Healthy Oceans. Healthy Communities.

Oceans Update Spring 2020

Trans Mountain: The Supreme Court's Decision Unpacked

We were disappointed, but not truly surprised to hear the Supreme Court of Canada refused last week to hear our appeal against the Trans Mountain re-approval. It was always a long shot:  the Court hears only about ten percent of the cases brought to it and because it doesn’t issue reasons for a refusal, it remains a bit of a black box. Divining any reason for the refusal is a bit like reading tea leaves; but that can be fun, so here goes…

Our case had unquestionable merit to be heard on appeal, as we were asking the Court to reconcile two important pieces of legislation, one of which it has never considered. The Species at Risk Act is strong on paper, but weak in practical application. Our lawsuit raised squarely the question whether or not a project can be approved under environmental assessment law when its adverse impacts on an endangered species cannot be mitigated.

The Southern Resident Killer Whale is not the only species at risk whose habitat, food source or survival would be jeopardized by an oil spill from a tanker serving the Trans Mountain Expansion project. It probably isn’t the only one whose daily life would be impaired by routine operations of the tankers, either: noise, turbulence and physical displacement of species can all lead to decreased foraging and the failure of juveniles to thrive. None of these impacts has been mitigated in the plans for Trans Mountain or in the government’s much-vaunted Oceans Protection Plan, for the simple reason that no mitigation is possible.

Aye, there’s the rub!  If the Court were to interpret the Species at Risk Act as we and our lawyers at Ecojustice see it, the conclusion would have to be that the project cannot proceed. It is, perhaps, more politic to refrain from interpreting where the end result would be a head-on collision with a government policy in which we’re now invested to the tune of about $12 billion and one struggling pod of Killer Whales.

Would you like chemicals with that?

More parasiticides allowed under the ‘responsibly farmed’ ASC salmon eco-certification. 

Parasiticides (i.e. chemicals) are regularly used by farms to combat sea lice infections. The chemicals have their own set of environmental impacts, as untreated discharge and fish excrement gets released directly into the ocean. Chemical resistance has become an increasing concern – resistance can leave farmers unable to control outbreaks. This was seen at Clayoquot Sound in 2018 where farms, including Aquaculture Stewardship Council certified farms, experienced sea lice outbreaks as high as 34 adult lice per fish. Meanwhile, wild salmon runs are left with the consequences because even low sea lice abundance on juvenile salmon can cause significant harm or death.

It is therefore no surprise that parasiticide use is one of the sustainability concerns addressed by the ASC salmon standard. Unfortunately, the ASC eco-label recently revised the number of chemical treatments allowed under its standard – and not for the better. The changes dramatically increase the number of chemical treatments allowed in some salmon farming regions.

Here’s what the changes mean for ASC ‘responsibly farmed’ Canadian salmon.

First, farms on both coasts will be allowed to treat sea lice more often – with each treatment releasing parasiticides into the ocean environment and increasing the chance of chemical resistance. Many more treatments will be allowed on the east coast than in the west. Previously all ASC certified farms, regardless of their location, needed to meet a threshold of 2-3 sea lice treatments. Now, a B.C. salmon farm will be allowed 3-4 treatments, while an Atlantic Canada farm will be allowed as many as nine (a number that appears to be arbitrarily based on the very limited data available for east coast farms). In addition, Atlantic Canada farms will have up to eight years to work towards the 3-4 treatment threshold. And actually, an ASC certified B.C. farm might receive more than four treatments; an ASC interpretation means up to a year of production time can be excluded from an audit. During this time, environmental impacts such as sea lice treatments are simply ignored.

