Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Oceans Update February 2024

It’s one thing to read about the fact that some fishing vessels use slave labour.  It’s another thing altogether to hear first-person accounts of the brutality and fear that keeps workers in servitude for years at a time, or to realize just how widespread the practice is. In The Outlaw Ocean Project, author Ian Urbina follows slave ships and interviews enslaved workers—the podcast version is utterly chilling. 

In this issue of Oceans Update, we try to balance the chills with some thrills (not one or two, but three sponsorships making a big difference in our future) and report on the latest courtroom drama over salmon farming.  I hope you’ll enjoy reading further! 

BTW, if you’ve been thinking you might like to support Living Oceans Society’s great work, March would be a great time to start. The charitable giving platform CanadaHelps is offering to match monthly donations of $20 or more initiated during March. If you’re already a monthly donor (thank you!) they will match an increase of $10 in your donation.  If you’ve never tried monthly giving, it’s really seamless with CanadaHelps. They always process the donations when they say they will and they issue the charitable tax receipt on December 31. You can always access the receipt from your account on Canada Helps. 

Just remember to look for our charitable partner, Canadian Coastal Research Society, to make your tax-receiptable gift. DONATE TODAY! 

Future of Salmon on Trial

It would have been hard to tell that the lawyers were all really talking about the future of salmon, if you just dropped into the hearing at Federal Court back in December.  Former Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray’s decision to refuse salmon farm licences in the Discovery Islands was the subject of the hearing, but little was said about her reason for so deciding: the perilous state of wild salmon in the Province of BC. 

Lawyers for the salmon farm companies were talking about their business planning cycle, the jobs and GDP they create, as if in the process of creating all that wealth, they weren’t destroying the incomparable bounty of wild salmon. They claimed the Minister’s decision was unfair and unreasonable, hanging their arguments once again on the Aquaculture Management Directorate’s widely impugned science advice that the farms do no more than minimal harm to wild salmon. They went so far as to suggest that the Minister was incompetent to seek out science advice from leading academics and other scientists within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans—that she simply couldn’t evaluate that evidence without the ‘help’ of her Department’s captured aquaculture regulators. Moreover, they were “unaware” what science the Minister claimed to be relying on, even though they were briefed on that science by the Department before the Minister was. 

Lawyers for We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations were asserting title rights over the Discovery Islands and arguing that the Minister didn’t give appropriate attention to their plan to continue salmon farming, co-regulated by the Nations and DFO. 

It wasn’t until our lawyers from Ecojustice, a national environmental law charity, stood up that the Court heard the real story: the Minister took a “highly precautionary” approach to the Discovery Islands area based on concerns for vulnerable populations of migrating juvenile salmon, emerging new research, and uncertainties around the cumulative effects of pathogens from the farms, climate change, habitat loss and predation. 

Fisheries Ministers have a primary duty to conserve wild fish. They are empowered to use the precautionary principle to fulfil that duty. They must also act fairly, listening to all submissions and concerns and give reasons for decisions. In our view, Minister Murray ticked all those boxes. It remains to be seen whether the Court agrees: the decision has been reserved and may not be handed down for months. 

Meanwhile, there are some signs that closing farms has had a positive impact on wild salmon survival. Since the Discovery Islands farms were closed in 2020, outmigrating Fraser River sockeye have been far more numerous. They are fatter and virtually lice-free, unlike their condition over the past 20 years. Similarly in the Broughton, where farms were closed by First Nations, pink returns are up by an order of magnitude. It’s early days, as far as the future of salmon stocks is concerned; but we are hopeful that this fall, we will see some improvement in Fraser River stocks. 

Exposé connects seafood on North American shelves to atrocities found in China’s seafood operations

Originally written by SeaChoice’s Dana Cleaveley  

A 2-part report by Ian Urbina’s Outlaw Ocean Project unveils a slew of human rights atrocities in superpower China’s seafood supply chain and provides evidence that much of the seafood found on North American shelves is tied to Uyghur labor.  

As evidence of its global significance, Urbina shares that China’s seafood industry accounts for a fifth of international seafood trade, is worth over thirty-five billion dollars and is responsible for catching approximately 5 billion pounds of seafood annually.  

Part One of the report focuses on China’s opaque – and colossal – distant water fishing fleet that is notoriously challenging to monitor. Urbina’s unprecedented sleuthing reveals countless acts of inhumane working conditions, severe abuse, neglect, murder, debt bondage, illegal and unregulated fishing…and the list goes on.  

Part Two shifts attention one step downstream where a myriad of evidence reveals that Uyghur minorities are forced to work in seafood processing plants in China. For years, the Chinese government has been forcibly relocating Uyghurs across the country through labor transfers and keeping them under strict surveillance. In addition to forced labor, acts of torture, beatings and forced sterilizations have been reported.  

So, where does this seafood end up?  

Despite both the Canadian and U.S. government describing China’s labor transfers from Xinjiang as a “form of genocide” and U.S. congress enforcing its Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the report finds: 

“Much of the seafood sent to America and Europe are (sic) processed by Uyghur labor.” 

