Tag Archives: Salmon

It's been a big year for the environment in Canada - including lots of rallies like this one in Prince Rupert to oppose the Enbridge pipeline

How the Environment is Becoming the Top Issue for Canadians


Wendy and I, exercising a habit of some years now, are further depleting our kids’ legacies and will be away until January 10, starting with 20 days in the Caribbean then 4 days in Boston visiting friends.

It’s been an interesting year in the environmental field.

Opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project is massive and I predict the same situation will prevail against the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion. In fact, this is the first time in my memory that the environment has been the #1 issue. In fact, one of the signs is that neither the government, nor sadly, the opposition want to come to grips with several major environmental issues. The federal government is beyond all hope and may have to be stopped by massive civil disobedience, which no doubt will come.

All of us who are now waiting in the trenches must, in my opinion, pay considerable homage to those who have fought before us when the public was not so concerned. They were branded as “tree huggers” by many who now have learned that they were in fact heroes.They indeed cleared the pathway to public awareness of what lay ahead if we didn’t learn from their experience.

We – that is to say those not committed to the philosophy of the Fraser Institute and its in-house newspaper, the Vancouver Sun – know that without fail large companies who wish to invade our wilderness and oceans lie through their teeth constantly and without exceptions. This doesn’t make us communists or even socialists – neither of those two styles of governance have been much in synch with matters environmental, with Russia and China being in a class of their own when it comes to ecological indifference – at best.

I believe that many British Columbians know that we’re not talking “left” and “right” here but “right” and “wrong”.

A very good example was my Roast in November 2012 in the WISE Hall in East Vancouver. As I noted on the occasion, many in attendance that night would rather have been caught in a house of ill-repute just a few years before. Perhaps the leading indicator was the folks of West Vancouver who fought so hard to save the Eagleridge plateau from the degradation of the wildlife habitat and then took a bus down to the East Delta Agricultural Hall to help protest against degradation of agricultural land, Burns Bog and other wildlife preserves by the expansion of the Deltaport project and South Fraser Perimeter Road by corporations and the government. The meeting was addressed by people from both the right and the left. It was a moment of great symbolism which simply is not understood well enough by both major BC parties, especially not by the Liberals.

Environmentalism is not shrill protest, for protest’s sake, based on political objects rather than evidence. People have seen and heard with their own eyes and ears what is happening with fish farms, private power projects that have all but bankrupted BC Hydro; they’ve seen farmland destroyed and looked at the record of pipelines and tanker companies; they have not only assessed the risks of catastrophes to come, but also realize the consequences that will flow. They have come to ask, “is it worth taking any risk if the damages will be catastrophic and permanent?”

I think that slowly but steadily the public has come to realize that money is no answer. What does it profit the province if they get billions of dollars but lose their wilderness as a result? In Biblical terms, what does it profit a man to gain the entire world but lose his own soul?

And the soul of the province, how we live, how we look at ourselves and how we look at our legacy has become a hugely important factor.

How much are our wild salmon worth?

What price on our rivers and the ecologies they sustain?

Is there any financial arrangement that will compensate for the loss of our coastal fauna and flora as well as the people who, for centuries, have been sustained by those resources? Incidentally, a recent UBC study found that a single oil spill from tankers on BC’s coast could wipe out all the economic gains of the Enbridge pipeline.

If we lose our farmlands, is there a price that will offset that? Will the farm cease to be the underpinning of our way of life? Is money going to buy us the food we need?

There is this notion that we must continue to “progress”, which is code for “money talks and when it does one should bow down in grateful obeisance to the god Mammon and forever hold our tongues.”

I reject that notion. We can progress and prosper without placing our entire outdoors at the certain risk of destruction. Other prosperous democracies have managed to survive without screwing up their environment as the people of BC are being asked to accept.

In the May election in 2013 we have what may be our last chance to stop right wing governments, mad economists and soulless corporate bloodsuckers from desecrating our beautiful land.

A rally against Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline and tanker expansion last year.

Public Will Soon Turn on Kinder Morgan…Will the NDP?


Mike Smyth had an interesting column in Sunday’s Province, dealing with the proposed second and much larger Kinder Morgan Pipeline to Vancouver, which would see a five-fold increase in tanker traffic through Vancouver’s harbour. In it he told us that the company was being very laid back compared with Enbridge, holding a series of public information sessions. Mr. Smyth, quite correctly in my view, said that the public, if only mildly involved now, would change its attitude toward Kinder Morgan.

Kinder Morgan will and indeed is being dishonest with the public. This is no different than Enbridge or any other pipeline – they all maintain that there will be no spills and that, if there are, they will be minor (which is what Enbridge said about Kalamazoo) and quickly cleaned up. This is nonsense and the public will very soon be letting Kinder Morgan know that.

We must all know that corporations simply do not tell the truth except by accident. Their face to the public comes from highly skilled public relations departments and highly skilled and expensive outside agencies.

As we have seen with BP in the Gulf of Mexico disaster, after the tragedy they are quick to find pictures of healthy birds and animals to show that all is well again.

Close to home, the Ashlu private river power project is of interest. Ledcor received its right to dam and divert the river on the basis that migratory salmon would not be interfered with. The permission was in these words:

A decision was taken on November 30, 2009 and was that the authority may exercise any power or perform any duty or function with respect to the project because, after taking into consideration the screening report and taking into account the implementation of appropriate mitigation measures, the authority is of the opinion that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects. (emphasis added).

To say that salmon have indeed been adversely interfered with is putting it very mildly indeed.

