The escape of an estimated 20,000 non-native fish off Vancouver Island demonstrates the urgent need to phase out ocean-based farming and calls into question the federal government’s own five-year deadline, say wild salmon advocates.
Stan Proboszcz, science and campaign adviser with the Watershed Watch Society, said the salmon escape may have ecological impacts on already struggling wild stocks.
“It’s incidents like this that make it pretty clear that we really do need the federal government to move on removing farms from British Columbian waters. This is just another stressor on wild fish, so we just hope that we see a plan very soon,” he said Monday.
He said Atlantic salmon can compete with wild Pacific salmon for food and habitat, as well as spread parasites and viruses.
When more than 200,000 Atlantic salmon escaped from a Washington state farm in August 2017, Proboszcz said some fish were later found with wild salmon in their bellies, demonstrating they can also act as predators of Pacific stocks.
Fish farm company Mowi, formerly known as Marine Harvest, said in a statement that it has notified federal regulators and area First Nations about the fire that damaged its net pen in the waters near Port Hardy, B.C.
The damaged pen discovered Friday will be towed to land and an investigation will be undertaken to determine the cause of the fire, it says.
But the company suggested the exotic species won’t survive in Pacific waters long.
“The escaped fish are farm animals unaccustomed to living in the wild, and thus unable to forage their own food and easy prey. Judging by the number of sea lions congregating near the involved farm it is likely many have already been eaten by predators,” it says.
Phasing out net-pen fish farming in B.C. waters was a Liberal campaign promise in this year’s federal election, and the mandate letter for newly appointed Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan directs her to work with the B.C. government and Indigenous communities to create a plan for a transition by 2025.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also tells Jordan to begin work to introduce Canada’s first ever Aquaculture Act. The existing Fisheries Act was designed for wild fisheries and the new legislation will aim to increase regulatory consistency across the country with an environmentally sustainable approach, the government says online.
No one from the Department of Fisheries was immediately available to comment on the transition plan.
It’s time to get them out of the ocean, period
Among the feedback the federal government has received through early consultations on the legislation is a need for a more effective risk management framework and support for Indigenous involvement and rights in the sector, it says.
NDP fisheries critic Gord John said in a statement the recent Atlantic escape is proof that the time table for the removal of open net-pen farms from Pacific waters needs to be accelerated.
Others found the deadline daunting.
Dianne Morrison, managing director for Mowi Canada West, said the company was disappointed to see the campaign commitment. It came at a time when industry was already in discussions with government about alternative technologies that could quell some concerns about the risks facing wild stocks through a technical working group.
“That group was to investigate how, and which method makes most sense from both a business, ecological and social points of view,” she said. “But the statement in the election platform flew in the face of that.”
Morrison said the company is still interested in exploring alternatives with the government to an outright ban on ocean-based farms, including closed-containment farms in the ocean.
“My fear is that if we take it to the extreme of land-based (farming) by 2025, that’s not currently possible from a technical point of view. It would also put the relationship we have with First Nations in rural communities in jeopardy,” she said, adding that the business case isn’t there for closed-containment farms in remote locations.
Bob Chamberlin, a long-time wild salmon advocate and former elected chief with the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation, said he hopes the government doesn’t make the phasing out of open net-pen farms dependent on the establishment of a new industry of closed containment farms.
Closed containment farms, which can be either on land or self-contained in the ocean, could require extensive consultations, land negotiations and other delay-causing steps, he said.
“With a 2025 timeline, we have to start work right now,” Chamberlin said.
Chamberlin said he plans to travel the province next year to discuss the changes with other First Nations.
A plan announced by the provincial government is already underway to phase out 17 fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago by 2023, in partnership with the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis and two other First Nations.
“Every industry evolves and it’s time for this industry to evolve out of the ocean. There are far too many questions about the impacts about the environment and wild salmon, and it’s time. It’s time to get them out of the ocean, period,” Chamberlin said.
OTTAWA — A growing number of Canadians believe the Trudeau government has fumbled its efforts to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to the public in a timely manner, according to a new poll.
The survey by Maru Public Opinion, commissioned by the National Post, found 57 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has thus far done a “bad job” of distributing vaccines to the provinces, an increase of 14 per cent from when the same question was asked in the first week of January. At the same time, 60 per cent of respondents said the provinces are doing a “good job” of administering vaccines, up five per cent over the same period.
The poll results come amid rising public impatience with the federal government’s vaccination campaign, which has been hampered by temporary supply shortages and distribution delays. Federal efforts have nonetheless begun to show signs of returning to initial targets in recent days, with public health officials now hinting that vaccines could be administered well before the government’s end of September deadline.
