Georgia Strait Alliance is the only citizens' group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia – Canada's most at-risk natural environment, and the place where 70% of British Columbians live, work and play. We are committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

November 23, 2010

For the love of sockeye

Spectators gathering at the Adams River,
October 2010
Last month I had the privilege of witnessing the miraculous abundance of Fraser River sockeye returning this year. The Adams River was a whir of activity as people jostled for the best position to see as the salmon fought the currents and each other for the best mate and place for a spawning redd. Tears welled up frequently as I marveled at the beauty and the miracle of their unlikely return.
I say unlikely return, as these fish came back in greater abundance than has been seen in a whole century, despite all mankind’s greed and ignorance has thrown at them. But the tears also came in frustration, and still do, as I hear the fish farm spin doctors churn out the denial and deflect attention from their impacts on wild salmon. “The sockeye have returned and we haven’t changed a thing, so we couldn’t have caused the collapse of Fraser River sockeye last year,” claims the fish farm industry. “The conservationists are wrong.”
Well, why don’t we start by taking a look at what we do know…

Based on peer reviewed published science, we know that sea lice harm wild pink and chum salmon…in fact we know that a heavy sea lice infection can even kill an adult salmon either directly, or by weakening them to be preyed upon or more susceptible to disease. (For instance, the vice president of Cooke Aquaculture in New Brunswick recently told La Presse they “lost 500,000 fish this year” to sea lice infestation.) The body of scientific evidence also continues to grow; just last month two studies were released on the impacts of sea lice from salmon farms in BC on coho salmon. So how many sea lice does it take to kill a juvenile sockeye? We don’t know, but we do know through genetic analyses that Fraser stocks have been reported to have sea lice in the vicinity of salmon farms in the Wild Salmon Narrows farming region. We also know that fish farms are prone to disease outbreaks as seen in BC, Europe and Chile, despite vaccinations and antibiotic use, with devastating effects.
Fraser sockeye returning to their spawing
What we don’t know is what the salmon farming industry is hiding when it comes to sea lice and disease on their farms. The salmon farming industry has vehemently resisted the release of these data while claiming that their operations do not have a negative impact on wild fish populations. The Cohen Inquiry into the decline of Fraser River sockeye recently obtained some information from a few farms going back five years (which is yet to be analyzed and also not available to the public), but without access to complete data, no one can adequately assess the impacts and if salmon farms have harmed Fraser sockeye.
It is from this platform of denial and obstruction that the fish farm industry makes baseless and simplistic claims like the one above, attempting to exonerate themselves from any role in the decline of wild salmon while their farms continue to spread sea lice, waste and potentially even disease into our waters.
That’s why we are asking for an emergency migration route for juvenile salmon, a route on the east and north side of Quadra Island in the Wild Salmon Narrows which needs to be cleared by March to increase the chances of survival for next year’s miraculous juvenile salmon. Immediate measures to remove salmon farms from sockeye migration routes was also recommended by a think tank of scientists that gathered at Simon Fraser University in December 2009 to discuss possible causes of the Fraser River sockeye collapse. I’m not holding my breath, since both the provincial and federal governments have done little to protect wild salmon from fish farms so far, and in fact are supporting the industry’s expansion. However, this year’s miracle which is the Fraser River sockeye gives me hope that wild salmon can hold on while we continue gaining ground and working hard to get this industry into closed containment.
Credit: this post was originally published by Michelle at 

September 7, 2010

Our garbage to clean up

As part of this year's annual wilderness kayak trip (see last week's blog for more), my husband and I found what we call a piece of heaven. Not far from God's Pocket Marine Park, we spent 4 days camped at a location that had a gorgeous sandy beach and a lovely rocky beach, linked by a beautiful cedar forest. Keeping us company were wrens, plovers, eagles, ravens and a few black-tailed deer. It was truly a spectacular part of coastal BC and we were thrilled to call it home for a few days.

But though we were far from any human contact the impact of civilization was all around us. The sandy beach had garbage strewn all along the high tide line. We had seen some garbage on other beaches we camped at along Vancouver Island but this was the worst and was truly jarring.

We spent much of our time paddling and enjoying the peace the island had to offer, but we couldn't ignore the debris that continually crossed our paths.

So, on our third full day of passing by a garbage can half buried in the sand, we decided to hold an impromptu beach clean-up. We felt it was a sign! After spending a 1/2 hour digging up said can, we went to work. Several hours later, we stood before a stunning amount of garbage for one beach. Here's what we found:

- 79 plastic drink bottles
- 25 styrofoam floats
- 25 plastic containers for household products, including prescriptions, soap, bleach and salad dressing
- 200 feet of rope
- 15 plastic bottles for industrial products
- 12 plastic car oil containers
- 1 strip of tarp
- 1 food barrel
- 1 fender
- 1 two foot long mercury halide lamp
- 1 grocery store tray
- 2 tire floats
- 1 tire with rim

And we didn't get it all. Out of necessity, we ignored items < 3cm long. In the end, we filled that garbage pail plus 3 full size garbage bags and we still had to pile some of it up. It was truly incredible considering, here we were, 45km from Port Hardy, 200km from Campbell River and 450km from Vancouver! There is a happy ending to this story, however. We've arranged with the wonderful owners of Odyssey Kayaking, Pat and Jackie Kervin, to head back to the island to pick up the results of our garbage clean up and take it away to be responsibly processed. Considering at least 1/2 of what we found is recyclable, it will not just be going to the dump!