This report from the Wilderness Committee:

More than 3,000 pages of documents obtained separately by the Vancouver Sun and the Wilderness Committee through freedom of information requests show water-flow fluctuations caused by run-of-river hydro projects are killing fish — and the problem is not isolated.

While independent power producers insist their sector remains the cleanest energy option, the documents bolster environmentalists’ long-standing concerns about the industry.

“I’m seeing significant environmental problems,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Wilderness Committee. “And that runs completely counter to what the companies are saying, which is essentially, ‘Trust us with your wild rivers and there won’t be any problems.’ ”

The documents detail repeated short-term fluctuations in water flows, resulting in the stranding and killing of juvenile fish downstream of two plants, Capital Power on the lower Mamma and Innergex on Ashlu Creek, another tributary of the Squamish.

In one incident on Ashlu Creek, on May 8, 2010, 166 salmon and trout fry became stranded due to rapidly dropping water levels. Fewer than half of the fry could be returned to the creek alive. Another 39 fry died during a stranding on April 20, 2011.

Neither hydro operation has been charged.

This happens all over the province – companies get government permission to dam a river, the understanding being that salmon runs will not be harmed, then the salmon runs are extensively damaged.

What is also endemic is the lack of any government surveillance of water used and released by the company. They promise, cross your heart and hope to die, that they will conform to the terms and when they don’t there are no consequences.

While Kinder Morgan isn’t into hydroelectricity, its pipeline will cross many streams and rivers and it too will cross its heart and promise that it will be so careful in fish habitat we have nothing to worry our pretty little heads about.


But there is much more. If this line goes through there will be upwards of 350 tankers leaving Burrard Inlet every year going through the very dangerous 2nd Narrows Bridge, loaded with deadly bitumen.

We will be assured that there won’t be any accidents and, if there are, why it will all be cleaned up spick and span and that there will be no residual damage.

This is bullshit and they know it.

Kinder Morgan’s Director of Engineering and Marine Development Mike Davies acknowledged at a recent debate in Vancouver that there have been more than 70 spills from the current Trans Mountain Pipeline over its 60 year lifetime. That includes a 2007 spill that drenched a Burnaby neighbourhood in oil – for which the company was found partially responsible and ordered to pay a $150,000 fine by the courts. Then, last week we learned from a National Energy Board report on the spill of 90,000 litres of oil from the company’s Abbottsford tank farm in 2011 that emergency alarms warning of a leak went ignored by operators for hours.

This takes me into politics.

Adrian Dix, the leader of the NDP, won’t take a stand on the Kinder Morgan line until it formally files its application.

This cop-out is raw cowardice. Dix knows as much as he ever will about this pipeline – enough to oppose it no matter how much they will ship.

This is causing us at The Common Sense Canadian to re-think our policy for next May’s election.

Dix is evidently worried that he will be seen as “against everything”. No one, least of all Damien Gillis and I want Dix to be against everything but only those projects that will damage our precious province and all the fauna and flora that our wilderness sustains.

In addition to damage done in any particular place there is the question of the cumulative impact of the half dozen or more oil, gas and condensate pipelines now proposed for BC. No environmental process, Provincial or Federal, has addressed this question.

In fact the process reminds one of a Soviet “show” trial. The result is certain but to make it look good, governments hold hearings where the desirability of the project is out of order, it already being  a “done deal”.

As it sits right now, as we survey the scene on environmental matters, there is little to separate the uncaring, corrupt Liberals from the gutless NDP.

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Food Safety Agency Should Protect Public, Not Cover up Virus for Salmon Farming Industry


The federal agency embroiled in the recent XL Meats tainted beef scandal is at it again – this time leading efforts to cover up a potentially catastrophic farmed salmon flu-like viral outbreak on BC’s coast. Charged with ensuring your food is safe to eat, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) increasingly appears to be acting as a political arm of the Harper Government and an inept custodian of Canadian trade which will do our export business far more harm than good in the long run.

A little over a week ago, it became apparent that the CFIA is working hard to discredit and de-certify one of the two labs in the world recgonized by the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) as experts in detecting a deadly salmon virus, known as ISAv. The lab in question, run out of Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of P.E.I. by Dr. Fred Kibenge, diagnosed the ISAv outbreak that devastated the Chilean aquaculture industry several years ago, causing $2 Billion in damage. Such is his scientific credibility that when the fish farm industry was experiencing unexplained losses of their fish in Chile in 2007, they went to Kibenge to test for ISAv. 

Recently, Dr. Kibenge has been testing farmed and wild salmon samples from BC as he investigates a potential similar outbreak here. His findings were instrumental in forcing the re-opening of the Cohen Commission into disappearing sockeye last year, where he went before Justice Cohen as a key witness. That the Commission took Dr. Kibenge’s testimony and research as seriously as it did – reflected in its ultimate findings released a month ago – should be of particular note to the CFIA as they attack his lab and credibility.

During the same judicial proceedings, internal emails revealed these CFIA senior staff acting, as  the Commission’s lead lawyer suggested, more like hockey players high-fiving each other after beating their opponent than scientists and civil servants serious about getting to the bottom of a viral mystery which threatens the environment and economy of BC – even the salmon farms themselves.

The emails followed the telephone press conference the CFIA hosted to rebuke the first discovery of ISAv in wild salmon on BC’s coast by independent salmon biologist Alexandra Morton and SFU Professor Rick Routledge. I was on that call and appalled by the lengths they went to dismiss and discredit this groundbreaking new finding. I asked the CFIA’s spokespeople where the Precautionary Principle fit in their approach. Evidently it receives nowhere near the prominence Justice Cohen accords it.

