Oceans Update August 2023
Transition Plan delayed as PM shuffles Cabinet
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) announced yet another delay in the release of the government’s Transition Plan for B.C. salmon farms. Originally slated for release in June of this year, the Plan is now delayed until “the fall” so that additional consultation can take place with industry and First Nations. Meanwhile, machinations continue within the Department to derail the Plan.
To make matters worse, the Trudeau government has just announced a cabinet shuffle. Minister Murray, whose commitment to remove salmon farms has been evident throughout the process, has been replaced by Diane Lebouthillier, the Member for GASPÉSIE—LES ÎLES-DE-LA-MADELEINE, QC. Minister Lebouthillier’s background is in social service and she has previously served as the Minister of Revenue. Let us hope she recalls the impact that the cod collapse had on the social and economic fabric of her community.
Together with the delay announcement, DFO released a further consultation framework, designed to exclude anyone who wasn’t ‘engaged’ during the earlier phases of consultation. Living Oceans met with staff to drill down on just who is considered to be ‘engaged’ and learned that the departmental view is that the fishing sector (among others) is not considered engaged because ‘they never bring up salmon farming in our advisory board meetings’. We reminded them of the historic moment when the entire salmon fleet and the union came together to support Minister Murray in her decision to close Discovery Islands salmon farms and ask that farms be kept off the migration routes of wild Pacific salmon. Unlike public consultations over the previous decades, in which fishermen were closely consulted, the current consultation record doesn’t even mention them.
In fact, the consultation record (published as a “What We Heard” report) suggests the Department continues to turn a deaf ear to input they find inconsistent with business as usual. The report claims that the Department “heard from British Columbians” and does, in fact, (in an appendix to the main report) report that 70 percent of 2,890 brave souls who struggled through the skewed and leading on-line survey “supported a transition away from any marine salmon aquaculture to a sustainable land-based sector.” A further 8 percent just want to shut the industry down and transition to other, sustainable industries.
All of the other engagement is reported out by sector, except the public engagement. No mention at all is made of the content of additional letters sent by 37,500 people who availed themselves of conservation groups’ campaign tools to write their own submissions to the process. To say that this is a high level of public engagement in a government consultation would be gross understatement: even the largest conservation groups count it a banner day when submissions break 10,000. DFO didn’t comment on that, either.
That said, to the extent that DFO ‘heard’ the public, it heard that 78 percent of us want an end to open-net pens. Upwards of 40,000 people chose to express that opinion.
Curious, then, that the entire report is couched in ‘some said this and some said that’ language, as if the opinions of the 3 foreign multinationals engaged in the salmon farming industry and their suppliers were somehow of equal weight to the opinions of the vast majority of British Columbians, 120 BC First Nations, all of the engaged conservation groups, a dozen independent scientists, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, the Wilderness Tourism Association, the entire West Coast salmon fleet, the UFAWU—to name just a few of the organizations representing hundreds of thousands of citizens who contributed to the survey or wrote their own submissions.
Underlying all of this obfuscation is the simple fact that DFO continues to operate as if the fact that salmon farming harms wild salmon is a misguided ‘belief’ for which over 50 peer-reviewed studies somehow don’t provide a foundation. They continue to hide behind the Department’s infamous so-called risk assessments of certain pathogens, despite evidence clearly showing that some of them are just plain wrong; despite the call from the House Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for an investigation into the chicanery that produced them; and despite the fact that those assessments never looked at the whole spectrum of salmon species in British Columbia.
Worse yet, despite the clear policy announcement by the government as far back as 2019 that open-net pen salmon farms would be transitioned out of B.C. waters, the Department is approving production increases in Clayoquot Sound. Its consultation framework suggested ‘progressively minimizing’ impacts to wild salmon and so, the industry is making investments in new net pen “technology” like the tarps that Grieg and MOWI are wrapping around the tops of their net pens in the hope of keeping lice out, or the ‘semi-closed’ system that Cermaq trialed last year that killed the farmed fish with their own effluent. In Court (where this is all headed) those approvals and investments are going to be described as a course of conduct on which the companies relied, in the expectation of new licences being issued. That argument has worked once, and the Department is doing everything it can to ensure that it works again.
