-and-foreign- funded campaign using fabrications like climate change as a pretext to overthrow global capitalism and replace it with socialism.  At least Alberta needn’t feel unfairly targeted: in this delusional scenario, they can hardly claim to be the pivot point for the unseating of the global economy. 

You’ll understand, now, why I put ‘research’ in quotes.

I can say it no better than the Globe and Mail’s editorial board: “To see an official government inquiry even glance at, never mind seem to embrace, such junk research is disturbing. Yet these commissioned papers are only the latest pratfall in a series of self-inflicted wounds that have marked the inquiry since its launch in mid-2019.”

Seriously, were I an Alberta taxpayer, I’d be getting nervous about the guys in charge.

Kenney has already thrown $3.5 million into the witch hunt, with presumably more to follow so they can do the half of the work they just realized was missing. Then there’s the $1.1 million that CBC reports he spent to lobby for Keystone XL, to protect the $1.5 billion he invested in that pipeline before President Biden did what he said he’d do all the way through that endless election campaign and cancelled the project. Oh, plus another $6 billion in loan guarantees for Keystone.

With all the drama on the world stage these days, it’s hard to say where the border lies between risk-taking behaviour and outright irrationality. I think Jason Kenney crossed it long ago, when he first conceived of striking an inquiry to stoke conspiracy theories to explain the tanking tarsands.

Fish Common Names Failing Seafood Shoppers

Did you know that farmed Atlantic salmon can be labelled simply as “salmon”? Or that a seafood package labelled as “rockfish” could be more than 100 possible species (some of which could be endangered)? Crazy, right? Truth is, when it comes to buying seafood there’s a good chance you don’t know what you’re getting.

Canada’s seafood labelling laws require product labels to include a common name, but a common name doesn’t tell you which species you’re eating. Many different common names can be used for the same species and many different species can be called the same common name. Improved seafood labelling is important not just for consumer protection, but because different species have different sustainability and health implications.

This Summer SeaChoice released the report, Fish List Wish List: A case for updating the Canadian government’s guidance for common names on seafood. It examines the most problematic and misleading common names in the marketplace, as well as provides recommendations for better name clarity.  It found the common names ‘rockfish’, ‘sole’, ‘shrimp’, ‘shark’, among others, are highly problematic due to the number of species they apply to. You can read the report here.

The universal solution? One fish, one name. This could be achieved by requiring a scientific name on seafood product labels. Moreover, Canada needs to step up its game on seafood labelling regulations across the board by matching what is required minimum practice in other jurisdictions such as the EU. We need comprehensive seafood labelling regulations that include scientific name, geographic origin (where it was caught), the production method (farmed or wild) and how it was farmed or caught. Canadians deserve to know more about their seafood.

Wild Salmon Narrows Recovered!

At Living Oceans, we’re not accustomed to receiving Christmas presents from the Minister of Fisheries. But on December 17, 2020, we were delighted to hear Minister Bernadette Jordan declare that the Wild Salmon Narrows will once again be free and safe passage for wild salmon. We’ve been asking for this for over a decade.

We are sincerely grateful to the First Nations of the Discovery Islands area for exercising their indigenous rights and title over traditional territories to make this happen.  The Minister’s decision was announced in the context of a step toward reconciliation, which is no doubt true; although we know that the Nations based their objections to the farms in sound scientific criticism of the unresolved impacts of the farms on salmon and other fisheries resources in their territories.  Living Oceans was pleased to play a small role in assisting with the brief.

The Discovery Islands farms will be closed down by June 30, 2022, which gives the industry time to grow out fish already in the water there. The Minister’s announcement expressly forbade any more fish from being placed into these farms after December 17, meaning that most of the route will be free of Atlantic salmon and their associated lice and pathogens before the Fraser River sockeye migration begins in late spring this year.

The Fraser River stocks need all the help they can get in 2021. The juveniles going to sea this year are the offspring of adults that returned to the Fraser in 2019.  At that time, the return was described as ‘the worst in history’.  It only got worse in 2020.  For the next two years at least, it is critical that every threat to the survival of outmigrating salmon is reduced to the utmost of our ability.

Predictably, industry is fighting back in the courts of both law and public opinion.

Applications for judicial review of the Minister’s decision and for an injunction to delay its implementation (read: a free pass to put more Atlantic salmon into the Discovery Islands farms) were filed in January. We expect the injunction applications to come before the courts quite soon, to enable companies to restock the farms. The full review of the Minister’s decision could take much longer.

In the court of public opinion, industry has taken the unusual step of portraying itself as the hapless victim ‘blindsided’ by an uncaring government pandering to ‘special interests’.  We readily acknowledge that job losses and fear for the future are real and painful for the workers involved; but the orchestrated parade of fear and grief served up in high-quality video productions by the industry lobby group makes it hard to distinguish the real impacts from the public relations sound bites.

In truth, based on court filings by the companies, we calculate about 200 direct jobs that might be lost over the course of the next two years as a result of the Minister’s decision. There will be some spin-off losses from that, for sure; and our sympathies lie with every one of those who will need to seek alternate employment. The good news is that, if the government can provide the right incentives to move it forward, the land-based closed containment industry will provide nearly 1500 permanent, high-paid jobs in Campbell River; and over 4000 construction jobs during the time it takes to build the plant.  But it’s imperative that the government should move on this quickly, before we lose the valuable human resources and corporate infrastructure that will support a land-based industry here in B.C.

Clear the Coast 2021

As our marine debris program prepares for its eighth consecutive year mounting major expeditions to some of B.C.’s remotest coastlines, one of our fondest wishes may be granted. The provincial government has stepped up with a multi-million dollar fund to support communities hard-hit by COVID to engage in marine debris removal projects. Of course, it’s a competitive grant process, so we don’t yet know if our dream to clear the whole of the North Island will come true; but at least we’re in the running.

Eight years ago, when work in response to Tohoku’s devastating 2011 tsunami was just getting underway, Living Oceans co-founded the Vancouver Island Marine Debris Working Group to co-ordinate cleanup plans and share best practices and information. Today, that group has grown so large we had to rename it the BC Marine Debris Working Group; and we’re proud to be contributing members in a large community of committed non-profits, companies and individuals with expertise in remote cleanups and responsible disposal. Needless to say, the group has been an invaluable asset in organizing the collective response to the government’s offering of grant funds.

Stay tuned to our social media…if this grant succeeds, we’ll be looking for more hands on deck to undertake the most ambitious single-year cleanup we’ve ever done!