In one of the emails that surfaced at the Cohen Commission, dated November 9, 2011, Joseph Beres, an inspection manager at the CFIA, wrote to colleague Dr. Con Kiley and other senior DFO and CFIA staff who had appeared on the conference call:


It is clear that we are turning the PR tide to our favour – and this is because of the very successful performance of our spokes[people] at the Tech Briefing yesterday – you, Stephen, Peter and Paul were a terrific team, indeed. Congratulations! One battle is won, now we have to nail the surveillance piece, and we will win the war also.

Cheers, Joe.

In the same strain, Dr. Kiley replies, “Concentrate on the headlines, that’s often all that people read or remember. Both the ‘Top Stories’ and the ‘Related Pieces’.”

During the Commission’s investigation into this matter, Dr. Kibenge addressed what would come to be described by CFIA officials as an “audit” of his lab in the midst of his initial research into ISAv in BC. It is the disputed results of this and one other similar audit that form the basis for the CFIA’s request to the World Animal Health Organization to strip Dr. Kibenge of his status as one of two “reference labs” certified to investigate ISAv outbreaks.

While he was on the stand during the Inquiry, Dr. Kibenge described this bizarre “audit”: “The inspection was meant to be about understanding my processes so they could improve their own practices, but once the inspection began I got the sense that it was about obtaining information, because the first thing they asked me about when they did the inspection was the samples.” Dr. Kibenge added, “I quickly realized that the purpose of the site visit…was actually in my view, to confirm a hypothesis that had already been presented in the media.”

According to Mark Hume, who broke the story last week in the Globe and Mail, “The [CFIA] has promised to sample nearly 8,000 salmon in B.C. in response to concerns about ISA. But the results of those tests are not yet known, and the CFIA has challenged the validity of Dr. Kibenge’s tests, saying government labs couldn’t replicate his results.”

Of course, as the XL Meats scandal taught us, the CFIA’s detection methods are quite capable of failure.

In response to this latest attack on his lab by the CFIA, Dr. Kibenge told Hume, “What they are doing here is essentially punishing me for having testified at the Cohen Commission and trying to suppress the findings that we’ve been finding. It’s an attack on my credibility,” he said. “ I just feel compelled to continue with my research work because there is nothing here that I can see that I’ve done wrong.”

Dr. Kibenge isn’t the only world-class lab working on the BC ISAv mystery. The lab run by Dr. Are Nylund at the University of Bergen in Norway has reviewed some the same samples as Dr. Kibenge and come to similar conclusions about the likelihood of ISAv’s presence in BC waters.

The CFIA has responded to concerns raised about its denial that ISAv is here in BC by affirming its commitment to protecting Canadian trade. If BC were to become officially designated as an ISAv-contaminated region, CFIA employee Dr. Kim Klotins testified at the Cohen Commission, that could indeed close borders to the 92% Norwegian-owned salmon farming industry in BC –  a potentially fatal blow to the industry’s local operations. Setting aside for a moment the troubling notion that our food safety inspector views protecting trade as its chief mandate, the CFIA’s defence raises more questions than it answers.

Just as its failure to take proactive enforcement action in the XL Meats scandal ultimately led to a serious blight on Canadian trade – with the temporary closing of the US border to Canadian beef exporters – so will covering up this salmon virus until it has mushroomed into a full-blown catastrophe. This short-term butt covering is downright dangerous – not just to our wild fish, but to the trade the agency purports to be defending.

On the heels of the first indications the virus is already here, CFIA joined senior Harper Government leaders and BC’s Liberal Premier in a coordinated offensive to convince foreign governments there was nothing to these concerns. In November, 2011, Agriculture Minister Don McRae accompanied Premier Clark on a trade mission to China to deliver the message that BC seafood is safe. How will those trading partners feel when they later learn they were misled? What impact will that have on Canada’s international reputation and trading opportunities? There is much more than Norwegian farmed salmon at stake here.

Now, the question that must also be asked, given the agency’s health and safety mandate, is can we be so sure that this salmon virus in the influenza family, from industrial farming practices, won’t mutate in a way that poses a threat to human health such as bird flu and swine flu have done before? I want to be clear: I’m not suggesting there’s a shred of science to support that notion – but the question must be asked, as the science must be done, not stifled at every turn because it’s politically inconvenient.

Justice Cohen called for the Precautionary Principle to be thoroughly implemented in future fisheries management. I suggest the CFIA act accordingly and treat this potential viral outbreak seriously. We may one day be dealing with more than just the loss of our wild salmon and the economy dependent on them.

It is time time for the CFIA to quit playing petty, vindictive political games and to start working with Dr. Kibenge’s lab to get to the bottom of this salmon flu mystery – not to mention to begin regaining the confidence of the public it’s supposed to serve. In all the media they do, the CFIA and politicians rest their criticisms on two admittedly poor initial samples from Rivers Inlet that tested positive for ISAv, which led to many subsequent samples following far more rigourous protocols. To the CFIA, it’s as if the other salmon from BC that have tested positive for ISA virus – including wild fish from various streams and lakes and farm salmon purchased from Vancouver-area supermarkets – simply don’t exist.

While the CFIA appears to think it is acting in the interest of Canadian exports by protecting the salmon farming industry from these damaging revelations, it is in fact undermining our nation’s credibility on the international stage and doing long-term damage to our cross-border trade – all to protect a largely Norwegian-owned industry that contributes marginal economic value to the province of British Columbia.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper must reign in CFIA now and start paying serious attention to this important salmon virus research.