Where this garbage came from is unclear, but at the end of the day, it's ours. The garbage in our oceans started with us and ended up here - where we live, work and play. It's something we all need to take a hard look at doing something about.

What can you do?
- take part in a local beach clean up, and see how good it feels to clean up a bit of our world.
- find out what your community is doing to reduce garbage, from Zero Waste Challenge to education on choosing products with less or no packaging.
- choose products with minimal packaging or that can be recycled.
- find out how garbage is managed in your community and support innovative ways for it to be handled so that it doesn't end up on our oceans. Ask local or regional staff for more information.
- raise the issue with your friends and neighbours. The more each of us becomes aware of the garbage we create and where it can end up, the sooner we can solve this growing problem.

And finally, if you find yourself on a city street, country road or distant beach and see some garbage, take a moment to pick it up and dispose of it responsibly. By doing a little bit of 'street and beach clean-up' every day, along with reducing the garbage we create, we have a chance to keep more pieces of heaven clean for generations to come.

August 30, 2010

Nature's rhythms: a kayaker's tale

Each year, as part of my annual holidays, my husband and I reconnect with nature through a week of wilderness kayaking. Taking all the necessities of life with us - which does not include a cell phone! - we travel to parts of BC whose beauty and ruggedness take our breaths away. Though we live without the creature comforts of our daily city life (save for coffee, chocolate and a good book, of course!), we spend this week reconnecting with things that matter most to us.

In the 8 summers we've taken to the waters on these trips, we have spent some time in some spectacular places. From the Broken Group on the west coast of Vancouver Island to Desolation Sound, from Read and West Redonda Islands to most recently exploring the Islands off the north shore of Vancouver Island. All these places are unique, they are all remarkable, and we've found them to be restorative and spectacular.

There are many things I love about these trips but high on the list is that during this week, our minds are not focused on deadlines or appointments or emails galore, but instead on the simplicity of life in the natural world. Our attention is on the basics - food, clothing and shelter. When your day is reduced to these fundamentals, you are both busy yet free to use your time to simply be.

Living simply within the natural world also means you must ebb and flow with her rhythms. You can have all the plans in the world for your trip but how easily or possible it is to achieve them depends on how well you match your plans with nature's rhythms. That fact is a lesson that I've really learned in the last 8 years.

I remember our first overnight trip to the Broken Group in 2003. My husband was an intermediate kayaker and very experienced canoeist from his Ontario days. I, on the other hand, was a novice kayaker who had never done an overnight kayak trip. I still remember how frightened I was as each tiny wave or small swell hit my boat. After many years on the water, I've come to learn what the waves and swells mean, and how to use their power to make kayaking easier. It's about working with nature, not against her. Learning more about waves, winds, currents and tides has meant that we shape our day to what nature is doing rather than trying to force our schedule on her. The result is we go further, see more of the region we're exploring and enjoy our paddling that much more.

The varied emotions we experience on our trips are more than I can put down here. But on this trip alone, they ranged from the peacefulness of seeing deer feeding on kelp on the beach, to joy at seeing frolicking sea otters, to wonder at seeing salmon - large and small - jumping for hours on end, to the absolute fear of finding a black bear less that 15 feet from our tent (thankfully the velcro sound from the bear spray being unclipped was enough to encourage the bear along!). But all these memorable experiences have been possible because we've put ourselves in a place where we can be - for a short time - a part of nature's rhythms.

These trips are to us a gift and a sanctuary in our busy lives. But the lessons we learned are the ones we as a society must learn too. We must live with the rhythms of nature not fight them. If we don't, then this journey we are on will continue to be a hard one, with devastating effects. But if enough of us live by this credo, then good paddling and happy, healthy days are truly ahead.

August 20, 2010

Government Not Making it Easy for Concerned Citizens to Weigh in on Wild Salmon Issues

When it rains it pours! This summer has seen a deluge of public comment periods concerning wild salmon in BC. (See the list below.) While this suggests that government wants to hear from us on these issues – many of the people who are most affected by the impacts of fish farms are extremely busy this time of year and unavailable to participate in public consultation processes.

It’s also interesting that the Cohen Commission chose to hold public hearings just as fishermen are able for the first time in years to go out and harvest Fraser River Sockeye and ecotourism season is in full swing. And the rest of us? Well, many of us are out enjoying the summer weather, perhaps on vacation…who wants to be indoors writing submissions and attending meetings?