The investigation reveals that major US and Canadian importers, including High Liner Foods, have bought seafood from Chinese factories that use Uyghur labor. Evidence suggests these products found their way to the shelves of major grocers across North America, including the following profiled on Seafood Progress: Costco, Loblaw, Sobeys and Walmart.  

Most grocers and brands verify supplier compliance against their human rights policies by requiring they undertake third-party social audits. However, this method of verification is proven unreliable in detecting state-imposed forced labor when processing facilities are subject to self assessments where information can easily be withheld and inspections are scheduled in advance. Additionally, employees that are interviewed by auditing bodies are often afraid to speak candidly.  

As a result of the limitations of social audits, Urbina tells us that “thousands of tons of seafood imported from factories using forced labor continue to enter the U.S.” 

What’s more, the report divulges that all seafood plants found to be using forced labor from Xinjiang were certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).  

As part of an ongoing campaign to assess and hold eco certifications to account, SeaChoice has found several limitations to the MSC’s Standard, including it being open to interpretation and the ability to extend timelines for implementation significantly.  

In the report, Director of Greenpeace USA’s ocean campaigns, John Hocevar, offers a summary of some other major problems associated with certification schemes: 1) they are largely self-policing, 2) they lack third-party oversight or verification, 3) they focus on environmental concerns and neglect to properly address human rights issues, and 4) they typically do not cover vessels where abuses are most likely to occur.    

So, how can such a flawed system be fixed? 

Critical actions to address human rights abuses in seafood supply chains include: 

  • Stronger traceability. Seafood supply chains are notoriously complex and challenging to trace, and regulations in Canada and the US remain largely inadequate. For years, SeaChoice has pressured the Canadian government to bring its seafood traceability standards into the 21st century. There is a critical need for Canada to improve its regulations to support better data capture and exchange for seafood imported and sold in Canada, as well as improve enforcement to deter illegal practices and trade.  

  • Cease sourcing. One critical action outlined in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)guidance is to cease sourcing products with severe and irremediable adverse impacts. As a result of Urbina’s report, Albertsons stopped sourcing products from High Liner that were found to be tied to forced labor. Since then, High Liner announced they had cut ties with a Chinese company implicated in this investigation.  

  • Increase transparency. Despite demands for increased transparency across the seafood industry, corporations are petitioning to reduce public access to trade data. For example, the report highlights that The Commercial Customs Operations Advisory Committee (COAC)—which includes representatives from Walmart and Amazon – proposed in October 2022 that vessel manifest data be made confidential. In addition to embracing transparency, end buyers like Walmart must leverage their position in the chain to influence producers and importers to ensure the flow of critical product information from boat to plate.  

  • Look beyond certifications. Urbina’s expose, along with a host of others, clearly demonstrates the need for end buyers to stop counting exclusively on voluntary certifications and do a better job of investigating their own supply chains.  

It is becoming increasingly apparent that voluntary certifications and third-party social audits alone are not keeping seafood products connected to serious human rights and environmental violations off store shelves. Instead, we must advocate for stronger regulations and swift enforcement to shape global value chains and motivate end buyers to leverage their prominent position to drive improvements upstream.  

Check out other solutions posed in the Outlaw Ocean report.  

Great News from the Creators of Gumboot Guys

Gumboot Guys has been a smashing success. By mid-December they had sold over 2000 copies! The book is incredibly popular, remaining on the top 20 2023 BC Bestseller list since its publication. 

Readings by the authors have been well received at bookstores and libraries in Vancouver and Courtenay, with more planned for the coming months. Stay tuned for details. 

Living Oceans Society is incredibly honoured to be the recipient of the royalties from the book and we’re going to let you in on a secret. There is another book in the works! Not much to say yet except that it is about men, boats and nautical adventures. And guess what? Living Oceans Society will be the royalty recipient! 

Gumboot Guys makes a great present! If you haven’t already purchased a book, visit the Caitlin Press website or order from your local book shop.  

Blue Friday helps Clear the Coast

Jeff Duke is an amazing young surfer-cum-entrepreneur with a passionate dedication to sustainability. His clothing line, L/L Supply, was developed to fill a niche. Using fabric that larger manufacturers deemed ‘waste’ and careful design, his clothes make the best possible use of the fibre that’s been woven or knitted into cloth. Living Oceans was delighted to have his startup partner with us several years back on our Clear the Coast project, providing both cash and labour to clear Vancouver Island’s spectacular beaches of plastic debris. 

Fast forward, and Jeff’s little startup started something much bigger: a retailer movement among entrepreneurs wanting to inject a little sustainability into the annual madness that is Black Friday. The Blue Friday organization chooses projects that can make a quantifiable difference to the environment and then encourages retailers to join in offering a donation or percentage of sales to support that project. In return, the retailers advertise their support of the project to consumers, generating more sales and more awareness. 