Monsanto and Cargill’s Plan for Soy-based Factory Aquaculture Industry

Monsanto and Cargill’s Plan for Soy-based Factory Aquaculture Industry


Read this story from commondreams.org on corporate food behemoths Monsanto and Cargill’s plans for a large-scale, GMO soy-based aquaculture industry. (July 2, 2012)

Agribusiness behemoths including Monsanto and Cargill are set to cash in big from industrial fish farming or “aquaculture” as the soy industry spreads its reign to the seas, a new report from environmental and consumer watchdogs shows.

The new report, “Factory-Fed Fish: How the Soy Industry is Expanding Into the Sea” from Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Europe, shows how the use of soy as feed in aquaculture — branded as “sustainable” — is an environmental disaster, harming fish both wild and farmed as it pollutes the oceans and brings unknown effects to consumers eating the soy-fed fish.

“Our seas are not Roundup ready,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, referring to the 93 to 94 percent of soybeans produced in the United States that are genetically modified by Monsanto to tolerate the application of its Roundup herbicide.

The growing of Monsanto’s soy has led to an increase in the use of herbicides, the report states, and its planting on large scales has led to massive deforestation, which exacerbates climate change and displaces indigenous communities.

“Soy is being promoted as a better alternative to feed made from wild fish, but this model will not help the environment, and it will transfer massive industrial farming models into our oceans and further exacerbate the havoc wreaked by the soy industry on land—including massive amounts of dangerous herbicide use and massive deforestation,” stated Hauter.

Once grown, the soy feed continues its adverse effects. Not being the natural food for fish, the farmed fish excrete more waste, which pollutes the open waters.  In addition, some of these soy-fed fish will escape and breed with wild fish, affecting natural populations.  Excess feed will escape as well, causing unknown damage to wild populations.

Despite these risks, soy has been touted as a more ecologically-sound alternative to feed in aquaculture, notably by the American Soy Association.

According to the report, “the rising use of soy in fish farming industries will mean that notorious agribusinesses like Monsanto, which has sponsored feed trials with genetically modified soy and salmon, and Cargill, which has an aquaculture feed division, will play a hand in seafood production.” The report notes that half of the seafood consumed globally is through aquaculture, creating a potential gold mine in profits for these companies.

Read original post: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/07/02-2

Justice Bruce Cohen releases his report in Vancouver - Oct. 31, 2012

The Recommendations of the Cohen Commission Report


After three years of evidence, study and writing, Justice Bruce Cohen has finally submitted his $26 million Report on the disappearance of the Fraser River sockeye salmon. Despite being written in the restrained language of the judiciary, it is explicitly and implicitly explosive, condemning of the federal government’s environmental policies, scathing in its assessment of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), and critical of the salmon farming industry.

One of the most impressive qualities of Justice Cohen’s report is its perspective. While it acknowledges the deleterious effect on wild salmon from warming oceans and rivers due to global climate change, it recognizes that the longterm future of wild salmon is bleak without the proper funding, research and supervision by the federal government. Such a splendid, valuable and crucially important natural resource cannot continue to exist if it is not properly protected, managed and appreciated. According to Justice Cohen, the federal government’s abdication of its responsibility for this ecological treasure has been unwise and “troubling”.

The predominance of politics over responsibility is echoed in the actions and inactions of DFO. While Justice Cohen praises the efforts of lower level fisheries officials who work heroically in a regime of ongoing constraints, his Report highlights DFO’s contradictory goals of promoting salmon farming while being mandated to protect wild salmon. The two are mutually exclusive. His comments are an unequivocal condemnation of political interference within DFO and, by implication, confirmation of the detrimental effects of salmon farming on wild salmon.

Noteworthy is the fact that, of the 75 recommendations made by Justice Cohen, a disproportionally high number — 11 of them — deal specifically with salmon farming and the constraints that need to be placed on this industry if wild salmon are to prosper. Since global climate change, impaired ocean conditions, pollution and habitat loss are threats difficult to address, the negative effects of salmon farming become particularly conspicuous because they can be corrected immediately and easily by simple administrative measures.

Justice Cohen is explicit in some of these recommendations. For example, #16 and #17 specify that siting of salmon farms along the migration routes of wild fish be reviewed based on current scientific knowledge, and that those farms in the migration routes of Fraser River sockeye should be relocated.

Salmon farms in the Discovery Islands are of particular concern. #14 calls for a moratorium on all farmed salmon expansion located there. #18 specifies that, “If at any time between now and September 30, 2020, the minister of fisheries and oceans determines that net-pen salmon farms in the Discovery Islands (fish health sub-zone 3-2) pose more than a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon, he or she should promptly order that those salmon farms cease operations.” And #19 is more prescriptive and comprehensive. After appropriate “research and analysis”, net-pen salmon farming should be prohibited in the Discovery Islands if any more than “a minimal risk of serious harm to the health of migrating Fraser River sockeye salmon” is determined.

The Discovery Islands area is a noted geographical constriction between Vancouver Island and the mainland where most migrating Fraser River fish are forced to travel. With only nine of its 70 farms are located there, the salmon farming industry would experience limited economic impact should these sites be closed. Perhaps, then, the industry should close them voluntarily to ensure the safe passage of migrating salmon, avoid the cost of multiple studies, and take an ethically high position by exercising the Precautionary Principle. This would be a symbolic gesture of good faith since extensive studies have already implicated these salmon farms in the transfer of sea lice and disease to the migrating wild fish.

Justice Cohen’s Report, however, has much wider implications than just the Discovery Islands. While he was mandated to review only the cause of the collapse in Fraser River sockeye, his recommendations clearly apply to other wild salmon. Recommendation #68 acknowledges that disease and sea lice are likely emanating from all salmon farms, clear recognition that concentrating large numbers of contained fish in confined conditions creates breeding sites for pathogens and parasites which are an obvious threat to virtually every salmon swimming within proximity of the net-pens. Many salmon farms happen to be located along migration routes where the most damage is done. Indeed, the entire salmon farming industry, as it is presently practiced, is under suspicion.

