Organizers from ADIMS estimate they collected between eight and nine tonnes of junk from the beach on Denman Island during the 2019 Big Beach Cleanup - the majority of that coming from the aquaculture industry. Photo by Gerry Ambury

COLUMN: DFO should enforce regulations, not pay for cleanup

By paying aquaculture industry to clean up its own mess, DFO becomes an enabler to ocean pollution

Dorrie Woodward

Special to The Record

The Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards (ADIMS) was deeply concerned to read that the BC Shellfish Growers Association (BCSGA) had recently received $350,000 from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to pay them to clean up this industry’s own plastic debris over a two-year period. Shockingly, it will only cover the deepwater areas below their own rafts, but not the industry debris which litters our shores.

Our home, Denman Island, forms the eastern shore of Baynes Sound, which is the epicentre of shellfish growing in B.C. This decision concerns us because tonnes of plastic debris from the industry continually wash up on our shores, compelling us to organize volunteer beach cleanups and do what we can to prevent additional microplastic contamination.

Why would DFO fund BCSGA to clean up its own lost gear, instead of taking action, as the regulator, to ensure that growers take care of this problem without cost to the taxpayers?

It’s always been ADIMS’ position that the industry should clean up its own lost gear. Similarly, it’s always been our position that DFO should enforce its own regulations, and pursue a relationship of respect and compliance between itself and the shellfish growers. We expect that DFO and the Province would also require that growers respect the needs of both the marine ecosystem and local residents by removing their toxic debris from our waters.

When we met with Jim Russell, executive director of BCSGA, we found we were all in agreement regarding who is responsible for cleaning up lost gear – the growers – and what DFO should be doing as regulator – monitoring and enforcement.

We discussed the two-year grant itself, which is exclusively for submerged ghost gear, meaning gear coming from the rafts, or netting swept off inshore tenures. The $350,000 matches growers’ costs, who will have to cover the expense of divers. Growers will pay 50 per cent of cleanup costs.

We believe this grant will only account for a small part of the industry’s plastic debris problem as we witness it from Denman’s shores.

More importantly: this grant will not fund the development of a model for growers to take responsibility for their lost gear in the future. Will DFO just keep on paying growers to clean up their own mess?

For the last 10 years, DFO has not routinely monitored or enforced this clear violation of the Fisheries Act. This industry’s lost gear constitutes a well-recognized threat to fish and fish habitat by depositing toxic plastic debris into critical salmon and herring spawning and nursery habitat. This decade of under-staffing and under-budgeting for basic regulatory functions can only be viewed as a policy decision, for which the minister is responsible.

By allowing the shellfish growing industry to continue as a publicly visible plastics polluter of our oceans and shores, DFO has become an enabler of the current shellfish aquaculture practices and complicit in the industry’s loss of social licence. Shellfish aquaculture used to call itself sustainable, and highlighted the pristine waters of Baynes Sound. There is an army of witnesses who can attest that neither of those industry claims can be made at this time.

DFO must step up as the regulator, and work with this industry to comprehensively address its plastic debris failings and adoption of a model for real and continued sustainability. We all need Baynes Sound waters to be pristine – for the sake of the shellfish aquaculture industry, the environmentally sensitive and diverse marine and foreshore ecosystems, and the present and future generations of islanders who live and work along its waters.

Dorrie Woodward is the chair of the Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards.

DFO

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