Sunday, March 29, 2009

Petition to the DFO Breaks 10,000

The "signatures are still rolling in unabated" says Alexandra Morton in her latest letter to Minister Shea and Premier Campbell, and the count currently stands at 10,465.

This is great news. It will be interesting to see how the DFO responds to the five demands of the petition, though you can expect the sort of PR mumble seen on their "Myths and Realities about Salmon Farming" page.

This DFO"reality" is my favourite: 'Habitat Officers routinely review sites in order to prevent harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of the oceans and freshwater habitat.'

Hmm... if DFO officers are not monitoring bycatch, disease outbreaks, ocean-bottom destruction, and the attraction of marine mammals and wild baitfish to the farming pens... what exactly are they doing in these salmon farm "reviews"?

Alex's letter, and the petition with the latest signatures, is now posted at her Adopt-a-Fry website.

If you haven't already, check out the six-minute "In a Nutshell" documentary above. It's one of several excellent videos by Twyla Roscovich, a young film-maker who has spent a lot of time (months? years?) with Alex in the Broughton.

(This is the full post, so please ignore the automatic "Read Full Post" link here.) Read Full Post

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cracks in the Marble: JRs, NAFTA and 30,000 Signatures

Politics and politicians: can't live with them, can't ignore them.

Recently the Senate voted down a proposal to ban the seal hunt; not a single vote was cast in favour of the motion. Regardless of your position on seal hunting* the vote itself speaks to the political situation between Conservatives and Liberals. No Liberal senator wants to give the Conservatives any means of eroding their support in rural Canada, and vice versa.

Similarly, when the Conservatives lumped the Navigable Waters Protection Act in with the Bill C-10 budget implementation "to streamline the approval process"-- read "build bridges and buildings to prop up the economy without worrying about damage to habitat"-- the Liberals were unable to change it.

Michael Ignatieff wrote back to concerned citizens the following:
"As you are aware, there are a number of measures contained in Bill C-10 with which the Liberal Opposition is not satisfied. We would have preferred that measures concerning our navigable waters be tabled as a separate piece of legislation....

Unfortunately, the government has deliberately placed these in the budget bill, making them matters of confidence. This means that any changes to the bill would result in the government calling an election which would, in turn, delay any potential stimulus measures for months to come. With thousands of Canadians losing their jobs every day, the Liberal Opposition has determined that the responsible thing to do for this country is to get that money working in our economy."
(For Rafe Mair's insight on the gutting of the Navigable Waters Act, go here.)

So given the ping-pong match between hamstrung Liberals and Conservatives who know that hard economic times make it easy to gut ecological safeguards, what kind of pressure can we hope to exert on the federal government to save wild fish?

S0metimes there are some cracks in the slabstone edifices of power where a well-placed crowbar can do a lot of good. I'd say Alexandra Morton's recent lawsuit proves that (see previous posts).

The current political situation may be full of such cracks, but I'm not sure where they are. One reader suggests taking a page from the folks at Mining Watch-- who initiated one against former Environment Minister John Baird-- and launching a Judicial Review against the current DFO Minister. Or, he writes, "use NAFTA's chapter 13 or 14 (?) to report that a your country (ministry responsible) has failed to uphold or enforce their environmental laws."

Maybe these are the kind of ideas we need to consider to protect wild fish.

Alexandra Morton says we need at least 30,000 signatures on her petition-- she had over 4,600 at last count, 3,700 of which were from BC--to get Ottawa's attention. That seems like a good place to start.

* Terry Glavin makes some good points in his article on the seal hunt. He's right: if you're willing to eat factory-farmed steak, the moral distinctions between killing seals and killing cows are dubious. We've all seen the pictures of the cute seals and the bloody ice. But how many of us have seen pictures from the inside of a slaughterhouse?
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Friday, March 13, 2009

Three Thousand Signatures

Quick update: Alex's petition to the DFO now has three thousand names. Congratulations Alex and thanks to everyone who has signed so far. See previous posts for more info. (Don't click the "Read Full Post" link, since this is the full post.) Read Full Post

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Silver Donald Cameron: "This Affects Us Too"

Regarding Alex's petition (see yesterday's post), below is an excerpt from an email I received from Silver Donald Cameron. Mr. Cameron writes a Sunday column in the Halifax Herald.

"Alex Morton has been fighting an almost single-handed battle for years and years to get BC's salmon farms properly regulated and controlled, and she's finally won in court.

Now the question is whether the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will actually apply the law to the salmon farms, and that's the subject of this petition.

Most of the people on this list live a long way from the Pacific Coast, but DFO's dereliction of duty affects us too. This is a rogue department that's largely responsible for the decimation of the fisheries on both coasts, a department which will promulgate special regulations to stifle protest at the seal hunt, and will enforce those regulations vigorously -- but won't support a ban on trawling on unique seamounts, and won't even meet their obligations to apply the law where it really does matter.