Forgive me for being a wee bit cynical, but maybe the federal government doesn’t actually want to hear what we have to say on these issues so critical to wild salmon. That’s why it is so urgent for each and every one of us to take part in at least one if not all of these public consultations.

We’ve already heard fish farmers claiming that this year’s anticipated large sockeye runs mean fish farms aren’t a problem, which is of course ridiculous. These Sockeye runs should be even bigger than expected as several dominant runs are returning this year, and while some Fraser River Sockeye runs are doing okay, specific stocks are in dire straits.

So don’t let the summer slide by without weighing in – wild salmon need your voice! Here are the opportunities for participation:

Tell the National Organics Standards Board (CGSB) NO! No organic certification of net-cage farmed salmon.

Tell Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to fulfill their constitutional mandate and implement regulations that will protect wild salmon!

Tell Judge Cohen to recommend the permanent removal of all fish farms on Fraser salmon migratory routes to protect wild salmon!

Also, make sure to comment on the draft global salmon farming standards recently released by the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue:

Tell the Salmon Aquaculture Dialogue (SAD) Not good enough! We need tougher standards to reduce or eliminate the ecological and social impacts of salmon farming.
Deadline: October 3, 2010.

August 4, 2010

For You I Am a Better Person

Working in the environmental sector can be both rewarding and incredibly trying and stressful. It can take years, even decades, to see any sort of positive change around a particular issue, and it’s not surprising that people in this line of work often burn out. Recently I was finding myself uninspired, frustrated and, needless to say, unproductive. So I took an unplanned two week vacation to hang out at my new home on remote Sonora Island, to reconnect with nature, and to relax and recharge.

On my very first morning off, I walked out in front of my cabin to a tiny little beach, and to my dismay found it was covered in little pieces of Styrofoam – it was in the vegetation at the high tide mark, all along the water’s edge, and floating in the water too. Just what I needed on my day off, I grumbled to myself as I angrily began picking up the garbage…a beach cleanup! Where did it come from I wondered? Don’t people know that this stuff soaks up toxins and becomes little poison pills to any creatures that might eat it? Don’t they know that mama birds feed this to their chicks and they starve to death with it choking their stomachs? Don’t they know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge gyre full of plastic garbage covering an area the size of Texas?

I couldn’t possibly pick it all up. I wasn’t even going to try, but I couldn’t just walk away. So I filled up my garbage can in short order, knowing I would have to pack it out with me the next time I left Sonora. This vacation was not allowing me to forget my work, and I kept thinking about it as the days went by; especially when I went to the same beach a few days later and found more Styrofoam had washed up onto the beach…and I picked up some more garbage.

But as my vacation passed by, I began to see things in a whole new light. Who was I to be angry about picking up a little garbage on my day off, when thousands of people volunteer to do that sort of thing every day? Who was I to complain about stress and burnout when it is an honour and privilege to do this work? Who was I to resent the grief and anguish I feel about the state of the world, right down to the tiny bits of Styrofoam on “my” beach, when others fight injustices solely on their convictions while I collect a pay cheque for my efforts? 

So I returned to work two weeks after my impromptu little beach cleanup very humbled and grateful to have such a job. But even more so, I am honoured to know so many of you who do amazing things every day just because it is the right thing to do. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for it is each and every one of you that prevents me from sinking into despair, and keeps me hopeful for our future. Thank you! For you I am a better person. 

July 14, 2010

Sailing, Shakespeare, Seals, Shags and Slicks!

Last weekend my family and I were lucky enough to travel to Vancouver to see the wonderful Bard on the Beach production of Antony and Cleopatra. Surprisingly it was our 12 year old son's choice. We sailed over from Gabriola Island with an 18 NW knot breeze to push us along. Glorious conditions saw us sail right to our anchorage in False Creek where we anchored for the night. A short dingy trip ashore then a detour to Granville Island for some delectable chocolate eclairs.

On our way out of Granville Island, a large crowd was gathered on the board walk under the Bridge. My curiosity piqued, I wandered over to see what the attraction was. On the dock of a fishing boat charter company some folks were feeding a Harbour Seal. As the seal came back again and again for treats I watched the intense enthusiasm of the crowd as they oohed and ahhed at its antics. Just like when the Grey Whale visited False Creek recently, it reinforced for me, once again, that people are enamored by wild marine creatures and that there is a connection between our species.

As I continued to observe this phenomena I looked more around the waterfront and could not help but notice the scum on the water's surface undoubtedly consisting of once airborne particulates, spilled hydrocarbons and oily bilge discharge. Along with a couple of plastic bags and disposable coffee cups, this made for a not very nice place for marine critters to hang out.