In 2023, Blue Friday provided nearly $30,000 of support to Living Oceans to Clear the Coast of the Scott Islands marine National Wildlife Area—the Cape Scott region of Vancouver Island and the neighbouring Lanz and Cox Islands. We were proud to report that our volunteer teams recovered 10.5 metric tonnes of debris in two expeditions this past summer, bringing our total recovery from the North Island region to just under 70 tonnes. 

Blue Friday’s fundraising efforts for the 2024 season succeeded in raising $32,000 and we are honoured to be the recipients again! Our plan is to return to the Scott Islands, where debris from two container ship spills continues to circulate on local currents, fetching up on beaches over and over again. 

If you are or you know a retailer with an interest in sustainability, reach out to Jeff and his team at and join the movement! 

Our thanks to Blue Friday retailers: 

Pacific Sands Beach Resort 
Mustang Survival 
Alcove Homegrown Living 
Ash Refillery & Co 
Baby Tula 
Bear Essential Oils & RavenSong Soap and Candle 
East Van Jam 
Foster Skin Care 
Goldilocks Goods 
Hair of the Dog 
L/L Supply 
Lümia Botanicals 
Luna Mavka 
Nanette Moss 
plentiFILL Refillery & Sustainable Living 
Pink Raven Jewelry 
Searl Soap Company 
Shades of Green 
Simply Natural Canada 
Swallow Jewellery 
The Bare Company 
The Cedar Nook 
The Market Bags 
The Sewing Club 
Vancouver Island Brewing 
Vancouver Island Refillery 
Wild Waterways Adventures 

Global Salmon Farming Resistance

What happens when a large number of small groups get together across the globe to put an end to unsustainable salmon farming? A resistance movement stronger than the sum of its parts is born. 

Ocean-polluting salmon farming is conducted by relatively few giant global companies operating under a patchwork of different regulatory schemes in each nation that allows them in. By co-operative campaigning, GSFR members help shine a global light on national policies and practices that harm wild sea life and habitat. Sharing assets like scientific papers, video and photographic evidence of poor farm practices and impacts to wild fish, every member is empowered to educate more citizens and put more pressure on governments to stop this industry before it depletes the global commons completely. 

A recent article from the FAIRR Initiative summarized how close we’ve come to global depletion. With over 90% of world fisheries classified as overfished or fished to the limits of sustainability, the industry’s apparently insatiable demand for forage fish used in feedstock threatens to collapse the ocean’s food web from the bottom up. Authors estimate that “Overall, the costs of salmon farming to marine ecosystems through pollution, parasites and high fish mortality are estimated to be about USD $50 billion globally from 2013 to 2019.” 

National governments and regulatory authorities aren’t used to international scrutiny of their practices around salmon farming and the fact is, they behave differently when they know they’re being watched. After all, it’s hard to show up in international forums like the United Nations and press for sustainable development goals or aid when your counterparts know you’re allowing open-net pens to operate like open sewers in your coastal waters. Or to claim you’ve created your share of marine protected areas, except you’ve allowed salmon farms to pollute them. 

Living Oceans is proud to share our experience and learn from colleagues around the world about how they’re spreading the word and exposing salmon farming practices. 

What We’re Reading

Here are some of the books and resources we have been digging into. Let us know if you have any suggestions to include in future newsletters by emailing info [at]

1. State of Science: Breaking Down Biomaterials   

“The plastic pollution crisis requires urgent action, and there is no silver bullet solution. Promising research continues to emerge around solutions, including alternative materials to single-use plastic. However, labels like “compostable” and “biodegradable” are misleading and lack transparency about what happens if products and packaging end up in the environment. Better Alternatives 3.0 offers greater transparency around these novel materials, their real-world behavior in the environment, and considerations that should be made before the widespread adoption of bioplastics in all sectors of society.” 

2. Gumboot Guys

Gumboot Guys is a slice of life on the North Coast and Haida Gwaii in the 1970’s, told through the tales of men and their boats. We had no sooner announced that the authors had decided to donate their royalties to Living Oceans Society than the book went to the top of the BC best-sellers list and promptly sold out its first printing! Second printing now available from Caitlin Press. And as if that weren’t good enough…there’s going to be a sequel, written by the Guys who settled on Northern Vancouver Island and Sointula. Among the authors is former Living Oceans fisheries and aquaculture campaigner Will Soltau. Once again, royalties will be coming our way. It’s such an honour to have our work recognized by the people who built BC’s coastal communities.   

3. The Outlaw Ocean Project 

“The Outlaw Ocean Project is a non-profit journalism organization based in Washington D.C. that produces investigative stories about human rights, labor, and environmental concerns on the two thirds of the planet covered by water.” 
Listen to the podcast or buy the book published by Vintage Canada and available at Indigo, on Amazon or on order from your favourite bookstore The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina

4. DeSmog's new Industrial Aquaculture Database 

 In DeSmog’s Industrial Aquaculture Database, you can find major industry players’ stance on sustainability, information on fish feed supply chains and record of lobbying.