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Archive for the ‘Industry Reform’ Category

Prisoner of Hope

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

“I’m not an optimist, I’m a prisoner of hope”. Those words from Archbishop Desmond Tutu have been the signature line on my emails in recent months. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a total pessimist. I couldn’t do this work if I didn’t believe change is possible. I do have moments of optimism and opportunities to celebrate when the small steps forward by my amazing colleagues at Living Oceans help to turn the tide of harm to our oceans.

But mostly, I’m just a prisoner of eternal hope.

It’s just as well that I am, because there’s probably never been anything better designed to shatter optimism than the federal Cohen Inquiry into the missing Fraser River sockeye.

I expected the mountains of evidence documenting lax enforcement of the open net-cage salmon farms by both levels of government. I expected records of disease outbreaks in the pens would, despite entrenched opposition from industry and government, eventually make their way into the public record – and they have. What has surprised me, however, is how the process is set up to minimize the amount of evidence that can be entered into the public record, forestalling attempts to dig for truth.

When witnesses such as the former Director General of Aquaculture Management for DFO or the provincial veterinarian charged with oversight of the health of farmed fish take the stand, they are first questioned by counsel for the Commission, followed by the federal then provincial government lawyers. Each have a full hour to interrogate the witnesses. Counsel for the Commission does occasionally ask some challenging questions. The government’s lawyers use their hours to lob softballs asking the government witnesses whether the government is doing a stellar job.

But then, finally, the lawyers for the participants get their turn to pitch. They’ve come armed with fast balls, curve balls, tough questions and a mountain of documents they would like to get entered into evidence and put on the public record. They each have 30 minutes, but sometimes they get only 20. And in some cases – they only have five. Five minutes to ask all their questions.

The team from Living Oceans and the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform have been poring over the Inquiry database, unearthing evidence of non-compliance, disease, and close cooperation in the 500,000 DFO emails, ministerial briefings, reports, industry data and correspondence. But none of it can be discussed publicly until it is formally entered into evidence at the hearings. As “participants” in the Inquiry, we have all signed legal undertakings that bind us to secrecy. So our lawyers spend a good chunk of their 30 minutes getting that evidence on the record. The Inquiry clerk has to find the document and label it with an exhibit number. Sometimes there is confusion: was it already entered in a previous session, is this a later draft of a document, does it need a new exhibit number? Time ticks by as the ‘process’ sorts itself out. Finally our lawyers have a few minutes for hard, challenging questions. Just as they are getting into the substance their time runs out.

The real value of this Inquiry will be in the evidence entered as exhibits. That’s where you’ll find shocking emails documenting problems on the farms, the disease databases, the DFO ‘draft’ communications plan outlining how the department can help the salmon farming industry combat the weight of evidence of the harm being done by open net-cages and their eroding social licence. In the end, value may also come from Justice Cohen’s final report and recommendations. Whether those recommendations will be strong remains to be seen. Whether government will act on them – well – I’m not an optimist, but I’m a prisoner of hope!

Credit: This post was originally published here on the Living Oceans Society blog.

Canadian government invests 1.2 million in aquaculture marketing initiatives rather than sustainable salmon farming technology

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Canada’s federal government announced an investment of 1.2 million taxpayer dollars towards aquaculture promotion including a “salmon public relations campaign.” This investment in image management is a testament to the widespread negative public opinion of the net-cage salmon farming industry, as well as an astonishing failure on the part of government to invest in real solutions that address the source of the industry’s declining reputation – unsustainable salmon farming practices. (more…)

Tax dollars subsidizing new net-pen technology

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Here’s an interesting quote from the backgrounder to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’s (DFO) June 11th Aquaculture Innovation and Market Access Program (AIMAP) announcement:

“Marine Harvest Canada received $200,000 in AIMAP funding to test alternative offshore salmon cage nets (pen nets) against traditional nylon nets. A side-by-side comparison of the net types will test for biofouling, net durability and fish growth. This project, which has leveraged nearly $1.6 million in additional funds, will be carried out in Marsh Bay (northern Vancouver Island).”