Why the heck as humans, when many of us love and respect wild creatures, we just don't get it when it comes to looking after their (and our) habitat? Why don't folks understand that as long as we pour, spill and throw our waste into the waters (accidentally or otherwise) we will continue to degrade the very home of the critters that give us so much joy. I guess it gets much more complex than that when we start to look at the waste created by the production and transport of everything we buy and every thing we do, but as a start we should at least look at our direct discharges to our beautiful waters!

The show was fantastic and the highlight for many was when a Pelagic Cormorant entered stage right just as Antony died in Cleopatra's arms. The bewildered bird flapped and flopped around in front of the audience as Cleopatra embraced it's appearance and somehow made it part of the show! The bird exited stage right as if on cue!

Next day we dodged the myriad of shipping in English Bay before setting course for Silva Bay. With once again a beautiful breeze we enjoyed yet another crossing of this wonderful body of water. Just outside of our home port we were treated to visit of 50+ Pacific White Sided Dolphins who rode our bow wave and cavorted around us for some time before continuing their journey north. We really do live in a most magnificent part of the world and we need to look after it.

July 7, 2010

Loss of a lifestyle - musings over cell phones

Just recently, a "temporary" cell phone tower has appeared on the shores of Silva Bay on Gabriola island. I assume it was brought in to fill the little black hole of cell phone coverage we had in this neck of the woods. It seems some folks figure this is a good idea to increase communication in case of disaster or emergencies and perhaps to help alleviate the stress caused to those people who arrive here and suddenly find they are "connected' no longer.

You know, I can appreciate the desire to have a supposedly"flawless" communications system in case of emergencies or disaster, to have another level on all those things we have already in place but I can't help wondering at what cost we are doing this. I'm no expert on the cumulative effects of electromagnetic radiation and such things that are associated with technology of these sorts but several learned friends and associates of mine assure me it's not necessarily benign. More on that side of things can be discovered at

I also wonder however, about a more subtle effect. One that talks to our developing mindset as a culture and our life experience as individuals. In this world of high tech gadgetry it's easy to be connected to the internet 24/7 if you want or if you are addicted. Lots of good stuff on the internet. Lots of great connections with voice or texting on your cell phone. I mean, all over the world we see folks on their phones or blackberries or laptops being "connected" while they are in restaurants, playing golf, walking down the street (or even the beach), driving and yes, even boating. Heck, I do it myself sometimes!

I just can't help wondering what that constant connection or ability to be connected does to us. I remember when I was a young man and when my freedom meant everything to me, I would go wild places by myself and have no way of connecting to any other human being and no one would know where I was. It gave me a wonderful sense of freedom, independence and self reliance. If I got in trouble of any sort I only had myself to rely on.

Perhaps it was a bit extreme and I've certainly mellowed but I still cherish those times when my connection to "civilization" is limited. When I'm disconnected I am far more present, far more aware of my surroundings, far more aware of the need to look out for myself and whoever is with me and far more aware of the need to be properly prepared. It also allows me to really connect with the natural world and the rhythms of the tides and weather and wild critters. Something that is crucial to really understanding why there is an ever-increasing need for environmental best practices.

Enter the cell phone and other devices with constant connection to the "world". Now I don't need to be as prepared. 911 is just a call away. Now I can keep up with my stock portfolio. Now I can connect with my"friends" and tell them how wonderful it is to be in such a beautiful place but not really experience it or understand what is needed to keep it beautiful.

Perhaps it is a risk to live or go somewhere without cell phone coverage but what sort of characters do we develop if we eliminate all risk? What sort of characters do we develop if we are able to connect all the time wherever we go? What sort of characters would we have if we did not question those things that are foisted upon us?

How can we, as individuals and as a community, really look after this precious part of the world if we do not spend time immersed in it and paying real attention to it's needs without being constantly distracted? I for one am not in need of more cell phone coverage. I'm in need of more time being disconnected.

June 24, 2010

The Dying Clam Gardens of Waiatt Bay

For thousands of years, First Nations have relied upon the traditional clam gardens of Waiatt Bay, which contains 40 culturally modified clam beds. In the last few years we've been hearing reports that the clam gardens are dying, so we decided to go see for ourselves. Waiatt Bay is of particular interest as it is in the middle of the Wild Salmon Narrows.  

As we entered Waiatt Bay on the east side of Quadra Island, clam gardens were evident  in every nook and cranny possible, where for thousands of years First Nations worked these sea gardens by rolling the large rocks down to the low tide line in order to improve the habitat for the clams and cockles they harvest. Immediately upon setting foot on shore, the elders went to work digging clams, as their ancestors before them…and hopefully their children after them!  

We took a look at several of the clam gardens, and at first glance the clams seemed healthy. However the beaches were full of whole empty shells, which suggests many had died fairly recently. Butter clams seemed to be most affected, while the deeper little necks appeared fine. 