Anything we can do to make DFO behave as though it were answerable to the people of Canada, I think, deserves our support, wherever we may live. That's why I signed this petition, and that's why I'm inviting you to join me if you have similar feelings about DFO.

Best wishes,
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Monday, March 9, 2009

Update: Alexandra Morton's DFO Petition

Here's the latest version of Ms. Morton's petition to the DFO. Her letter now has nearly 2,000 signatories. Click Read Full Post to see the full text of the petition, and Ms. Morton's email to Minister of Fisheries Gail Shea, Premier Gordon Campbell and DFO Pacific Region Director Paul Sprout.

To sign the petition, click here.

This is the fourth edition of the petition; the DFO has yet to respond to it, or to Ms. Morton's call for the federal government to "apply the Fisheries Act to [the salmon farming] industry." The petition calls for the feds to redress 20 years of mismanagement by taking the following steps:

1) Place observers during feedlot salmon harvest to assess unlawful by-catch;
2) Examine feedlot salmon as they are cleaned for presence of wild fish in their
digestive tract
3) Licence vessels transporting aquaculture salmon like all other commercial
fishing vessels;
4) As per Pacific Fishery Regulation "Prohibited Fishing Methods" ban grow lights on fish feedlots to end wild prey species attraction into the pens;
5) Remove the marine feedlot industry from wild salmon migration routes.

The same population crashes in salmonid populations in Norway and the UK linked to salmon farming appear likely to continue in BC if the DFO continues to play dumb.

Dear Honourable Minister of Fisheries Gail Shea, Premier Gordon Campbell and Paul Sprout.

One thousand, nine hundred and thirty nine (1,939) people have signed the attached letter asking that the Fisheries Act be applied to the marine feedlot fishery.

I understand that a few hours ago Marine Harvest appealed the BC Supreme Court decision that made their operations in Canada a fishery. They said it is because they are worried about who owns their fish. I suspect also they are more comfortable as a “farm” under Provincial jurisdiction as wild marine fish are not a Provincial concern.

This must not be an excuse not to deal with the problems. We are really worried about our fish and cannot understand why no one will answer the letters we have been sending asking for several very reasonable aspects of the Fisheries Act to be applied to this fishery.

We are standing by and wishing you wisdom in dealing with this,

Alexandra Morton

The Petition:

To: The Fisheries Minister The Honourable Gail Shea and Gordon Campbell, Premier of
British Columbia

Wild salmon are the backbone of the BC Coast. On February 9, 2009 BC Supreme Court
ruled that salmon farms are a fishery and a federal responsibility. The science is in. The
feedlot fishery is damaging wild salmon stocks worldwide (Ford and Myers 2008). Fraser
sockeye and all southcoast BC salmon and steelhead are now at risk as a result of the
Provincial policy of allowing the feedlot fishery to use Canada's most valuable wild
salmon habitat .

We the undersigned demand that Fisheries and Oceans Canada apply the Fisheries Act to
this industry and immediately:
− Place observers during feedlot salmon harvest to assess unlawful by-catch;
− Examine feedlot salmon as they are cleaned for presence of wild fish in their
digestive tract;
− Licence vessels transporting aquaculture salmon like all other commercial
fishing vessels;
− As per Pacific Fishery Regulation "Prohibited Fishing
Methods" ban grow lights on fish feedlots to end wild prey species
attraction into the pens;
- Remove the marine feedlot industry from wild salmon migration routes.
The landmark BC Supreme Court decision states, “The inclusion of fisheries in s.
91(12) of the Constitution Act, 1867 was a recognition that fisheries, as a national
resource, require uniformity of the legislation”.

We insist that the Fisheries Act be applied to the salmon feedlot fishery immediately.
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Thursday, March 5, 2009

For the DFO, Any Fish is a Good Fish

In the previous post Alexandra Morton's "We the Fish People" petition made a bold statement-- that "Fisheries and Oceans Canada has always had the power to regulate the aquaculture industry to comply with the Fisheries Act, but has chosen not to."

To back Ms. Morton up on this one, here's an excerpt from Joseph Planta's online interview with Otto Langer in 2004. Mr. Langer is a biologist who spent 32 years in habitat management at the DFO:

Otto Langer: "I coined the phrase 'any fish is a good fish' when I was with DFO many years ago, and would annoy a lot of my peers… but when it comes to hatchery production or to sea farms I think it’s a very appropriate comment. It appears as though any time you’re producing fish in BC or maybe in Canada, the DFO would look upon that as a saintly thing to do, and those enterprises would be exempted from environmental impact reviews, pollution permits, that type of thing. And I always said, well as long as you’re making a fish, it’s a good fish… they just would never acknowledge the genetic impacts you could have on the wild runs, from the disease, and real problems that we’re seeing from fish farms.

