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Oceans Update Spring 2013

Oceans Update

Letter from the Executive Director

Living Oceans has always played a role on the national stage—given our focus on healthy oceans, it’s natural that we have worked with federal regulators and policy makers to advance our mandate. But for most of our fifteen-year history, our work has been grounded in the North and Central Pacific Coast, the waters we call home.

Two things have changed: the current federal government refuses to participate in planning for our home waters and the threats are increasing for all of Canada’s oceans. Unchecked climate change and the race to sell off fossil fuels as quickly as they can be extracted combine to disrupt the oceans’ critical role in generating oxygen while removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Living Oceans is accordingly changing course and setting our sights on becoming a truly national marine conservation organization. We have a great deal of highly specialized knowledge about the ocean that can help communities on Canada’s other coasts that depend on a healthy ocean. Our planning tools, mapping and analysis work—for which we are known internationally—can be applied virtually anywhere to advance our vision of healthy coastal communities benefiting from the ocean’s rich diversity.

We haven’t in any sense abandoned home waters— we understand that our strength has always come from being based in a small coastal community where local knowledge grounds our work in reality. Our planning work continues with partners; the Province of British Columbia, First Nations and several willing stakeholder groups. Together, we’ll continue working through the details to regulate ocean uses to maximize biodiversity and fisheries productivity. But you will see us popping up in new places, with a whole new look.

Our values haven’t changed but our vision is broader. We need the support of Canadians like you to continue doing the good work we have always done. Karen WristenYour donation today will help us reach out to communities on all three of Canada’s coasts to help realize the vision of healthy oceans, healthy communities. As ever, we thank you for your continued support. Donate octopus

Best regards,
Karen Wristen
Executive Director

Keep It Clean

Living Oceans is taking a stand against two tarsands proposals which could destroy pristine wilderness and bring super-tankers to Canada's beautiful Pacific coast. We're leading the fight to Keep It Clean, with our interactive map that works as a visual petition to let politicians know that Canadians want a tanker-free coast. Send us your photo and join the hundreds of other people who love the coast and want to Keep It Clean.

Tanker Campaign Update

Scientists assessing the damage done to freshwater mussels in the Kalamazoo River

The Enbridge Northern Gateway hearings provided some rare moments of entertainment and insight. We learned, for example, that a chair is heavier than water. Our counsel had been asking about the likelihood of bitumen sinking in water and this was but one of the amusing attempts to duck a direct answer.

On the subject of diluted bitumen (dilbit) and its fate following a spill, we learned from Enbridge witnesses that it is “an immutable fact” that dilbit will float on salt water. Our experts disagree:  tar sands bitumen has been tested for decades and it is well established that it easily submerges or becomes ‘overwashed’ by the ocean, making it difficult to detect and doubly difficult to corral and remove from the water. Once spilled in the ocean, where it contacts sediments and organic matter in the water, it sticks to those particles and becomes increasingly heavier, ultimately sinking and/or stranding on shorelines.

You would think that in a situation where Enbridge says ‘black’ and Living Oceans (among many others) says ‘white’, the Government of Canada would step in to provide expert evidence of its own that might settle the matter. And if you were listening closely to the announcement from Ottawa on March 18th, you might have heard something about how they were going to study tanker safety and in particular, dilbit.

“Going to” study dilbit? The truth is that the federal government has been analyzing the properties of bitumen and other heavy oils for decades. Studies have focused on dilbit products from the Alberta tarsands since at least 2008 but the government has gagged the scientists doing the work and withheld the results from the Enbridge Joint Review Panel.

If you do that kind of thing in a court of law, the judge is entitled to assume that you hid the evidence because it hurts your case.

Ottawa’s tanker safety announcement was the first sign that the government realizes it needs to manage public expectations about tanker safety, a fact for which Living Oceans can claim some credit. The announcements—both tanker safety and the appointment of a First Nations envoy-- could be all to the good. Or they could be more window-dressing designed to backstop a communications strategy that will ultimately go like this: ”We’ve responded to their every concern; they’re just being unreasonable. We’ve done all that can be expected and now we’ve just got to go ahead and push this project through.”

It’s pretty clear to those of us living here in B.C. that on the subject of oil tankers, ‘no’ means ‘no’ and opinions aren’t going to change because regulations change or some more coin is spread around the province. So this week’s announcement is for the rest of the country, where the issue doesn’t figure quite so high on the agenda and there’s a willingness to assume that the federal government is working in the best interests of all Canadians. Don’t believe it, Canada.

Bi-coastal delegation delivers salmon farm reform message to Ottawa

Wild sockeye salmon spawning in British Columbia.

Living Oceans Executive Director Karen Wristen travelled to Ottawa in March to find out just what the government’s intentions are for implementing the Cohen Commission recommendations. She was part of a delegation comprised of members from the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CAAR) and the Atlantic Coalition for Aquaculture Reform (ACAR). While she was there, the long-awaited Fisheries and Oceans Standing Committee report on closed containment technology was released to Parliament.