Perhaps the most damning assessment of the tripartite fiasco created by government, DFO and salmon farming is captured in just a few words by Justice Cohen. “I accept the evidence that devastating disease could sweep through the wild populations, killing large numbers of wild fish without scientists being aware of it.” This dramatically and succinctly summarizes the deplorable state of the present situation. DFO has so blatantly mismanaged, compromised and neglected wild salmon that it has no idea of what is happening to them, why it is happening, and wouldn’t know if it did happen.

The source of such “devastating disease”, although not expressly stated by Justice Cohen, points directly to the salmon farming industry. This is what Justice Cohen would have deduced after reconvening his Commission for three days of exceptional hearings in December, 2011, to hear new evidence of the unprecedented presence in BC’s wild salmon of infectious salmon anemia (ISAv) — an alien disease that could only have reached the West Coast with farmed fish.

Wild salmon are failing because they are being subjected to undue risks. The thrust of Justice Cohen’s recommendations is to first exercise precaution in our management of this crucial resource, and then to use open, serious and thorough research to identify and eliminate these risks. 

Schematic drawing for closed-containment fish farm - from DFO's feasibility study on the subject

One Step Forward with Fish Farms, Two Steps Back with Proposed Fossil Fuel Exports


A couple of thoughts today.

A promising article on fish farms appears in today’s Vancouver Sun. At face value it looks like great news – the story of fish farming on land with no contact with the ocean.

As I say, it looks great but I want to hear what Alexandra Morton has to say.

The objection industry has always made is that it’s too expensive for them to compete that way. The answer to that, according to the Sun article, is that excrement can be recycled for profit and that expenses such as fish lost to predators, or to kill sea lice are avoided.

There is only one fair way to compare the two approaches: charge fish farms an appropriate rent for their leases to include ALL the environmental losses. This levels the playing field and is only fair.

The market for farmed fish is there as we deplete wild stocks around the world. The trouble is that our wild stocks are not depleted by over-fishing anymore but by allowing poisoned farmed fish to mingle with the wild.

Bringing the farms on land will only happen if ocean farms are taxed their appropriate due.

On another note, no sooner had the news been out that the US was looking to be self-sufficient in energy than the bottom feeders rose as one to tell us this means we must update our mining of the tar sands and the piping of it though BC to the coast then shipping by tanker to Asia. The US will no longer need our filthy bitumen so we must redouble our efforts to bugger up the environment in BC to ship even more of the stuff down our fjords.

What ever happened to weaning ourselves off fossil fuels?

If the rapacious industry must continue to mine bitumen, send it to a refinery in Alberta. Irrespective of US capabilities, there will always be a world market for oil.

Moreover, there is an economic reality being ignored. The price of fossil fuels will reduce considerably over what we figure makes a profit. It’s an open ended market. China takes our bitumen if that’s the cheaper way to get energy, it abandons us if it’s not.

I invoke Mair’s Axiom I: “You make a serious mistake assuming that people in charge know what the hell they’re doing!”

Here we are in BC doing everything we can to press forward with LNG plants to convert natural gas to liquid to ship it to new markets while the gas prices plummet. With “fracking”, supply around the world has dramatically increased. Do we really believe that the third largest country geographically in the world, China, doesn’t have fracking capability either at home or closer than Canada? In fact, they are just getting started.

China has it both ways – it can import from us when supply is short (don’t hold your breath for that to happen) or produce it cheaper closer to home.

We are idiots.

This neatly segues into the question of the next BC budget.

Going into the May election the Liberals will want a balanced budget. One of the main factors will be, of course, income and no prize for guessing where that will come from.

You got it – natural gas. The government hasn’t a clue what that figure will be but you can bet the ranch that they will generously err on the high side.

We must all remember that in 2009 they were more than $2 BILLION short of the real numbers and they got away with it.

Desperate people do desperate things and the false card the Liberals play is that they are better stewards of the economy than are the NDP – even though the evidence is quite to the contrary.

The NDP, in the meantime, have completely lost their minds. They are, you see, going to help the Liberals prepare the next budget! This all from Adrian Dix‘s desire to make the legislature more cooperative.

(I wrote a two-part series in The Tyee, recently on how that can be accomplished and this is not the way).

Randolph Churchill (father of Winston) once said, “it’s the duty of the Opposition to oppose”, and he’s right. My series suggests how that can be done safely.

The greatest fear of any legislator is the “unforeseen consequence” of his policy. Now the NDP are going to join the process so that we will not get the value of “the other side” and the NDP will deprive themselves of any ability to question the budget in the next election because, it will be said, it was the NDP’s budget too.

I, for one, am becoming quickly disillusioned with Dix and Co. Not only are they onside with the government’s energy policy – or prepared to go easy is areas like LNG – they seem to be laid back polishing up the crown they’re sure to get next May.

This isn’t helpful for the public but also puts the NDP into a sort of “drift”. The Liberals can see that and you can bet they will be in better political shape next May than they now are, helped along by the total collapse of the Conservatives.

Mr. Dix, in politics 6 weeks is an eternity and in this old pol’s view you are looking to inherit that which you must earn.

The Early Editions's Lee Rosevere and Shiral Tobin at the 2012 Webster Awards (photo by Dave Thomson)

Rafe on Webster winner Shiral Tobin and the decline of CKNW


How is the absence of environmental coverage in the media related to Shiral Tobin, who recently shared a Webster Award for “BEST FEATURE STORY – RADIO”?