The elders slowly filled a few buckets until it was time to head back. The clams collected appeared to be healthy and although the abundance of clams at all the sites we visited was greatly reduced from historical levels, they were able to collect enough to look forward to a good clam dinner. As former Homalco Chief Darren Blaney began opening the butter clams harvested on the apparently healthy beaches, he found them all inedible. The clams were not good at all; rather than a nice healthy pink, they were blackened and sickly looking inside.

It’s not clear why these clam gardens are dying, but the Cyrus Rocks open net-cage fish farm only 1.5 km from the mouth of the bay is a prime suspect. This is the same type of impact being witnessed on beaches near fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago. While we await the results of a study being conducted there, perhaps we should be looking more closely at the beaches near the farms in this area as well. 

Learn more about Waiatt Bay, the Wild Salmon Narrows, and the Cyrus Rocks fish farm.

June 23, 2010

Hands Across the Sands

May 27, 2010

Don't worry, it's just a seepage

Sometimes listening to an interview can be more like watching someone tap dance than providing information. This is the impression I was left with this morning as I listened to the answers from a Chevron representative being interviewed on CBC regarding how oil and/or gas is now seeping into Burrard Inlet from the Chevron plant. I shook my head at the efforts being made to downplay oil and gas spills ... even going so far as referring to them a 'hydrocarbons' to make it sound less harmful and by saying it's just a small sheen on the water, a tactic the interviewer did not let them get away with.

While I listened, there were also two words that popped into my head: ignorance and mistrust.

Just as BP is doing down in the Gulf of Mexico, Chevron seems to be completely ignorant of how oil spills (or seepages) can be devastating to a localized environment. Even small amounts of oil and gas can kill or harm marine plants and animals. The sheen you see on the water's surface can be fatal to the many tiny animals that live in the water's surface layer. Juvenile fish and shellfish also depend on this surface 'microlayer'. In addition, chemicals present in fuel react with sunlight to become up to 50,000 times more toxic, killing plankton and other species that are essential for a healthy marine environment. What is also missing from this assessment is an understanding of the fact that spill is not happening in isolation. There are hundred of small oil and gas spills that happen in Burrard Inlet and in Georgia Strait, from ship to shoreline, each year. In fact, in North America, small fuel and oil spills equal 15x what was spilled by the Exxon Valdez - each year. So to try and minimize it by calling it a 'seepage' does us all a disservice by trying to minimize the harm being done by these types of spills.

From what we're being told, this discharge started last month in an area that had been a concern to Chevron for the last 6 years. Their concern caused them to start monitoring the area, even increasing the monitoring in the last year. As we speak, Chevron is saying it does not know where the oil and gas is coming from which is making stopping it a challenge. I admit, it's a bit hard to fathom that after 6 years of monitoring a source hasn't been found, and more importantly, has been capped.

It's this kind of approach to spills from the oil and gas industry that has us all wondering how we continue to take so many risks with the production, processing and transport of oil and gas. With no real ability to recover what is spilled and a seeming attitude that our oceans can handle the toxins we continue to put into it, this is an industry that is really hard to trust.

And it will only get worse. Today, Enbridge filed an application for the construction and operation of the Northern Gateway Project, which could bring more tankers to our coast if we don't continue to fight it, while the US continues to push for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

Our coastline, including Georgia Strait, are heading towards a death by a thousand cuts, and until we made real commitments to build an alternative energy bridge which will move us away from our dependence on fossil fuels, the cuts will keep coming.

April 30, 2010

The Get Out Migration Takes to the Wild Salmon Narrows

Much of my time working as a salmon aquaculture campaigner is spent in an office, on the computer or the phone, interspersed with large indoor meetings and presentations. Yesterday was different. Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining the Get Out Migration, an incredible grassroots initiative spawned by scientist Alexandra Morton.

I couldn’t contain my excitement as we left the dock in Campbell River. We were about to join up with the Migration in the Wild Salmon Narrows, a migratory corridor Georgia Strait Alliance has been working to clear of open net-cage salmon farms. Our little crew of three people met up with another half dozen boats as we reached the first three farms packed together at the west end of Okisollo Channel.

A helicopter buzzed overhead as Michelle Nickerson plunged into the freezing water and twice swam the length of Mainstream’s Venture Pt. salmon farm. This was a symbolic gesture for juvenile salmon that are migrating past the lice infested farms at this very moment. People are embracing this journey by land and sea from Sointula to Victoria and celebrating wild salmon in any way they know how; through art, song, community gatherings, filmmaking, blogging, photography, taking to the water and streets, and even swimming past a salmon farm.

But our day wasn’t over, it had only just begun. As we came to the Oksillo rapids, it was clear that this was a day of celebration, as several boats played around in the area’s upwelling nutrient rich water so vital to wild salmon. We then followed Okisollo Channel as it turns south, where we saw the devastation under the Cyrus Rocks farm with an underwater video camera, and the mood became more solemn.

