Océans en santé. Communautés en santé

Oceans Update Fall 2020

Clear the Coast 2020

We innovate a bit every year, to try to protect more sensitive foreshore with fewer resources; but 2020 required a total re-think of how we do our work. Our sincere thanks to BC Parks, who supported us in developing a COVID-19 protocol that would let us continue to recover habitat polluted by ocean plastics.

We knew from the start that long boat rides with multiple volunteers on board would just not work, so Karen's sailboat Viajador remained at home while we set up a base camp near Port Hardy.  Volunteers travelled to base camp in their own 'bubbles' for orientation and training, in three separate crews whose arrivals and departures were staggered to ensure physical distancing.

Our first crew went out to new territory for our cleanups: God's Pocket Marine Park, just a short distance from Port Hardy. Hurst Island within the Park was littered with styrofoam from docks and floats. 

The second crew landed at Nissen Bight on the Cape Scott Trail, travelling with Cape Scott Water Taxi. They made camp at Fishermens' Bay and from there, cleaned the beaches at Nissen and Nels Bights. Nissen proved to be the most heavily impacted--the crew filled 9 lift bags and strung some 20 strings of buoys for heli-lifting. It was hard going, hiking over to Nels, as the trail was churned into knee-deep mud by the hundreds of visitors who hiked the Cape Scott Trail this year.

This hawser found at Nissen was probably lost from a tugboat. It was so heavy that it took the entire team to carry it to the debris cache. To reduce the weight, they laid it out in the sun to dry and shed some of the sand.

…and when the work was done…

Nels Bight is a beautiful, long, sandy beach completely exposed to the open Pacific. For years, hikers have been hanging buoys that wash ashore in the trees at the trailheads. While a few of these hanging buoys might constitute 'art', several hundred of them begin to pose risks as they, and the polypropylene ropes they're hanging on, begin to disintegrate. Cape Scott Park is a wilderness park and the ethic is 'leave no trace' camping so, after some discussion with the Park rangers, we decided to remove the hanging buoys.


Our third crew went out to Cape Sutil on the water taxi, toward the end of August. They encountered challenging conditions from the get-go: landing on a steep and rocky shore, muddy trails and cold, wet weather. In true Clear the Coast fashion, they didn't let it stop them!

All told, our recovery this year was just under 3 tonnes. In terms of volume, that was about 30 cubic meters, helicoptered off the beaches to the San Josef Bay parking lot and trucked from there to the 7-Mile Landfill in Port McNeill.


Our work this year was made possible, as always, by the volunteer efforts and generous donations of our Living Oceans supporters. Grants from BC Parks and Boating BC helped with the hard costs as well. The Canadian Wildlife Service provided helicopter support; and BC Parks lent a hand sorting and securing the debris for trucking. The Regional District of Mount Waddington waived the fees otherwise charged at the landfill. The Port McNeill IGA eased our food budget with a $100 gift card. Service providers on the North Island all went the extra mile for us: thanks to West Coast Helicopters, Cape Scott Water Taxi and the Backpackers' Hostel. Skipper/trucker/gedderdun guy Dan Carter and his crew deserve special thanks for looking after us and our debris! Our most sincere thanks to all of you for making another season of habitat restoration possible!

map of sites we cleared

Salmon Farms and Science-based Decision-making

It’s very popular these days to claim that you’ve got science on your side.  No government regulator would dream of making a decision that isn’t “science-based” and that’s a good thing, so long as the science is properly conducted and reliable. To an ever-increasing extent, however, science is a battleground on which very uneven battles are being fought. Wild salmon seem to be on the losing side at the moment.

At its most innocent, you could call the problem one of ‘applied science’. Conducted by industry and government in partnership, such science is directed at furthering joint goals, such as those set out in the DFO departmental plan:  “to increase the level of Canadian aquaculture production” to a number “greater than or equal to 170,000 tonnes by December 31, 2019”.  One team of DFO scientists supported by financial and in-kind contributions from the salmon farming industry applies itself to science that would further this goal.

Another set of DFO scientists applies itself to a less lofty goal:  to ensure that the percentage of major fish stocks in the “cautious and healthy zone” does not fall below 52 percent by March 2020. With 10 designated units of Fraser River sockeye either endangered or threatened, they set out to determine what potential these fish have for survival. This group of scientists does not have funding from industry. Their conclusion: “all sources of harm should be reduced to the maximum extent possible.”