Second, east coast farms benefit from another change – the removal of precautionary lobster protections. Until now, farms were penalized for chemical treatments during the sensitive lobster moulting period because the chemicals can be incredibly toxic to lobsters and other crustaceans. But the amendment no longer penalizes farms for the use of chemicals that could have significant impacts on lobster populations and/or fisheries. Deltamethrin has been found to be “extremely toxic” to crustaceans and may be lethal to lobsters up to 10 km away and several hours after release. Cypermethrin has also been found to be “very toxic” to crustaceans. Another study found azamethiphos exposure could cause sub-lethal effects, including delayed spawning in female lobster and other physiological impacts.

Third, ASC has approved problematic variances (departures from standard criteria) that undermine the amendment’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) requirements. The IPM requires certified farms to try and control sea lice using coordinated management practices (for example fallowing between cycles and chemical rotation), thereby reducing the risk of drug resistance. One requirement is that farms maintain lice loads of less than 0.1 mature female lice per fish. B.C. farms are exempt from this requirement, however, which has resulted in certified farms with lice counts of over 20 mature lice per fish.

Another IPM requirement is area-based management. ASC’s own internal report found B.C. is the only salmon farming region without an ABM regulatory requirement. Like with the sea lice threshold, B.C. farms are exempt from the ABM requirement. Both the sea lice and ABM variances instead defer to Fishery and Oceans’ inadequate regulations.

Certifications offer the potential to improve industry practices, but only when they go beyond industry norms and government regulations. Unfortunately, ASC appears to be weakening their standard to accommodate industry norms in order to enable more farms to become certified.

The transition of B.C. open net-pen salmon farms to closed containment is one sure way to keep farm chemicals out of the ocean and farmed derived sea-lice away from our wild fish (though we would like to see the transition extended to both coasts). Now that would be truly ‘responsible’ farmed salmon.

Energy and Climate Change: Will the market save us from ourselves?

This is spooky. I sat down to update myself on oil markets this morning so as to be able to write this article, CBC playing in the background. This interview with Regan Boychuk, a researcher with the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project came on and immediately riveted my attention. “Every company operating outside of the oil sands in Alberta, at least their Alberta operations, is insolvent. They have more financial and environmental debt than they can ever realistically expect to generate in profits", he said.

Western Canada Select, the benchmark oil for the tarsands, lost nearly 40 percent of its value on Monday, March 9, closing at only $15.73. The cost of production is in the range of $50-65
Graph of WCS oil price

So, I wondered, what of the tarsands? With the price of oil so low, what’s happening with their profitability?  That’s when the next spooky thing happened: CBC reported online that OPEC had failed to reach an agreement with Russia to make further cuts to supply; there’s fear of an all-out price war as Saudi Arabia ramps up supply and discounts its prices. West Texas Intermediate oil prices are down to $30 bbl and falling.  That puts the prices of Canadian heavy oils down to about one-quarter of the cost of production. And this at a time when Jason Kenney, in all his wisdom, has taken the constraints off Alberta producers, putting further downward pressure on prices.

Add in the shocking impact of reaction to the Covid-19 crisis on global oil demand, and the oil industry is facing a perfect storm. Growth projections for the sector were already modest and being revised downward month by month by the International Energy Agency. While coronavirus impacts will hopefully be short-lived, escalating geopolitical tension and the climate crisis are definitely driving a global investment trend away from oil.

This puts the decision by Teck Resources Ltd. last month, to down tools on its massive tarsands project, into a little better perspective. It was not so much about the shortcomings of energy policy in Canada as it was about losing the corporate shirt. While it had the nation’s attention for walking away from the project, Teck announced the purchase of a solar energy plant. At a mere 1.05 megawatts, the plant is unlikely to calm existential fears on the part of investors; but it might signal a dawning awareness that the oil business is moribund.

And so, on to my thesis that the market might save us from ourselves: with prices tanking, a soft outlook for demand and Alberta producers insolvent or about to become so, it seems unlikely that we’ll see the kind of growth in tarsands production that gave rise to the scheme to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline in the first place. Living Oceans’ expert reports filed in the hearing process made it clear that the pipeline wasn’t needed any time soon based on the (much rosier) projections for supply back in 2016. In today’s market and with the Keystone pipeline likely to be completed, Trans Mountain is even less likely to be needed. If the market were the financier, instead of you and me, it wouldn’t even be built in this investment climate.