Simple – when Shiral was my producer on CKNW and later did the night show for them, ballsy radio was still in vogue.

Before I go further, let me state up front that I was fired by CKNW in 2003 in a disgraceful way. I have never been bitter about this – just angry that they tried to destroy my personal reputation in doing so. I must also reveal that Shiral and I are close buddies. For example, when I was fired in 2003, Shiral, then working for the CBC, rose from her sick bed and, flagrantly flouting CBC rules, held a press conference to support me against the disgraceful behavior towards me.

Here’s where Shiral comes into the story.

A year or two before I was fired and before Corus had bought out CKNW, I urged the station to give the late night show where I had started to Shiral. They agreed and Shiral was given the show and she did a terrific job. Issues flew across the airwaves. All Shiral needed was a vacancy to happen.

Abruptly, Corus, now in charge (the new boss’ previous job was running a meat packing plant) promptly fired Shiral, reasoning that they could do re-runs of my shows for free.

My comment, on air, was that, in Wilde’s words, they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Shiral came with me to 600AM after this as my producer and was fired along with me when the manager – a devotee of ancient popular music – heard from his golfing pals that we were doing too much on fish farms.

CKNW’s collapse since 2003 has been catastrophic. Whereas they had a  15%+ of radio listeners in those days (I was about 20%) they now have a 9% share running third behind CBC’s Early Edition, where Shiral now plies her trade.

This is a crying shame. CKNW used to be the opinion setter in the community. Where they once had the public listening and arguing, they now have bland. They were a station with regular internal spats but even large spats were quickly forgotten as everyone wanted one thing: #1.

The station had a glorious chance to start the recovery process when Christy Clark left and the afternoon show opened up – by hiring Shiral. That’s what would have happened before Corus.

Now the great irony – one of the reasons CKNW is gasping for air is Shiral is now opposite them at the CBC and kicking the crap out of them.

Justice Bruce Cohen unveils his final report in Vancouver

Rafe: Cohen Commission report rightly targets salmon farms, Precautionary Principle


There are several things that jumped out at me with the Cohen Commission Final Report, released yesterday.

The first is that my faith in Bruce Cohen as expressed on CBC’s Early Edition right after his name was announced has been fully justified. I said then that I knew the man, had fought in court with the man, that he was a superb lawyer and judge and that those who thought he could be pushed around just because he happened to be a very nice guy to boot would be pleasantly surprised.

Hell of a good job, Bruce, I’m proud of you.

Here is my first prediction – the Fraser Institute-led Op-ed page in the Vancouver Sun will very soon have a weasily op-ed piece from Mary Ellen Walling of the Salmon Farmers Association.

Alexandra Morton has been thoroughly vindicated and ought to get the Order Of Canada immediately. Only we who know Alex know what she’s been through with the DFO and Provincial governments slandering her and blocking her every move with lies and distortions.

Commissioner Cohen tested, as I said he would, his mandate to the utmost. It’s here we should note that he was only empowered to look at Fraser River sockeye, not the hundreds of thousands of other salmon impacted by fish farms.

It will be observed – as it already has been – that he found no “smoking gun”. Of course he didn’t because there probably isn’t one – the sockeye run more risks that just fish farms. What I also observed on the Early Edition that morning is that there are many causes of salmon loss on their journey into the ocean and back but that one thing will surely come out – fish farms are a major suspect and since we could deal with them we should. This is clearly the finding of the Cohen Commission.

Let’s look at an obvious finding in the report and one that the Commissioner must have felt awkward finding what should be so easy to see – DFO has a clear conflict of interest being mandated to protect wild salmon and shill for the fish farmers at the same time. How any minister could fail to see that is beyond me.

I cannot in the time I have today deal with all of the report, but let me emphasize what all who want to save our salmon must repeat, tiresomely if necessary: THE OPERATIVE POLICY IS THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE.

This means that the onus of proving no harm will follow is placed on the shoulders of him whom proposes an undertaking.

If this principle had been followed in the beginning none of this would have happened.

It’s not that no one knew about this principle because it’s been the law of the land for decades.

Henceforth every single proposed invasion of the environment must be subject to this rule.

Why should people like Alexandra Morton have to lose their homes and go broke when, if the Precautionary Principle had been enforced, she could do what she came to Canada to do – study Orcas?

Looking very bad today is also John Cummins, the leader of the vanishing BC Conservatives whose one-track mind can’t accept anything that doesn’t involve abolishing the native fishery.

You can be sure that the government of Canada and the Clark government will do nothing. And here it is that our system of so-called parliamentary government is so flawed by reason of party discipline – not one Liberal MLA nor Conservative MP will press for implementation of Commissioner Cohen’s recommendations. It is because of this that every time those who care about the environment  win, they end up losing – the Kemano Completion Program is a good example.

This report must be the bottom line of all protests for our environment and those it sustains. Our rallying cry should be, “Mr. Justice Bruce Cohen and the precautionary principle!” so that people who care can centre on this fundamental maxim and force the governments to do what they have been told to do.

This should be a great day for all who care and it will be so if we bring unyielding pressure, including in the voting booth.

Dr. Kriti Miller was a key player in last year's Cohen Inquiry, whose finalk report is expected this week (photo: JOHN LEHMANN/The Globe and Mail )

Otto Langer Unleashes on Salmon Inquiry, DFO, Harper on Eve of Report


On the eve of the expected release of the final report from the Cohen Inquiry into disappearing Fraser River sockeye, retired DFO senior biologist and manager Otto Langer offers his critique of the Commission and his former employer. Langer, the man who blew the whistle on Stephen Harper’s plan to gut the Fisheries Act, was also an expert witness at the Inquiry.