Over the past 20 or so years, a number of non-government scientists funded through non-profit organizations have applied their studies to tracing the impacts of salmon farms on wild salmon and their ecosystems. They have had no industry funding, from either the salmon farmers or the wild fisheries. Their conclusions all add up to salmon farms being a source of significant harm to wild salmon.

And then came a new entry into the mix. The non-profit scientists got together with the DFO scientists trying to prevent the collapse of salmon stocks and with the help of Genome BC (a private provider of unique and cutting-edge genomics tools and research) created the “Strategic Salmon Health Initiative (SSHI)”. It applied its science to studying the “high mortality rate of juvenile salmon during their early ocean migration”. SSHI set out to look closely at the viruses, bacteria and other pathogens on wild and farmed salmon.  Their work is at the forefront of global research into the pathogens, their sources and impact on wild salmon.

Imagine the consternation over in the other DFO camp, where casting aspersions on both the non-profit researchers and their findings had kept them in control of the ‘science-based decisions’ for decades.  What if the SSHI should prove that salmon farms imported a virus that is lethal to Pacific salmon but gives the farmed salmon nothing more than a bad case of ‘flu? In fact, the SSHI is looking at over 60 pathogens, some of them newly discovered in Pacific waters.

We think the average Canadian expects that, somewhere within the higher echelons of DFO, this would all get sorted. Cutting edge science would be integrated with management measures to improve farm performance. Diseased farm fish would no longer be put in wild fish habitat. But what has in fact happened is that the scientists charged with expanding aquaculture just doubled down on their goal, designing lab experiments specifically tailored to ‘disprove’ whatever was being done by the non-profit scientists and SSHI. DFO management at the highest levels tried to control the narrative as SSHI began publishing its work. Publication of key findings has been indefinitely delayed by contributing authors from the other camp. Management measures haven’t changed for the better and diseased fish are still going into the water.

That is the battleground on which salmon science is being fought; and it is the back story to the startling revelation by Dr. Kristi Miller-Saunders last week, that DFO is continuing to muzzle good science and “bending over backward” to accommodate salmon farmers. She describes how the need to source funding from the salmon farming industry has driven the aquaculture science agenda at DFO to the reckless conclusion that salmon farms pose no more than a ‘minimal risk’ to wild salmon.

Since the advent of salmon farming on the B.C. coast, Fraser River sockeye stocks have plummeted from upwards of 20 million fish to barely 200,000 this year. Many factors contributed to that decline, of course; nobody’s suggesting that the logging of critical habitat, overfishing and warming waters aren’t also culpable. But we’re now at the point where there’s no fishing, yet there are still fish farms attacking the few remaining wild sockeye that we must preserve if the runs are ever to rebuild.

“All sources of harm should be reduced to the maximum extent possible.” #fishfarmsout.

The Pointless Pipeline: Trans Mountain

Work continues on TMX, despite every economic indicator pointing to its futility; and despite the federal government’s recent recommitment to climate action.  In its most recent Throne Speech, the government promised that action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be ‘at the core’ of the recovery plan for Canada’s economy. Their old refrain about using the profits from the pipeline to fund climate action is looking pretty sketchy at this point; they seem to have abandoned that one in favour of an odd sort of equity argument: “balancing the needs of Alberta’s oil industry” with…the future stability of the global climate? That little promise we made in Paris?

Dr. Tom Gunton, the expert economist with whom we worked during the National Energy Board hearings, recently published an opinion editorial detailing the burgeoning cost and dwindling returns to be expected from TMX.  Costs to complete construction of the new line are now estimated at 12.6 billion taxpayer dollars, or roughly $5.2 billion more than they were when oil suppliers signed contracts to use it.  The tolls, or rates that the suppliers have committed to pay were set to provide a return on an investment of $7.4 billion—the cost at the point that Kinder Morgan walked away from the deal.

That means we are all subsidizing the oil industry to the tune of $5.2 billion, at a minimum.  That’s just the construction cost: what about the ongoing operations and the likelihood that the pipeline will actually pay off?