“The report was stronger than we’d feared it might be,” said Karen. “It points the way for reform of Canada’s salmon aquaculture industry along the lines we’ve always advocated.”

The Committee acknowledged that closed containment is viable and made specific recommendations for government to invest in the new technology. It fell short of the one measure desperately needed by wild fish and crustaceans on both coasts: No new net-pen sites while closed containment pilots prove themselves. Still, the report contained much for which we have to thank the notable champions of wild fish, MPs Fin Donnelly and Lawrence MacAulay.

During her time in Canada’s capital, Karen and our partners met with MPs representing the four major political parties. The delegation was well received despite the anti-environmentalist rhetoric that has been flying around Ottawa lately. Randy Kamp, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans was cautiously optimistic that we might see movement on some of our requests, which included:

  • That DFO be relieved of its conflicting mandate to promote  salmon farming and farmed salmon so that it can focus on protection of wild fish
  • That a moratorium be placed on any new salmon farm net-cage licenses and freeze existing net-pen production in B.C.’s Wild Salmon Narrows as per Justice Cohen’s recommendations
  • That the government should make farm fish health data available to researchers and publish DFO research findings.

Our delegation also, of course, stressed that the government should require the industry to move to closed containment and away from open net-pens. It remains to be seen how they will respond to the Standing Committee’s report, which suggested the same course.

The CAAR/ACAR mission also met with Leader of the Opposition, Thomas Mulcair and Green Party leader, Elizabeth May. Both approve of implementing the Cohen Commission recommendations and offered support for efforts to move this issue forward in Parliament.

Habitat conservation measures working

MV Frosti

Coral and sponge bycatch falls in agreement’s first year

The results are in from the first year of a novel fishing agreement that offers increased coral and sponge protection on the British Columbia coast. A review of the first-of-its-kind management measures received the thumbs up from bottom trawlers and environmentalists alike—limits on the incidental bycatch of corals and sponges and freezing the B.C. trawl fleet’s footprint didn’t present fishermen with any notable difficulties. Compliance was high and the total catch of corals and sponges was well below the target established in the agreement.

Healthy coral forests and sponge reefs regenerate ocean life. They are oases where young organisms hide from predators and older ones rest or hunt for prey. But deep-sea corals and sponges are fragile and are easily damaged or destroyed by destructive fishing gear like bottom trawlers’ heavy nets.

Environmentalists clashed with B.C.’s groundfish bottom trawlers for decades until last April when new fisheries management measures came into effect. Living Oceans played a leading role in getting the fishery’s representatives to the table to work collaboratively on the new measures.

“The fishery took a significant step along the road to sustainability when the fleet accepted bycatch limits for each vessel and boundaries that protect the corals and sponges,” said Will Soltau, Campaign Manager, Sustainable Fisheries and Salmon Farming. “It’s the first time anywhere that individual bycatch limits have been used to manage habitat impacts.”

SeaChoice wallet cardSeaChoice is currently reassessing groundfish species caught by the bottom trawlers to see if their ranking can be improved in the consumers’ seafood buying guide.

Shoppers demanding ocean-friendly seafood put economic pressure on retailers and the fishing industry to source and supply products that are less harmful to the ocean ecosystem. In other words, those SeaChoice wallet cards that you’ve been using are working.

North Coast ocean planning on the MaPP

Living Ocean’s contention that the federal government is failing to live up to its international commitments on effective marine protected areas was supported by a report released in March by the Auditor General’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

MaPP subregions

The Auditor General recommends that planning for ocean protection needs to include finding compatible economic opportunities and speaks to the ecological and economic benefits to be gained from a healthy ocean. It also reminds Canadians that our oceans are in serious decline with industrial activities taking their toll, a sad fact reflected in the health of our oceans and coastal economies. For example, the quantity of Canada’s fisheries catches in 2009 was 41 percent less than the peak harvests of the late 1980s and the landed values were among the lowest on record.

Living Oceans believes the solution lies in marine planning. That is why we are involved in advisory committees with the B.C. Government and over 20 coastal First Nations on their Marine Planning Partnership (MaPP) for the North Pacific coast. These committees are also made up of ocean-based businesses and regional district governments. If done correctly, MaPP will ensure that the impacts of ocean-based industries are managed within thresholds that conserve the integrity of the ocean environment. MaPP will seek public input on their draft plans later this year.

“One of the downsides to the MaPP process is the lack of federal involvement,” says Kim Wright, Marine Planning and Protected Areas Director. “It’s been a challenge for industries that are federally regulated because their activites can’t be taken into account in the marine plans. Over the past year we’ve travelled to Ottawa several times to try to find ways to convince the government to implement marine planning but without any success.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada's (DFO) response to the Auditor General’s criticism that a national plan for achieving protection is incomplete stated that “developing and implementing such a national plan will take decades under current funding levels.” This is not good enough and Harper’s 2013 budget suggests these commitments will not be met anytime soon.

Living Oceans conservation sector representatives involved in MaPP

  • Kim Wright
  • Jake Etzkorn
  • Karin Bodtker