As we moved south through Surge Narrows, spirits once again soared as we joined up with another flotilla, swelling our number of boats to a couple dozen, salmon flags flapping in the wind, horns honking, people cheering for wild salmon, and the helicopter once again recording the excitement from above.

The Get Out Migration has captured the imagination and hearts of communities across Vancouver Island and throughout BC. Yesterday it was evident that the Migration’s tag line, wild salmon are sacred, is at the heart of our west coast culture. Whatever people have in them to give, we are giving it all for wild salmon. We have to, or they will disappear. So stand up and be counted, because if we don’t stand up for wild salmon, no one will.

Filmmaker Twyla Roscovich has produced a video of our day on the water in the Wild Salmon Narrows. Enjoy…

Take urgent action to clear the Wild Salmon Narrows of open net-cage salmon farms!

April 20, 2010

Everyone Loves Wild Salmon Don't They?

Watch this video on the impacts that open net-cage salmon farming has on wild salmon, the marine environment, and your health.

Learn more about salmon farming impacts and what you can do.

April 12, 2010

"Green" Boating Week BC!

Though the winter has been kind of dark and dreary, a few hardy souls spent some time on our beautiful BC waters, enjoying the delights and challenges that winter cruising brings. For the majority of us however, it's just been the last couple of weeks when we've started to think more about our boats and the wonderful cruising and fishing in the months ahead. A couple of serious blows focused attention quickly on our boats and discussions around climate change was heard more often on the docks.

Though I work in the environmental field, it does seem to me that folks generally are more interested in issues of sustainability and healthy habitats and boaters are no exception! With more people getting into the boating lifestyle BC boating week is a good time for us to promote Green Boating and Clean Marinas.

While there are activities happening all over the province we will be putting our efforts in at some Nanaimo locations. On Saturday we will have a display at the Big Island Inflata-boats Marine Garage Sale and on Sunday we will again be doing a presentation at the West Marine store. Both events are also helping us raise a few funds to assist our marine conservation effort.

As boaters we are stewards of the marine environment and it is up to all of us to keep our impacts to a minimum. Come and join us during BC's "Green" Boating Week to find out more ways you can be a sustainable boater and how your marina can become one of Beautiful BC's eco-rated facilities!

March 10, 2010

Charities suffer from gaming cuts

Whenever there are discussions around expanding gaming in this province, arguments often put forward are that monies brought it will go to assist those with gambling addiction and that a significant portion of the funds will go to support charitable work in communities around BC.

With the announcement this week that the province is limiting gaming fund disbursements and that they will not support environmental groups, charitable organizations are paying a huge price for the government's short memory.

Contrary to what is being said, most charities in this province are incredibly effective at managing their finances and stretching a dollar farther than most. But as the province works to reconfigure how it disperses gaming funds, how can groups be expected to plan for the future when they are being held in limbo about when their applications will be reviewed and if they will receive any funding? No business would be expected to live with this kind of uncertainty but it's ok to do this to charities?

Charitable giving - whether from individuals, businesses or government - is an investment in our communities. Whether groups provide social support or environmental education, we provide a service that governments often no longer can and we do it for a fraction of the cost. Diverting funds from charities to other parts of the government expenditure ledger is violating the spirit of the agreement on how gaming funds would be spent.

Please sign this petition asking for gaming funds to be re-instated and forward to your networks. Without these funds, communites around BC will lose needed services and the impacts could be far-reaching.

Thanks for your support!

March 9, 2010

Join Us in the Wild Salmon Narrows

Working as an environmental  campaigner isn’t always as exciting as some might think…countless hours on the computer, in meetings and doing research, often with seemingly little progress. But every once in a while something exciting happens: just last month I got out on the water twice to visit the Wild Salmon Narrows! Join us in this video as we visit the five active open net-cage salmon farms which must be removed to provide one clear migration route for wild salmon through the Wild Salmon Narrows. Discover the wild juvenile salmon that migrate through this region and the threat that these fish farms pose to their survival.

Learn more about our Wild Salmon Narrows Campaign and how you can help clear one migration route for wild salmon.

February 16, 2010

Boater Blog!

It appears even I can get over my Luddite tendencies! Who would have known even a year ago that I would be posting to a blog? In the last year I have joined Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. I have to say I'm still coming to grips with it all and don't often post anything but I'm slowly getting there.

Like many of us I find change is a hard thing to come to grips with but it's the only certain thing in life. As a species we are being pushed to change more and more through both the economic and the environmental challenges that we are all facing. In my world of Green Boating and Clean Marinas I am encouraged to see a lot of change for the better happening. This is coming in many forms from new technology and products to more thoughtful practices and policies.

The greatest encouragement I get is from the attitudinal changes I see happening. No longer are boaters asking "why should" we change but many are now saying "how can" we change to make things better. Much of the boating community is moving beyond a hedonistic approach and looking to how we can do things for the benefit of all. With this positive change in attitude is coming solutions to challenges, better communications and I believe better boating.