Conditions have changed rather dramatically. With the price of oil remaining at historic lows and certainly well below the cost of opening up new tarsands sites, capital markets have virtually abandoned such projects.  Existing mines continue to produce so as to have some cash flow, but they’re mostly operating at a loss. Earlier forecasts of growth in oil production have been overtaken by reality and it is now unequivocally clear that TMX is not needed to move Canadian bitumen products to market: it will have excess capacity that will be felt as a hole in the pockets of taxpayers forced to further subsidize its operation.

The International Energy Agency predicts a 9 percent decline in demand for oil this year and says demand growth will grind to a permanent halt within 10 years.  This is not good economic news for a piece of infrastructure with a lifespan of some 50 or more years. Dr. Gunton explains that, even under the much rosier pre-COVID oil production forecasts, TMX still represented excess capacity of between 610,000 and 1.5 million bpd.  It is simply not needed, now or in the future.

It is difficult to see that much money being squandered at a moment when investment in building a better, more resilient economy is so sorely needed. It is more difficult still to unpack the political equation that keeps the money pouring into that particular black hole:  it clearly hasn’t resulted in the thawing of relations between Alberta and Ottawa.

Just imagine, though, what could be accomplished with an investment that size in renewable energy or electrified transportation!

Bluefin Tuna Receives the "Sustainable" MSC Blue Tick Despite Objections

The first Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery has been certified under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label.

Savvy seafood consumers have avoided bluefin tuna for years as overfishing of the highly valuable species plunged it into endangered status. Two decades of conservation efforts have aided in the slow rebuild of Atlantic stocks, but the species is still not considered by many to be within sustainable fishing limits yet. In fact, biomass is expected to deteriorate.

Conservation groups spent a significant amount of time and effort objecting to the certification to no avail, including MSC’s founding partner and (usually) biggest supporter WWF, who stated, “Certify today and aim for sustainability in 2025. This does not reflect the rigorous certification standards we would expect to be applied when assessing one of the most valuable fish in the ocean, which was once harvested to the brink of extinction. MSC certification of bluefin tuna is an alarming signal that the result is driven by industry demand rather than scientific evidence of sustainability.”

It’s not the first controversial fishery that has been awarded the MSC logo. Globally, conservation groups are continuously busy objecting to fisheries associated with destructive practices such as endangered albatross bycatch  or the fishing of species that live up to 140 years.

Aquaculture also gets its share of greenwashing as well. Most recently, Living Oceans and our SeaChoice partners needed to rebuke the misleading statement by industry that “every Mowi Canada West farm off B.C.’s coast is now certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council” because at least six of their interim farms have never been assessed against the ASC standard meaning environmental impacts (e.g. sea lice, chemical and antibiotic use, etc.) during large sections of the production cycle are simply ignored.

Civil society stakeholders, such as conservation and social non-government organisations and local communities, play a crucial role in helping to watchdog certifications and the industries they aim to certify. But many stakeholders are citing frustrations with the eco-certifications - particularly given the growing number of controversial certifications. SeaChoice summarized such stakeholder sentiment in a recent report that provided scheme holders with recommendations on how to improve their processes and engagement that, in turn, would increase stakeholder and consumer confidence in their eco-logos.

But we won’t hold out breath. However, we will continue to call out the greenwash as needed. And we certainly don’t recommend buying any MSC-certified bluefin next time you’re feeling in the mood for sushi. B.C. albacore on the other hand – reach for those reusable chopsticks!

Buying Canadian Seafood Should Be As Easy As Reading The Label. But It Isn't.

Recently, to support our local fishers and farmers during the pandemic, Prime Minister Trudeau encouraged us all to “buy Canadian”. Sadly, this is easier said than done because retailers and companies aren’t required to label where their seafood was caught or farmed. Often Canadian-produced seafood is labelled with another country because it was processed there.

Back in 2017, Living Oceans and our SeaChoice partners found Canadians are eating in the dark in comparison to our European and American peers who have much stronger labelling laws in place – meaning they know more about seafood from Canada than we do.

The good news is the federal government made the promise to implement a boat-to-plate traceability program for seafood in Canada. This means the critical information necessary to make informed choices - geographic origin, scientific name and method of production – would travel with the product and, in turn, can be listed on the seafood label.

But we needed to make sure this promise is fulfilled, and you all helped!

5671 Canadians signed the SeaChoice petition, telling the federal government to keep its traceability promise. Follow our progress as we work with government leaders to turn the boat-to-plate promise into reality—because only then will supporting and ‘buying Canadian’ sustainable seafood be as easy as reading the label.