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 25, 2011

Community values must be heard

It’s true - the voice of a community is a powerful and inspiring thing.

I spent several days this week with members of the Powell River community, having been invited to speak at an event hosted by the Powell River Water Watch group. It was a truly wonderful experience in so many ways. Meeting such passionate people who care so deeply about where they live was quite inspiring. Even more so was seeing how these same people are willing to act on those passions to ensure that their community makes the right decisions for its future.

What was behind the invitation to speak was a proposed plan to treat Powell River’s sewage by partnering with the Catalyst pulp mill. Essentially, a proposal for ‘co-treatment’ would see the mill treat the community’s wastewater rather than it having to build an upgraded municipal system to manage its waste.

There are many questions and concerns around this proposal, but even more alarming is how this one option is being put forward without first including the residents in a discussion on how else wastewater can be managed. Wastewater planning is community planning. Deciding on a path without first considering how this decision fits into the overall community plan is foolhardy, as is making this decision without meaningful consultation.

The other danger of this ‘one track mind’ decision is that it ignores the growing opportunities that come with wastewater treatment. Management strategies that treat sewage as a resource that can benefit a community by turning waste into a renewable source of energy, nutrients and water, not just something to be rid of, are the way of the future. This attitude is already growing in a number of communities in BC – including Metro Vancouver, the Capital Regional District of Victoria, the Regional District of Nanaimo, and smaller communities such as Oliver.

The meeting on Tuesday night was a packed house, with over 150 residents in attendance. The questions asked were thoughtful and in the end the message was clear: we want to be involved in this decision that will affect us for years to come. I don’t know if the three city councillors who attended the meeting will act on what they heard, but they would be wise to, at the very least, involve their community more in decision making.

I have been actively involved in wastewater consultation processes in Metro Vancouver, Nanaimo and Victoria, and can speak to how when both sides enter into consultations with the intent of it being something beneficial, it can truly make any decision or plan better. I can say this was absolutely the case in Metro Vancouver, where over 2 years the Advisory Committee I sat on (along with 8 other committed individuals) worked with senior staff to create a better Liquid Waste Management Plan for the region.

The experience, knowledge and values that exist within Powell River, and so many other communities in BC, can only make any community planning process better. Ignoring community values is something leaders do at their peril, and to exclude them from planning processes will only result in decisions that sacrifice sustainable communities for short term expediency. We will be a better region and province when we stop viewing consultations and transparency as a road block to progress but rather the strongest path to healthy communities.

February 18, 2011

Salmon farming industry puts wild salmon at increased risk by reactivating farm along Wild Salmon Narrows migration route

Fifty-five organizations and thousands of concerned citizens have been calling for the removal of five salmon farms along Okisollo and Hoskyn Channels on the north and east side of Quadra Island, a critical Fraser River sockeye migration route. This call was supported by the conclusions of a think tank of scientists who convened at Simon Fraser University in 2009 to discuss the potential causes of the Fraser River sockeye collapse. Included in their recommendations was the experimental removal of salmon farms along Fraser River sockeye migration corridors.

Despite these calls, and the many still unanswered questions concerning the role that fish farms may have played in the 2009 collapse, Marine Harvest has chosen to sublet an inactive site along this very route to Grieg Seafood. Expansion of net-cage salmon farming along a critical Fraser River sockeye migration route during an inquiry into the reason for the sockeye collapse is reckless, given that salmon aquaculture is included in the scope of potential impacts that may have led to the drastic decline. Adding a sixth farm and half a million more farmed salmon to the Wild Salmon Narrows migration route is an irresponsible move that elevates the threat to Fraser River sockeye and many other wild salmon that migrate through this region.

On top of this, last week a new scientific paper was published in PLoS ONE journal. Sea Louse Infection of Juvenile Sockeye Salmon in Relation to Marine Salmon Farms on Canada’s West Coast provides a tangible link between salmon farms and elevated levels of sea lice on juvenile Fraser River sockeye salmon. This study further highlights the need to observe the precautionary principle and remove farmed salmon from the path of migrating wild salmon.

Grieg Seafood stocked the previously inactive Conville Bay site with Atlantic salmon being relocated from another fish farm site, a move that can sometimes indicate problems at a farming location. Grieg Seafood and the BC Salmon Farmers Association have ignored our request to explain where these farmed Atlantics were moved from and why, despite their constant reassurances that their industry operates in an open and transparent manner.

Watch the video below and join us in the Wild Salmon Narrows at the reactivated Conville Bay net-cage salmon farm. Also, take action by joining our Spring Cleaning Crew and help us clear this critical migration route before the offspring of the 2009 collapsed Fraser River sockeye arrive at this very location in a few short months.

February 3, 2011

New year, new look

Now that we’re full on into February, it might seem a bit late to be talking about the beginning of a New Year. But let’s just say I’ve aligned myself with the Chinese New Year – Happy Year of the Rabbit – and we’ll leave it at that!

And really, I needed a bit more time anyway to catch my breath after 2010, especially the last few months. With three 20th anniversary celebration events in the fall alone, a big win in our legal action to protect the orca, and planning for a busy year ahead – it was a heady and hectic end to a great year!

Looking back, I have to say, it was truly a wonderful experience to have so many of our members and supporters take part in our 20th Anniversary Celebrations around the region. I experienced a real pleasure in meeting so many of you and hearing stories that covered the breadth of our organization’s existence. It renewed my belief that the work GSA does is deeply important to our supporters, and I look forward to meeting many more of you in the future.

Now enough about 2010 – because so far, 2011 has been off to an excellent start. Our Clean Marine BC Program is now under the new leadership of Lisa Winbourne - we welcome Lisa to GSA! Mike Richards, who wraps up 10 years at the helm of that successful program, is now taking on the challenge of Director of Special Projects, a new position for GSA. We also welcome David Fields, who is joining GSA’s Salmon Aquaculture program team until early June. New faces and new energy are a great way to start the year!

On the campaign front, the New Year has already brought big news, both good and bad. We celebrated Agrimarine and the launch of their first commercial-scale closed containment tank installation, while we decried Fisheries and Oceans Canada for appealing parts of a ground breaking ruling around the protection of our southern resident orcas (two steps forward, one step back!). These two examples are bookends - one looks for new ways of doing things to protect wildlife and promote a healthy economy, while another just keeps doing things the same old way, to the detriment of our environment and a species we all hold dear.

But we prefer to focus on the new energy abounding here at GSA, and in the spirit of ‘something new’, if you've gone to our website, you'll have noticed something new. After many months of passionate discussion, we are very excited to launch our new logo! It’s a fresh look that continues to represent the long-time passion and strengths of GSA: our effectiveness at connecting land and sea, and the ‘caretaker’ responsibility we have for the Strait, just as a mother orca has for her new calf. We hope you like it too!

And last but not least – thanks to all of you who continue to support GSA in our work, with your time and with your hard earned dollars. You have made all our successes in the last 20 years possible. If you aren’t a GSA donor yet, please consider making a donation today and joining one of the most effective groups in BC, and the only one with its eyes on the health of our Strait.

May 2011 be good to you!