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Even so, Canada’s dismal ranking in administering vaccines compared with other countries could have a lingering effect on public perception of the Trudeau government, particularly if new delays crop up, said John Wright, executive vice-president of Maru Public Opinion. That could in turn carry some weight should Parliamentarians trigger an election this spring.
“If they’re looking towards an election in June, which seems to be speculation, then I would be concerned about this, because the ballot question is not so much about vaccines as it is about competence,” Wright said.
However, public opinion could always shift back should the Liberals meet or exceed their current targets, he said.
“I think this can be reversed, but it could take the next month or more.”
Maru surveyed 1,515 randomly selected Canadians on March 1 and 2; the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Respondents living in Alberta were most critical of the federal government, with 71 per cent saying Trudeau did a bad job, up from 52 per cent in January. The next most critical provinces were Manitoba and Saskatchewan (66 per cent), Ontario (61 per cent) and Quebec (52 per cent).
Atlantic Canada was the least critical, with 43 per cent saying Ottawa had done a bad job, up from 27 per cent two months earlier. Atlantic Canada also saw a drop in people who believed Ottawa had done a “good job,” from 73 per cent down to 57 per cent.
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Also in the survey, 62 per cent of respondents said they would get a vaccine “immediately,” up from 55 per cent in January and 36 per cent in December. The number of respondents who said they wouldn’t get vaccinated fell from 16 per cent in December to 10 per cent in March.
“It just shows the appetite,” Wright said. “We’ve got a population now that has confidence that this vaccine is going to work, and they want it. And when you see the demand escalating among the public and you don’t have the supply, that’s where the issue of competence certainly is going to play out.”
The schedule for Canada’s vaccine rollout remains highly uncertain. Ottawa has contracts with seven vaccine makers internationally, but still needs to approve some manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. The federal government last weekend approved Oxford University’s AstraZeneca vaccine, providing a major boost in incoming orders after Moderna and Pfizer both delayed shipments to Canada earlier this year.
Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief health officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said it now seems plausible that the federal government could beat its target of administering two vaccine doses to all Canadians by the end of September. The Trudeau government has been holding to the September date, viewed by many as a purposefully generous timeline that Ottawa could easily meet.
“If you look at it, the timelines would shift and we would be able to cover up, you know, the vast majority of the Canadian population in a sort of advanced timeline, or moving it up by several weeks,” Njoo said in a conference call with media Thursday.
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B.C.’s top doctor is expressing regret over how the province communicated to those expecting to get their second COVID-19 vaccine dose before those appointments were cancelled.
Provincial officials revealed earlier this week the province would expand the interval between first and second doses from six weeks to 16 weeks in a bid to immunize more British Columbians sooner, albeit with lower levels of protection.
This change in strategy resulted in thousands of cancellations of previously scheduled vaccinations that would have delivered second doses to at-risk British Columbians.
“I will regret and apologize to those communities, to the long-term care homes and to the individuals who had a second dose scheduled,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said during a Thursday (March 4) briefing.
“I regret that our communications weren’t able to keep up as fast as the decision-making, but please know that this was made in the spirit of understanding data and maximizing the benefit.”
B.C. officials justified the decision to expand the interval between doses by pointing to data that shows vaccines are proving to be effective for at least four months after a single dose.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended on Wednesday that provinces should consider significantly delaying administering first and second doses if they’re facing a limited supply of vaccine.
Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) and Moderna Inc. (NYSE:MRNA) recommend intervals of three to four weeks, but B.C. had been administering doses six weeks apart since January amid ongoing vaccine shortages.
The shift to 16-week intervals means many second doses for older British Columbians won’t commence until the summer — much later than planned when the province unveiled its strategy in January.
But younger British Columbians who would not have been getting their first doses until the summer are likely to receive those shots by the spring.
Henry said the province is now working on revising its timelines for when British Columbians can expect to be vaccinated.
This comes as the first delivery of 500,000 AstraZeneca plc vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India are due to arrive in the province by next week.
About 300,000 doses are due to expire April 2 and Henry said she could not yet provide estimates on how many are bound for B.C.
B.C.’s allotment of AstraZeneca doses have been earmarked for first responders and essential workers, which Henry acknowledge as covering a broad swath of people who don’t have the ability to work from home.
“We will prioritize our delivery of these vaccines accordingly and I want to be clear: This is not a random process,” she said.
“This is not me making a decision. We follow a very defined process.”
Henry said NACI’s definition of these workers continues to be refined and the province will refer to those categories when making its decision about which workers to vaccinate first.
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