The only question is, does anyone in Ottawa have what it takes to respond to the writing on the wall? Or will it be easier, politically, to squander a few billion on building the white elephant in the hope of selling it to a consortium of indigenous businesspeople (and the even fonder hope of placating Alberta)?  We can only hope that the potential financiers for the potential purchasers can read the writing on the wall and are translating it for Ottawa right now.

Backpedalling or fast-tracking: where are we going with salmon farming?

Bernadette Jordan

The dust had barely settled on the Liberal election promise to transition open netpen salmon farms to closed containment by 2025 when the industry took to the media to proclaim that the Prime Minister would “change his mind”. Co-incidentally, that seemed to have happened when the newly appointed Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan was quoted in the media saying that she only needed to make a plan by 2025. That would only be the case if she were still the Fisheries Minister by then; and if, in fact, the Liberals still form government by then.  The blind rage they’ve managed to incite on both coasts with this astounding set of mis-steps argues against both propositions.

British Columbia’s wild salmon can’t wait five years for a plan—that will be another whole generation and more of every species of salmon. They can’t possibly survive the onslaught of lice and disease served up by open netpens while so many populations are depressed to the lowest levels in history.

Having just returned from a whirlwind tour of Nova Scotia, we can say with confidence that lobster fishers and tourism operators, the backbone of that economy, are less than pleased to be seeing the Norwegian and Japanese giants that farm our waters heading for theirs. Living Oceans teamed up with Ecology Action Centre in Halifax to present a series of public speaking events in Nova Scotia, to build solidarity across the country. If salmon are to be farmed, we’re united in wanting them to be farmed on land, in fully closed containment.

Globally, the investment in land-based salmon aquaculture has soared over the past few years. The plants now in production or development will reach over 750,000 MT of Atlantic salmon by completion. Contrast that with the 2016 global production number for netpen Atlantic salmon—2 million MT—and you can see what a game-changer this technology has become in a very short time.

All that’s needed to build the industry in Canada is regulatory certainty and some incentives to early investors—the same kind of support we routinely give to old and new industries looking to locate in Canada. If the government were to fast-track those two things, we would see new investment and well-paid jobs on both coasts, where the infrastructure and know-how exist to support salmon farming. If the government does not act, we risk losing market share and jobs in the existing industry to the more sustainable land-based operations springing up in our US markets.

Help us tell the government it’s time to get off the pot:  

Boat-to-plate traceability mandate welcomed

Living Oceans welcomes the PMOs mandate to Fisheries and Oceans and Health Canada to develop a boat-to-plate traceability program.  It is an opportunity to bring Canada up to par with some of our biggest trading partners, such as the EU and USA, where key traceability requirements are a not only a norm but an expectation.

Importantly, traceability should also translate to detailed seafood labelling for consumers. Detailed labelling and accurate traceability are two of the most fundamental elements to ensure seafood purchased at any point along the supply chain is indeed what it says it is. These elements also help to weed out seafood that is associated with illegal, unregulated, unreported (IUU) fisheries or human rights abuses. They also help to deter ‘seafood fraud’ (the intentional switching of a species for another). 

Living Oceans and our SeaChoice partners have been advocating for Canada to overhaul our lax labelling laws for the last five years through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) Food Labelling Modernization initiative. Over 12,000 Canadians told the CFIA that seafood labels should include scientific name, geographic origin, production method (wild or farmed) and harvest method; and that the accuracy of these label claims should be supported by legally entrenched traceability requirements. The results of the initiative are yet to be announced but have been suggested to be soft.

Canada cannot afford to miss the boat a second time around.  Living Oceans and SeaChoice will be working hard to ensure this mandate becomes a reality – because it is more than time for Canadians to stop eating their seafood in the dark.