Industry lobbyists are working on the Prime Minister’s Office and with every Member of Parliament they can urge to stop the Transition Plan. The disinformation is astounding: our favourite among the Big Lies being told is that closed containment salmon farming can’t work. It’s not only working right here in BC, where both Atlantics and steelhead are being grown in closed containment; the very companies who are saying this are invested in land-based farming in other countries!
So here we are again, at a point where, despite the science being clearly on our side, it is politics that will make or break the future of wild salmon. Please take a minute to tell the Prime Minister and the new Fisheries Minister one more time that you continue to expect him to fulfill the promises he’s made during the past two elections and remove all of the open-net pen salmon farms, once and for all!
Oh, and P.S. The latest news from Alex Morton and the Salmon Coast Field Station: the Discovery Islands farms have now been closed for 3 years. The outmigrating Fraser River juvenile sockeye have just run through there; they are bright, fat, healthy and more abundant than they have been in years. They must still navigate the northerly portion of their migration route, where many farms still operate. But at least when they encounter the lice and disease pathogens, they will be larger and more resilient. We won’t know until 2025 how well they survived…but this fall, watch for the returns of the first cohorts of Fraser salmon to go to sea after the Discovery Islands farms closed.
Tell the Prime Minister: removing salmon farms works!
Major grocers flunk on farmed salmon sustainability
The red marker came out with SeaChoice’s latest Seafood Progress report with nearly all Canadian grocers receiving failing scores for their lack of progress to remove farmed salmon from their stores or take actions to improve their sourcing.
The report found:
The good: Buy-Low Foods continues to be the only grocer not selling farmed salmon. Sobeys received kudos for preferentially sourcing and promoting land-based closed containment farmed salmon.
The ugly: Most grocers continue to rely on farmed salmon certifications that are not fit for purpose. These certifications, including the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and Best Aquaculture Practices, fail to adequately protect wild salmon from disease or sea lice impacts from certified farms.
The bad: Costco, Loblaws, METRO, Save-On, Sobeys, and Walmart continue to sell open-net pen farmed salmon.
SeaChoice also found that most grocers avoid labelling farmed salmon as just that - “farmed”. In other words, farmed salmon is often labelled as simply “salmon”. Without proper labelling, shoppers are unable to make informed choices.
It is clear we need the federal government to step up and confirm a transition plan that removes the open-net pens. Transitioning to land-based aquaculture would expand the supply of closed-containment salmon for grocers, removing their reliance on open-net pens.
Visit Seafood Progress for the full results.
Coastal Marine Strategy update
The B.C. Provincial government’s Coastal Marine Strategy is intended to be a comprehensive plan to address the health and stewardship of marine ecosystems and resilience of coastal communities. Co-developed by the Government of British Columbia and Indigenous Nations, the Strategy was open for public comment from December 15, 2022 - April 14, 2023.
Living Oceans and colleagues submitted a joint letter to indicate our support for a co-developed Coastal Marine Strategy and to emphasize the importance of the work to come. The Intentions Paper that kicked off the process was very high-level and at the same time ambitious. Our letter observed that, to be a success, a Coastal Marine Strategy should be supported by legislation and include measurable and time-bound goals, monitoring and public reporting.
The next step in the process is the release of the Province’s “What We Heard” report, summarizing the public comment. It was supposed to be released “late spring/early summer” which, technically, has already passed. So, “soon”. Stay tuned!
The New Fish
For a look inside the global salmon farming industry and the environmental destruction it is leaving in its wake: newly translated by Patagonia, “The New Fish: The Truth about Farmed Salmon and the Consequences We Can No Longer Ignore” explores Norway’s role in creating farmed salmon and unleashing them on the world. From the Norwegian fjords to Canada, Chile and Iceland, authors Simen Sætre and Kjetil Østli traced the impacts of farmed salmon in a book described as “character-driven literary non-fiction and classic muckraking”.
Order it today from your favourite bookstore!
Mining the ocean depths
The deep ocean, in areas beyond national jurisdiction, is no longer a total mystery. Unfortunately, humankind has discovered that there are valuable minerals down there. Equally unfortunately, we have no idea how to mine them without doing significant and long-term damage to plants and animals living there about which we know virtually nothing.
Regulation of these regions beyond national jurisdiction lies with the International Seabed Authority (ISA), which was set up under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). ISA is the organization through which States Parties to UNCLOS organize and control all mineral-resources-related activities in the Area “for the benefit of humankind as a whole”. Its mandate also requires it “to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment from harmful effects that may arise from deep-seabed-related activities”.
