Images captured by photographer Tavish Campbell have raised alarm over how fish processing operations are discharging waste into the ocean. (Tavish Campbell photo)
After images were publicized by a Vancouver Island photographer showing fish processing plants releasing blood-red effluent into coastal waters, the B.C. government has committed to a widespread assessment of the industry.
“The ministry will be conducting a sector-wide audit of fish processing plants in the province to examine the current state of the industry with respect to regulatory requirements,” stated the B.C. Ministry of Environment’s media relations in an email to the Ha-Shilth-Sa. “The requirements are designed to ensure that the environment is protected and pollution does not occur.”
The sector-wide audit follows Tavish Campbell’s recent exposure of underwater photographs and video from two processing facilities by Campbell River and Tofino. The images show bright red clouds of effluent pouring from underwater pipes into the ocean.
“Blood water pouring into downtown Tofino harbour, and this time with huge schools of rock fish and perch feeding directly on the raw effluent and introducing it into the food chain of Clayoquot Sound,” said Campbell in a video showing the effluent. “Who is authorizing this dumping of infectious waste into wild salmon habitat? This is insanely dangerous for our wild fish and it has to stop.”
To get a closer look at how outflow waste from the operations is affecting the surrounding water, Campbell conducted dives in October and November at Brown’s Bay near Campbell River and off Tofino’s harbour, collecting samples from the effluent-clouded ocean water. These samples were sent for testing at the Atlantic Veterinary College, which detected piscine reovirus.
Both processing plants handle farmed salmon, and piscine reovirus (PRV) was first detected on the West Coast six years ago in chinook being raised in aquaculture facilities, according to studies conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Since then the virus has been found in farmed Atlantic salmon, as well as wild chinook, sockeye, coho, chum salmon, cutthroat trout and steelhead trout. PRV is linked to other diseases affecting farmed and wild salmon, including heart and skeletal muscle inflammation.
“Detections have been made from both farmed and wild fish populations which have extended from the State of Washington north through B.C. to Alaska,” stated a DFO report on PRV.
Effluent from the Tofino processing plant, which is operated by Lions Gate Fisheries, was released into the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation’s hahouthee. The Tla-o-qui-aht have a protocol agreement with Creative Salmon, the aquaculture company that raises chinook for the Tofino operation. On Dec. 6 members of the First Nation met with Creative Salmon representatives to address the Tla-o-qui-aht’s concerns about the effluent.
“There have been changes made for the short term to reduce organic matter being discharged into the environment,” said the Tla-o-qhi-aht’s fisheries department in an email to the Ha-shilth-Sa. “There is also a plan being developed for the long term to reduce this even lower and treating what organics that may enter the environment.”
“All parties are now working together to voluntarily make some changes and improvements to procedures at the plant to address public concern,” said Creative Salmon’s General Manager Tim
Rundle in a joint statement from the company and the First Nation.
“We discussed some changes that were made immediately to significantly reduce the amount of water and particulates being discharged and had a tour of the plant,” added the Tla-o-qui-aht’s Natural Resource Director Saya Masso in the joint statement. “We also discussed the various options and technologies available for treatment of effluent. This is an important issue for Tla-o-qui-aht and we will work with Creative Salmon as they continue to research next steps and treatment options.”
The B.C. Ministry of Environment has also responded to the effluent images by planning to send officers to the Brown’s Bay and Tofino operations to ensure they comply with provincial regulations. Although discharge requirements “are site specific” for different facilities, depending on the volume of effluent and the surrounding environment, some permits might need to be updated to include filtration and disinfection prior to release into the ocean.
“In some instances more advanced chemical or biological treatment technologies may be required,” stated the provincial ministry. “One such example is the Brown’s Bay Packing Company (Permit PE 8124), which is undergoing an amendment that, if issued, will include new requirements for updated pollution control works and more extensive monitoring and reporting conditions (both for the discharge and the receiving environment).”
According to Creative Salmon, the Tofino processing plant follows all provincial permits and regulations.
“Effluent from the plant is screened and discharged into the marine environment at depth according to the provincial government permit,” read a statement from the company released on Nov. 28.
The images of the effluent sparked outrage from aquaculture opponents. When the photographs were made public in late November, Clayoquot Action took aim at Creative Salmon, calling for the removal of aquaculture pens from Clayoquot Sound.
“The inlets of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve are like wild salmon highways,” said Clayoquot Action’s campaign’s director Bonny Glambeck in a statement from the organization. “There’s no way for wild fish to avoid these diseased farms – so no way for them to avoid becoming sick.”
Amid these accusations, Creative Salmon asserts that its standards and those followed by Lions Gate Fisheries are actually higher than what governments require. With a staff of 55 full-time employees overseeing four farms in Tla-o-qui-aht hahoulthee, Creative Salmon operates under an agreement with the First Nation that prohibits underwater lighting at night and antifouling agents in the pens, limiting fish density to one per cent of the total space in the nets.
“Both the plant and Creative Salmon are certified to the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standard,” stated the company. “This is an audited, national standard that exceeds municipal, provincial and federal regulatory requirements.”
Fish farms with this organic certification are forbidden to use “all materials and products produced from genetic engineering,” pesticides, “synthetic growth regulators,” parasiticides and antibiotics, according to the national standard.
To address ongoing concerns about the release of effluent into the Pacific Ocean, Creative Salmon has committed to keep the Tla-o-qui-aht informed about the Tofino processing plant’s practices.
“We are always open to talk constructively about what is happening and to address questions about our operations,” said Rundle.