I often noted half way through the Cohen Commission hearings into disappearing Fraser River sockeye in Vancouver in 2011 that I would not hold my breath for the Commission to make any real impact on changing DFO and if we do not rehabilitate DFO we cannot rehabilitate the fishery.

DFO and DFO management has to be rehabilitated in that they are a major problem to overcome in resolving many fishery issues. Cohen did not appear to properly address the DFO management problem but if he is astute and reads between the lines he does have to highlight that as a real problem. I doubt if he will. 

Was Cohen advised not to be too critical of DFO? Prime Minister Stephen Harper did resist a full public inquiry and I am certain his thinking was – “if I am to have an inquiry it had better not embarrass my government or my ministers.” DFO did oppose a public inquiry for years until Harper finally gave into the pressure of MP John Cummins (Cummins personal communications 2010).

The Cohen Commission did have great inherent weaknesses. First of all they overloaded their ranks with lawyers and made a public hearing process into an overly controlled and straight-jacketed legal process and at times appeared even more restrictive than a criminal court case. Cohen noted that he did not want the Inquiry room to be a courthouse but that is indeed how it was run. It was not democratic or transparent and was totally control-oriented – a legal community approach that was not in the public nor fishery best interests! 

The Commission set up a expert panel and then dismissed it for all the wrong reasons. They badly needed an unbiased technical advisory panel but resorted to select studies done by often unqualified consultants. They did not consult with the public and often ignored those that had legal standing in these issues.

The basis of engagement was not made clear until we were several months into the Inquiry. I was given legal standing but totally obstructed in any attempt to be a witness. The Cohen Inquiry alone determined what they wanted to hear and selected the witnesses accordingly – it was channeled evidence.

Many hours of exam were wasted on irrelevant issues and then when we got into key material directly related to sockeye survival those with standing were most often restricted to a few minutes of cross examination. That was truly unfortunate. It is well known that it is more time efficient to make your point with your own witness than to overturn misleading testimony when one was restricted to a few minutes of cross-exam. Few trials would be run in such a manner.

The Inquiry staff prepared their own background discussion papers that were often in great need of editing and were not factually correct. To make matters worse they then hired a dozen consultants to do their own ‘research’ papers vs. having a technical expert advisory panel. Some of these papers were very non-scientific and a few were actually an embarrassment to science and the Inquiry. In one study, the Commission lawyer even attacked their own hired author so as to distance themselves from the terrible work they had done. Despite that, select studies such as that by Dr. Scott Hinch were excellent.

Certain Inquiry staff at times functioned as inexperienced staff and little wonder that some unqualified consultants were hired and taxpayer money was wasted. The public interest could have been better served if Cohen had designed a Northern Gateway Pipeline-type hearing; i.e. more open, democratic and accountable.

The Commission even appeared to use some witnesses and asked them to present testimony they did not want to present. For instance Dr. G. Hartman got upset with them and told them to get lost and refused to be a witness. Another witness refused to return to the Inquiry and said spending time in his cabin was more relevant!

I did my best to be a witness to get a number of issues before them but was told they “did not want anyone that was critical of DFO”, even though they gave me and ENGOs legal standing and hundreds of thousands of dollars to have legal representation. In one case they wanted one of my studies on Fraser River gravel mining but asked another expert to take my study and rewrite and remove all comments critical of DFO and put his name on it as though he was the author of the study. That was unethical!

A real problem was that at least 70% of the witnesses were from DFO and many were not experts and really presented a smoke-and-mirrors story on how enforcement was done, the new ecosystems approach, etc. This came from experts like DM Dansereau and DFO and DOE Ottawa ‘experts’ on enforcement. Why did the Inquiry require Dr. Bombardier from Environment Canada to appear as their enforcement expert when she had no enforcement background and only had been in her job for six months? She was indeed opposed to enforcement as a compliance tool. Often the testimony was misleading and very political in nature.

Considering the above – why should one expect a $26million high quality and balanced product that will make a big difference in the ocean and river where the fish live? I do not feel Cohen will fully address the DFO and a politically directed decision making process where most management problems are most often born. If Cohen does make some good conclusions and recommendations (and he will), how can that affect or direct what Harper and DFO will do, considering the passing of Bill C-38 in June 2012 and the changes they made since the Inquiry concluded.

We have just learned that we will not have any habitat protection staff and DFO habitat protection offices on the sockeye salmon Fraser River migratory and spawning/rearing areas anywhere on the Fraser River other than 5 junior staff in Kamloops. Staff and offices in Prince George, Blue River, Salmon Arm, Quesnel, Williams Lake, Lillooett, Chilliwack and New Westminster will be eliminated. If Cohen knew that this was about to happen, his report could be different, i.e. some of his evidence is already well out of date. Any significant (permanent ) habitat destruction incident on the sockeye system will now be responded to out of Winnipeg or Burlington.

Would Justice Cohen have been happy with that arrangement?

Cohen and staff could have done a much better job in hearing more balanced evidence and he is now stuck with the evidence he has heard. Some evidence was very sub-standard, i.e. habitat, ecosystems effects, enforcement, etc. Despite that comment, some of the evidence was complete, such as wild salmon policy, temperature issues, fish farming, etc. However, in that the hearing was overly directed and it was a closed process as dictated by Cohen staff, some of the best evidence was not heard, such as the great political interference in undermining science, terrible DFO hiring practices, overly-centralized directions from Ottawa, management shortcomings, etc. 