The increased adoption of Green Boating practices and principles and a surge in interest in Marina environmental best practices are all part of the change. So here's to more positive change! Lets keep it going!

February 8, 2010

Tipping a hat to 2009, and launching our 20th year

Before the month of January creeps away, I wanted to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. I hope it's one filled with a lot of laughter, good health and plenty of time enjoying our beautiful Georgia Strait.

Now, before we turn the page too quickly on 2009, I'm going to take a moment to acknowledge the year that was. As with so many other charitable not-for-profits, we felt the squeeze of the economic downturn, however, thanks to the hard work of our staff, board, volunteers, and our incredibly generous donors - we were able to move ahead and achieve much that is making the Strait a healthier place to live, for all of us.

Our successes include:

  • A commitment from the Victoria region to treat its sewage, including using technology to recover resources from waste. In December, the Capital Regional District government submitted their plan to the province which is expected to be approved early this year.
  • An order from the Federal government that provides protection for the critical habitat of the southern resident killer whale. Though the work to protect this incredible creature is not over, this was a big step forward.
  • A ruling from the Federal Court against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for failing to identify the habitat of the Nooksack dace, an endangered fish restricted to only four streams in B.C.'s Lower Mainland. The means that other recovery plans for marine species in the region should be reviewed and any information on critical habitat included.

Browse our website for more on other exciting work done by GSA in 2009.

With the calendar now changed, we are setting our sites on an exciting and eventful 2010. For many, saying "2010" quickly brings to mind a little event happening in Vancouver/Whistler in February. But for all of us at Georgia Strait Alliance, there is something far more significant happening - our 20th anniversary! It's hard to believe so much time has passed since a group of caring and dedicated people in the Nanaimo area decided that since no one else was speaking for the Strait, they would.

We've achieved a great deal in 20 years and we plan to celebrate those achievements throughout the year and the region. Visit our event page in the coming months to see how we're going to be celebrating!

In addition to honouring the significant work of GSA over the years, we have other goals for 2010. They include:

  • Improving wild salmon health through the closure of 5 active open net-cage salmon farms in Okisollo Channel, known as the Wild Salmon Narrows, and the transition of open net-cage farms to closed containment technology.
  • Ensuring cleaner waters through a commitment from Metro Vancouver to upgrade its primary sewage treatment plants by no later than 2020.

  • Supporting marinas and boating facilities in developing best practices by increasing the number of marinas and boating facilities participating in our unique eco-rating program Clean Marine BC.

And that's just a taste of what we have planned in our efforts to protect and conserve the Strait of Georgia.

Thanks for all your support in 2009 and we look forward to working - and celebrating - with you in the year ahead.

Let's talk about it - but let's act on it too

In the week since the federal government announced that it was calling a judicial inquiry into the collapse of our Fraser sockeye stocks, there has been a lot of talk about what this really means and indeed, that it is a conversation well worth having.

I'll admit that my first reaction to the announcement was that it was about time we saw some indication that the agency charged with ocean and fisheries protection was taking this seriously. Promoting fish farms in Norway while the collapse was announced, followed by a quick meeting in Vancouver with a select few does not a strategy make. There was too much silence going on. Then finally, this announcement - an inquiry that gives the judge in charge the power to get to the bottom of this. Great news!

But, I'll admit - though happy with a response, I did not share the jubilation I heard from other quarters. I don't want to throw cold water on something that hasn't started yet, but a judicial inquiry does not mean the fight is over, and here are a few reasons why:

  • It will be 18 months before the final report from the inquiry is released So, what do we do in the mean time? What does this mean for next year's salmon runs? Let there not be any illusions that we must stop calling for action just because this inquiry has been called. There may be many questions that need answering but scientists and others in the know have some ideas of things we can do now to reduce stress on these stocks - starting with getting open net salmon farms out of the water, in particular in a region we are learning has links to Fraser River stocks. One less stressor on these fish has got to be a good thing.
  • If you've followed any judicial inquiries in the past, you'll know that one thing is clear: there is nothing that forces the government to implement any of the recommendations that come out of it. It's great that the judge has power to call witnesses and get all the documents he needs, but we need to ensure that this report doesn't just gather dust like so many before it. This will mean a lot of follow-up on the report once it is released, which means more time passes.

The bottom line is that though we have the terms of reference which allow the judge to look at both how the fish are managed as well as the threats to the fish themselves, it's incredibly important that the recommendations keep a focus on what changes we need to make that will have clear and direct positive impacts on the fish. No issue can be left off the table, no matter how uncomfortable or complicated. It was good to see that aquaculture was explicitly mentioned but we can't forget that these fish spent time in the Strait of Georgia, and this means that we must look at how contaminants are impacting their survival. Toxins in our oceans are of increasing concern, and to think they are not having an impact on salmon survival seems a blinkered view.

