Fish farm operator blames storms for debris on island beaches

An aquaculture company has admitted responsibility for an incident in which thousands of fish feed bags washed up on a group of pristine west coast islands.

Omega Pacific barge mishap dumped thousands of plastic fish feed bags in park reserve

Aquaculture company Omega Pacific Sea Farms admitted responsibility for the release of thousands of empty 25 kg fish feed bags that washed up on the shores of the Broken Group islands in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Vancouver Island Surfrider Foundation. )

An aquaculture company has admitted responsibility for thousands of fish feed bags that washed up on a group of pristine west coast islands.

Omega Pacific Sea Farms owner/operator Bruce Kenny said In a statement he was 'concerned' about reports of the plastic feed bags found on the shores of four islands in the Broken Group near Ucluelet on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Kenny said storms on Oct. 18 and Nov. 6 damaged the company's barge at its Jane Bay farm in Barkley Sound, releasing the bags stored there. The statement said the Canadian Coast Guard "determined the incident to be a low environmental risk."

However the NDP Member of Parliament for Courtenay-Alberni is still trying to find out why local community officials and First Nations weren't advised of the incident until a media outlet reported details of a leaked memo on the cleanup on Nov. 17.

"As soon as we heard about it, I reached out to the local chiefs and the local First Nations and local mayors and local cleanup groups and none of them had been informed about this incident taking place," Johns told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

"The internal memo by Parks Canada said the discovery would attract significant public and media attention connecting it to broader marine debris issues like the Hanjin," he said, referring to the Korean container ship that spilled its contents on the west coast last year.

Government response criticized

 "This is concerning for local communities that the government is more worried about their image than protecting the environment," Johns said. "This bag spill just illustrates what would happen if there were an oil spill or a large container spill."

Tseshaht First Nation Chief Cynthia Dick said her community is also concerned about the incident and would like to see Parks Canada demonstrate "a stronger commitment to having transparency."

Parks Canada said about 2,000 25 kg fish feed bags washed up on four of the Broken Group islands in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.  About 1,000 more feed bags were found in other locations.

Some of those were found on other beaches around Pacific Rim National Park by cleanup volunteers from the Vancouver Island Surfrider Foundation.

Parks Canada issued a statement saying officials take the incident very seriously and are continuing to assess the extent of the debris. It said the debris also include a roof, part of a wall and other miscellaneous items.

With files from CBC Radio One's On the Island.