Finally, Cohen will be hog tied on some issues, such as global warming and temperatures, which are very valid and priority issues. What can he say other than it is an issue and we need more science as government cuts this capability in DFO and elsewhere in government? Cohen will be barking up an empty tree as the Harper (and BC and Alberta) governments do everything to promote more fossil fuel development that will facilitate global warming and undermine long-term salmon survival. Many of the salmon survival issues have to be addressed at the international, federal and BC levels. Under our present system of governance and cooperative problem solving, Cohen will make little impact on this much-needed larger, ecosystem-wide approach to protect and conserve life such as sockeye salmon on this planet.

DFO and the Harper Government really cut Cohen off at the knees and I feel they have treated this Commission with contempt and their actions have left Cohen and his report already a bit on the back shelf.  DFO can dismiss much of Cohen in that they can now say that some of his information is out of date and DFO has already directed many changes to re-direct where DFO is going.

I do hope I am wrong in believing that the Cohen report will do little to change DFO and the politics related to protecting our natural world and salmon survival. The politics have created a very tilted playing field and as with many other inquiries tackling this salmon problem, one will probably soon forget about the Cohen Inquiry as we have done with the John Fraser and Justice Williams reports.

We must appreciate that the Cohen Inquiry is the really big Granddaddy inquiry into this issue but can it or will it recommend solutions or see action on its recommendations to solve the really big issues facing sockeye and most fishery issues? A report may be great but it means little if it does not effect change, i.e. implementation is the real challenge!

The power to make those changes is now in the hands of government and that is where we can even have much greater reservations of what can or will happen. DFO will probably pick off the ripe low fruit that will support what they want to do and ignore the rest. Meanwhile, DFO and the Harper government will stubbornly go in their own direction as determined by the rigid control and less than scientific approach as seen in many other similar matters in the past few years.

The comments of the ‘original author’ of the Inquiry, ex Conservative MP and fisheries critic John Cummings should be interesting. He seemed to give up on it soon after it began. It is odd that we can sometimes build a process from a good idea but it soon gains its own life and goes in another direction and we then feel we have created a monster that will not fulfill the basic needs it was designed to address. 

The Inquiry spent millions collecting thousands of documents, and putting them into a digital library which was guarded with great secrecy and unavailable to the public. In that the Inquiry is now over and this is a taxpayer-funded product, it must be arranged for that large and expensive collection be put into a public library.

Meanwhile the taxpayer struggles to pay for this multimillion dollar Inquiry into a problem that should address the many fishery problems for future generations so they can enjoy the existence of what is a key part of BC – abundant salmon populations in our healthy rivers.  

Otto E. Langer, Fishery Biologist and Aquatic Ecologist – Oct. 27, 2012

Alexandra Morton and SFU Prof. Rick Routlledge are being honoured with this year's Sterling Prize (photo: SalmonAreSacred.org)

Alexandra Morton Nets Two Academic Honours, Forces Farmed Salmon Recall


It’s been a busy couple of weeks for salmon biologist and anti-fish farm activist Alexandra Morton. In between receiving two prestigious academic honours on opposite sides of the country, she found the time to drop by a few Sobeys grocery stores in Halifax, discover clumps of sea lice on the farmed salmon they were selling and create a national media story that prompted the retailer to yank all the whole farmed salmon from their maritime stores. All in a week’s work for the indefatigable defender of wild salmon.

In Halifax, Morton was honoured last week with the invitation to deliver the annual Ransom A. Myers Lecture in Science and Society – named for the late DFO scientist who predicted the collapse of the east coast cod and resigned from the department when his bosses attempted to silence him. Each year the university invites one similarly talented and independent minded scientist to speak to their issue of concern. Morton’s presentation on the discovery of several catastrophic viruses in BC’s farmed and wild salmon was delivered to a packed house of 400 academics and produced the only standing ovation in the history of the five year program.

Morton and her small team of research assistants made use of their trip to the east coast to meet with biologists, conservation groups and fishermen to learn about the impacts of the open net pen salmon farming industry on their marine environment. She spoke with a number of lobster fishermen, for instance, who have had to abandon their livelihoods due to the crash in their fishery which they connect to the arrival of salmon aquaculture operations. Chemicals used to treat sea lice on the farmed fish are also lethal to shellfish, while fish farm waste covers up the lobsters’ vital seafloor habitat.

Morton also popped into a few Sobeys grocery stores and purchased a couple dozen fish to inspect for microscopic diseases. But it was the larger sea lice that immediately caught her attention – several fish were covered with the parasite. Soon after a colleague posted a picture of the lice on facebook, the media caught wind of the story, prompting the grocery chain to pull all whole farmed salmon from its east coast stores. The company said monday that it was in the process of updating its handling procedures for the product to ensure this embarrassing incident doesn’t repeat itself.

Meanwhile, back in Vancouver, Morton and her colleague, SFU professor Rick Routledge, will be receiving the Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy from SFU tonight. The award, as its title implies, was founded in 1993 “to honour and encourage work that provokes and/or contributes to the understanding of controversy.” According to SFU’s website for the honour, “The Sterling Prize is awarded annually to a recipient whose work presents new ways of looking at the world, ways that are daring and creative.”

Morton and Routledge, who together first discovered the lethal ISA virus in wild BC salmon last year, will deliver a joint talk at the award ceremony, titled “Salmon Farms and Disease: The Importance of Both Academic Freedom and Community-Engaged Research.” The event takes place tonight, Wednesday October 24th, at the Morris J Wosk Centre for dialogue, 580 West Hastings Street. Attendance is free but online registration is required in advance.

Morton’s research has been generating controversy for quite some time, but at these honours and others she’s collected in recent years (including an honourary doctorate from SFU) indicate, her work is being taken more and more seriously by established academia – and now even some major farmed salmon retailers to boot.