And that’s quite unfortunate, and by that agency taking that view basically they've given fish farming almost immunity from the federal Fisheries Act.

(Interview continues...)

Despite the fact that we’ve had hundreds of violations of the Fisheries Act on this coast, not a single fish farmer has been charged under the Act, whether it be [for] pollution, destruction of beaches, and what I would call harmful alteration of habitat by the release of Atlantic salmon into our waters, and it goes on and on.

Basically the DFO has confused their mandate to preserve wild fish with their non-legal mandate, which is a political mandate, to promote fish-farming in Canada.”

Planta: "What do they say, do they just ignore you? Do they just deny there’s anything wrong?"

Otto Langer: "Oh yeah, you can play that game. They’re almost like the cigarette companies. [They say,] 'There’s no proof… Atlantic salmon aren’t doing any damage, even if they escape they won’t take, they won’t survive, well even if they survive they won’t get in our rivers, well if they get in our rivers they won’t spawn…'

They’ll just come up with all of these excuses, and that’s why I say they’re totally living in denial, and basically they’ll go overboard to defending the industry because that's what their political masters want... from 15 yrs ago, the federal government said, 'We’re going to promote fish farming in Canada' and there’s no new legislation giving them the authority to do so, and that responsibility was dumped on DFO in 1995.

And DFO has made that a higher priority than enforcing their protection of the environment or fish and fish habitat, which is a constitutional and legal mandate… so you can see politics is extremely important, and if you're a civil servant you can ignore your legislation and what the House of Commons wants you to do. But you can’t ignore what your Minister wants you to do.
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"We The Fish People"

Following her victory in the BC Supreme Court, biologist Alexandra Morton is pursuing the DFO with a petition titled "We The Fish People." As of today Ms. Morton has signed up over 1100 salmon gillnetters, herring and halibut fishermen, tackle suppliers, seafood distributors and sport fishermen, among others whose livelihoods are tied to BC's wild fish.

The letter to Fisheries Minister Gail Shea and Paul Sprout, Regional Director of DFO's Pacific Region branch, asks that the agency apply the same rules to salmon farms that are applied to all fishermen in BC waters: namely, that salmon farms be monitored for bycatch, wild fish ingestion by farmed fish, and be required to remove all underwater lights. These are a good start towards treating salmon farms like other fisheries.

Click the "Read Full Post" link below to read the letter; bolding in the text is mine.
"Dear Paul Sprout and the Honourable Gail Shea:

We, the fishermen of British Columbia, work under increasing regulation, restrictions and closures set by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to protect our industry and Canada’s ocean resources. Some of us are required to carry observers and DFO cameras at our expense to monitor and reduce our by-catch. We are prohibited from fin-fishing with lights at night.

All fishing and packing vessels are required to be licensed by your Department. We have been required to alter our gear, install revival tanks and limited our fishing time and areas following DFO instructions. But we are disheartened that despite this, wild fish stocks continue to decline. Clearly it is not only fishing that is causing this..."

"On February 9, 2009 the BC Supreme Court ruled that British Columbia salmon farms are not “farms,” and that current Provincial regulation of this industry is unconstitutional.

The responsibility for salmon aquaculture will pass from the Province to the federal government in 12 months. As it stands today, the salmon aquaculture industry is now a public fishery.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada has always had the power to regulate the aquaculture industry to comply with the Fisheries Act, but has chosen not to. You can understand why we do not accept this as fair conduct by your department. In addition, many of us have experience with the salmon aquaculture industry and we have witnessed practices that serve to undo the sacrifices by our industry.

While the court has given the federal government 12 months to assume regulation of salmon aquaculture, the dire state of many fish stocks in BC moves us to demand that DFO take steps immediately to meet its current constitutional obligations to conserve and protect the fisheries resources of Canada.

We request:

That observers and cameras be required during the harvesting and off-loading
of aquaculture salmon to assess by-catch of non-target species by this fishery;

• Examination of farm fish as they are cleaned for presence of wild fish in their digestive tract;

• That the vessels transporting aquaculture salmon be licensed like all other
commercial fishing vessels;

• That the Pacific Fishery Regulations (1993) Section 8 Prohibited Fishing
Methods be enforced. All brilliant submerged and above water lights should be
removed from the aquaculture facilities immediately
to prevent wild prey and predator species from being drawn to and into the pens.