The ISA has already authorized 30 exploration licences for activity that the proponents always describe as ‘mining for minerals needed for electric car batteries’. Nice way to describe ploughing the ocean floor or scraping the surface off hydrothermal vents and sending up plumes of sediment without having the first clue what damage that could do to deep sea life.
Delegates to the ISA have been attempting to formulate regulations that would govern full-scale commercial activity and had given themselves July 2023 as a deadline to come up with those regulations. Thankfully, a handful of State Parties have been lobbying hard to derail this effort until sufficient research can be done to determine what the impacts of deep sea mining might be. Canada joined that chorus at the beginning of July. The government’s statement, jointly issued by Ministers Melanie Jolie, Jonathan Wilkinson and Joyce Murray, said in part, “in the absence of both a comprehensive understanding of seabed mining’s environmental impacts and a robust regulatory regime, Canada supports a moratorium on commercial seabed mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction and will not support the provisional approval of a plan of work.
As of July 23, 2023, the immediate pressure is off: the ISA has been unable to secure agreement on a regulatory framework and has resisted efforts to require it to name a new deadline. It is now expected that it will be at least 2025 before a regulatory regime is in place, but even this is not enough time, say internationally respected scientists, to begin to understand the potential impacts of mining the deep.
Renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle recently teamed up with cellist Yo-Yo Ma to bring the mystery and magic of the depths to us all. Watch the video to see the amazing creatures with which we’re barely acquainted but will be at risk from deep sea mining activity.
Add your voice to #DefendtheDeep.
Living Oceans leads global call to stop greenwashing extinction of prehistoric skate
Living Oceans Society and our SeaChoice allies have been holding seafood eco-certifications, such as the Marine and Aquaculture Stewardship Councils, to account for over 20 years. Our expertise in this field has resulted in us leading global collaborations with other conservation organisations to call out the greenwashing in this industry and demand certifications live up to their promises.
Most recently, Living Oceans helped rally over 80 organisations from around the world calling on the Best Aquaculture Practices and GlobalG.A.P. schemes to immediately revoke their ‘sustainability’ certifications from salmon and ocean trout farms adjacent to the World Heritage Area, Macquarie Harbour, on the west coast of Tasmania.
The harbour is the last remaining home of the endangered Maugean Skate – an ancient relic from the time of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, sharing its home with salmon farms has placed the skate on the brink of extinction.
Scientists from the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies recently reported a dramatic collapse in Maugean skate numbers with almost half disappearing in less than seven years. The scientists attribute the skate’s decline to the degraded environmental conditions in the Harbour, particularly dissolved oxygen levels, and explicitly named fish farms as one of the main causes of low dissolved oxygen levels in Macquarie Harbour.
Shockingly, despite the scientific evidence, these salmon farms are certified as “environmentally responsible” by BAP and GlobalG.A.P.; and are sold to unsuspecting shoppers as ‘sustainable’. In reality, these certifications are greenwashing the extinction of this prehistoric species. Read the BAP and GlobalG.A.P. letters to learn more.
Sound familiar? Eco-certification claims are also common on B.C. farmed salmon with wild salmon paying the price. See our recent op-ed, The truth about “responsibly farmed” salmon.
Maugean Skate photo credit: Neville Barrett
Clear the Coast 2023 Adventures
Our intrepid volunteers tackled some new areas of Cape Scott Provincial Park on Vancouver Island in June, removing over 2 tonnes of plastic debris in two and a half action-packed days!
In mid-June, we shared a helicopter with the Park Operator, using it to fly a crew of 9 into Guise Bay. Quickly establishing base camp there, we set out to clean this lovely, sandy beach just southeast of the Cape Scott Lightstation. With its turquoise waters and soft white sand, Guise Bay could easily be mistaken for a tropical paradise.
Under the influence of the southeast gale that blew up that night, it was anything but tropical! Some of the crew passed a very wet night; but the wind changed to the northwest as predicted and dried us all out the next morning.
We didn’t have to go far before we began spotting debris from the Zim Kingston containership spill—the items now so familiar and stubbornly persistent in these waters. Where last year we were recovering intact coolers, refrigerators and vacuum cleaner parts, this year we recovered their damaged remains. By next year, much of what remains will be plastic fragment that will be eaten by marine mammals and seabirds.