Queen Charlotte Strait

For a little perspective on where these tests will take place, Marsh Bay salmon farm – actually on Canada’s mainland north across Queen Charlotte Strait from Port Hardy – is situated inside a DFO-designated Rockfish Conservation Area where fishing is limited to only those types of gear that have no impact on demersal rockfish stocks. Elevated levels of mercury have been found in rockfish caught near salmon farms. Marsh Bay is also right on the path of out-migrating Sakinaw and Cultus Lake sockeye – two stocks of concern recommended for emergency listing as endangered populations by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Cultus Lake sockeye, by the way, are a part of the Fraser River sockeye stocks that collapsed in 2009. A judicial inquiry into what caused the collapse is now underway.

Some changes were proposed for the salmon farm just over a year ago and included using a different type of cage structure more suited to the harsher, open-ocean type of marine environment that can affect Marsh Bay. A tenure expansion was needed to place the new anchors for the structures and Living Oceans Society received a referral from the Provincial Integrated Lands Management Bureau (ILMB). And, because the application may require DFO to issue a permit under Section 35(2) of the Fisheries Act for harmfully altering, disrupting or destroying fish habitat, it triggered a requirement under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act for DFO to conduct a review.  DFO has still not completed its Environmental Assessment (EA) for Marsh Bay making the approval for funding these tests questionable. I prepared comments for Living Oceans Society and brought our conservation concerns, including those mentioned above to both the ILMB’s and DFO’s attention and since the application is still under review, there is still time for public comment. The other important decision from the ILMB on the tenure expansion is also still pending.

Since there is no shortage of open net-pen salmon farms in Canada that are not undergoing EAs where this alternative technology could be tested, I was surprised to read that DFO awarded AIMAP funds to this particular project when their EA is still in the works and Justice Cohen’s Commission of Inquiry into the collapse of Fraser River sockeye is just beginning. By awarding the funding, DFO is either presuming that the Marsh Bay EA will result in a positive outcome and that the Cohen Inquiry will totally exonerate salmon farming as a contributor to the Fraser River sockeyes’ collapse or else the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

But what surprised me the most was, considering the mountain of scientific evidence showing the negative effects associated with farming salmon in open net-pens on wild salmon migration routes, I would think that the feds should be more inclined at this time to spend taxpayers’ money supporting real innovation like the closed containment pilot project trial being proposed by Marine Harvest Canada than to continue testing alternative types of open net-pens.

Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture: more speculation than science

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Recently, the salmon aquaculture industry and news outlets have been promoting a new approach to salmon farming called Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA), meaning that several marine species are raised in the same operation, such as mussels that eat the waste from salmon raised in open-net pens. This approach allows salmon farm companies to increase and diversify their product sales while using the same open-net cage technology and inputs. This new business approach also comes with claims that it will alleviate the impacts that salmon farms have on the marine environment, even going so far as to claim that problems like sea lice can be controlled. (more…)

Victory! Massive new net-cage salmon farm proposal denied

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

A proposal by Grieg Seafood to put in a massive new salmon farm along a migratory route at Gunner Point in the northern Georgia Strait has been denied! The Strathcona Regional District’s decision to restrict the proliferation of open net-cages on this important migration route has sent a clear message to industry that closed containment is the only acceptable direction for the aquaculture industry in BC. (more…)

First Nations group wants net-cage farms out!

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

Over the past year, CAAR members have been travelling in the Fraser and Thompson River Basins, meeting with representatives of a number of Indigenous Nations to share information about the potential danger to out-migrating juvenile salmon as they pass by open net-cage salmon farms in the northern Georgia Strait. These groups voiced grave concerns that net-cage farms may be partly responsible for the loss of wild salmon – an essential part of the land and culture. (more…)