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.

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.