The judicial inquiry is the frame for our conversation in the next 18 months but it does not for a moment change the need for action to protect their habitat now. More delays is the last thing the salmon need.

February 5, 2010

Wild Salmon Narrows: The People

As part of the Wild Salmon Narrows Campaign to clear a migration route of fish farms in the northern Georgia Strait region, we are listening to people in the area who are directly affected by fish farms. There are five active fish farms in Okisollo Channel, the northern portion of the Wild Salmon Narrows migration route where our first story takes place.
This is Jody's Story...
Jody ErikssonIt's not often you meet someone like Jody Eriksson. Jody calls remote Okisollo Channel his home and has lived in the Discovery Islands his whole life. He drives a boat instead of a car, and has learned pretty much everything he knows from the environment around him.
Ask Jody anything about salmon that migrate through his area and he'll tell you...more than you expect to hear. The majority of juvenile salmon from southern Vancouver Island and the Fraser River pour through the northern Georgia Strait on their way to the open ocean, many of them passing right by Jody's front door. He has observed juvenile salmon migrating north all his life, starting in early spring with the first little pink and chum emerging from local creeks and mainland rivers, followed by juveniles from further south including Fraser River Sockeye.
Jody sampling juvenile salmon in Nodales Channel
Photo by Michelle Young
For the past several years in the spring, Jody has been part of the team sampling those same wild juvenile salmon for research on the impacts of sea lice from fish farms. Jody was the one who beach seined the Fraser River sockeye that did not return this year....he should know -before the DNA results were in, he knew they were Fraser River sockeye, and before they returned to spawn he saw many of them wouldn't make it back to the Fraser.
In 2007, Jody sampled the juvenile sockeye that would have been part of this year's return, and found them heavily infected with sea lice. Some of the small fish were infected with as many as 30 sea lice near the farms. When asked about the fact that many of the sea lice found on the sockeye sampled were a non-salmon specific generalist species called Caligus, he replied "Both types of sea lice are found on juvenile salmon migrating past the fish farms, and both types are found on the farmed salmon. Yes, sea lice are natural, but the fish farms break the natural cycle by putting parasite hosting adult salmon right on the migration paths of juvenile salmon when they would otherwise naturally encounter few sea lice. As a result, there are way more sea lice of both kinds on juvenile salmon near the farms than there are before the fish reach the farms."
Open net cage supporters point to the great returns of many pink salmon runs this year as evidence that it couldn't have been the fish farms that caused this year's Fraser River sockeye to collapse. "Nothing could be further from the truth", he says. "In fact you can quote me...the Fraser River Sockeye will almost certainly have a good year next year. Lice levels were down when they went out to sea, and ocean conditions were good for them. They should return in strong numbers just like this year's incredible return of pinks that they migrated out with." Why were these wild juvenile salmon less infected with sea lice then? Many things affect lice levels, such as salinity, timing of sea lice treatment, and stocking status of the farms, like whether they are empty, contain younger fish, or lice-ridden adult fish. "I have no doubt that more wild salmon would be returning if the fish farms weren't there, even in years with strong returns. More farmed salmon in the water means more sea lice means more juvenile wild salmon die."
He's also quick to point out that the drug fish farmers use to try and control their sea lice problems affects crustaceans. "Sea lice are crustaceans and so are prawns, crab and shrimp. Prawn traps come up empty near the farms after they treat with SLICE."
Does Jody think it's a good idea to clear Okisollo and Hoskyn Channels of fish farms in order to protect wild salmon? "We need to get rid of all the open net-cage fish farms, but here is as good a place to start as any, being the first farms that the Fraser River salmon migrate past. Next to go would be Nodales...the juvenile salmon spend lots of time feeding and growing there, and those farms have to treat twice a year because their sea lice are so bad. The water just sloshes back and forth and there are 4 farms in Nodales. Then keep going north..."
Watch Jody in action as he samples juvenile salmon in Lice Infection on Fraser River Sockeye by filmmaker Twyla Roscovich.

Blogging comes to Georgia Strait Alliance

GSA is nearly 20 years old and I'd like to think we're doing a pretty good job at staying on top of the latest ways to communicate and build community.

Our website was refreshed a few years ago around the time we launched our enewsletter. Many GSA staff Facebook and we have a FB group. Two of us even Twitter!

Having all these tools to speak with you and let you know what we're up to and how you can get involved is incredibly important. But some tools just don't let you say all you need to say ... so, now enters the GSA blog.

In the coming months and years, we hope you'll join us here for information and conversation about the many threats to the Strait - and what GSA is doing about them. To start, you'll be able to hear my voice and that of Salmon Aquaculture Campaigner Michelle Young.

Come back and visit often. GSA is doing some exciting work and having some great impact - see our recent court win around the protection of species at risk. We hope you'll like what you read here - and let us know what you think.