I like her new term for the salmon farming industry, which follows in the summary paragraph:
As Justice Hinkson wrote in his landmark decision, “The inclusion of fisheries in s.
91(12) of the Constitution Act, 1867 was a recognition that fisheries, as a national
resource, require uniformity of the legislation.” We feel certain that the aquaculture
industry will be the first to agree that they can comply with the laws of Canada.
We insist that the Fisheries Act be applied to the salmon feedlot fishery immediately.
The petition is filling so fast, says Ms. Morton, that her email inbox is overflowing. An automated means of recording signatures is "coming very quick" she says. Check back here for updates, and to find out how to sign up. Read Full Post

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Us, Poachers? Part II

Stalking lingcod (see last post) offered another perspective on fisheries conservation. After spending an hour deciphering the DFO Tidal Waters handbook, we saw, or thought we saw, that we were allotted one 65-cm lingcod in region 17. But the season was undefined, and we were supposed to call the DFO to check before fishing.

We didn't, and today I found out-- after talking to the DFO's groundfish department-- that we escaped being poachers only by our bad luck. Apparently lingcod and rockfish have been in recovery from overfishing in most of the waters of southern BC for the past 15 years, and the limited recreational fishery doesn't open until June. If we had known that, but caught a sizable and tasty lingcod, would we really have thrown it back? Or would we have turned poacher?

It’s easy to blame an agency like the DFO for failures in fishery management. Something has to change at the top, but this week I got a more internal, bottom-up sense of the problem. Out on a barnacled bank surrounded by seals, otters and rich marine life— or on a skiff, or on a fishing boat— government rules seem arbitrary, and authority very distant. What does a bureaucracy like the DFO have to do with such places, and what could be more natural than catching a fish in the Salish Sea and taking it back to our dinner table?


Regulating shared use of the oceans has everything to do with such places, of course. It's just very difficult to remember that when it's your line in the water. It's a disjunct more abrupt than carrying a fishing rod down East Hastings Street-- a gap between what we know we ought to do and what we justify doing.

A couple of vacationers casting for an off-season lingcod near Galiano Island is not quite the same as industrial draggers on the Grand Banks shoaling up 200 tonnes of Atlantic cod per hour (twice as much in one hour, Alex Rose once pointed out, as the traditional schooners would have caught in a season). But it's mostly a difference of quantity. The mindset is the same. We wanted a fish; we’d bought the gear and come down there to catch it; and if the authorities said we couldn’t… well, the authorities weren't around, and what's the harm? We should we turf our plans because of some bureaucratic booklet?

This line of thinking can expand to millions of fish when entitlement is magnified by regionalism (“I’ve lived In BC my whole life, these fish belong to me, screw those idiots in Ottawa”), ancestral heritage (“My family has been fishing here for three generations”) or investment (“I spent $600,000 on this boat and license, you’re not going to shut me down now”). While keeping an eye on captured agencies is at least half the issue, we get the regulatory agencies we deserve. Every snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty.
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Us, Poachers? Part I

I went fishing this weekend for the first time in about 15 years. Bought a rod and a saltwater reel and three casting lures (including the Buzz Bomb, a classic of my youth, and my new favourite, the Gulf Islands-born MacDeep) at a tackle shop on Hastings Street, about 10 blocks from my office. Walking down an East Vancouver sidewalk with a fishing rod feels a bit punk rock: “That’s right. I know how to use a spinning reel.” If you're the sort of urbanite who long ago stopped changing their own oil filters, try it sometime; it gives an impression that you’re someone who could dismantle a carburetor.

The gear was for a weekend trip my wife Michele and I took to Galiano Island in BC's Gulf Islands. We stayed in a funky cabin owned by a French-Canadian couple, Bernard and Line Marie, who spend several months of the year sailing a fifty-foot ketch. These are people who actually can rebuild a carburetor. Bernard gave us two options for paths on their property that led down to the water, each one likely spots, he said, for lingcod. (Three day saltwater license for non-salmon finfish: $11.55)


The first day we picked our way down the southern path to a sandstone point. While edging down the slope on my backside, rod in one hand and a fistful of tough yellow grass in the other, I spooked a fat and resentful sea otter from his perch overlooking Active Pass. I'd never seen a sea otter before, and I couldn't get the words out of my mouth fast enough to tell Michele to look before he leaped in. My brain could only retrieve the word beaver, which I knew was wrong. "Look it's a- a - a--" and he was gone.

Galiano is legendary for snagged lines and sure enough I lost my Stingsilda lure-- another classic that looks like a slender, four-inch oolichan— in the first half-hour. We didn’t reel in anything but kelp that day, or the next, when Michele’s cast caught short and sent the MacDeep to its final resting place among some nearshore rocks. But both days we got lucky with the weather and saw bald eagles, mottled grey-black harbour seals, and some incredible tide-pool anemones and sea stars. We felt like we were twelve years old.
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