British Columbia

Fish farm firm Cermaq Canada fined $500,000 for B.C. diesel spill

A fish farming company has been fined $500,000 for a spill that sent more than 500 litres of diesel pouring into the waters near Campbell River, B.C.

Crown had asked for $1.4 million penalty for 2017 incident near Campbell River

A photograph taken on March 5, 2017 shows diesel in the water at a Cermaq Canada fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. (Twyla Rosocovich)

A fish farming company has been fined $500,000 for a spill that sent more than 500 litres of diesel pouring into the waters near Campbell River, B.C.

A provincial court judge handed down the sentence to Cermaq Canada on Tuesday, following the company's guilty plea to a charge under the Fisheries Act of unlawfully depositing a deleterious substance into Raleigh Passage.

Crown prosecutors had asked for a $1.4 million fine for Cermaq, a subsidiary of an international aquaculture firm owned by Mitsubishi.

However, Judge Catherine Crockett chose to slash that recommended amount by nearly two-thirds, writing that there was no proven harm to wildlife and Cermaq has accepted full responsibility.

"I conclude that the consequences of this incident to Cermaq to date, including the monetary cost and damage to its reputation, go a long way to impress upon Cermaq the need to ensure its systems and training are sufficient to prevent similar offences in the future," she wrote in her reasons for sentence.

"Nevertheless, I must impose a fine in keeping with Cermaq's corporate size and relative financial means, so the fine could not be seen by Cermaq, or other companies that operate in the marine environment, as simply the cost of doing business."

The spill began on March 4, 2017, when an employee of the salmon farming operation was transferring fuel from a main storage tank to a smaller tank.

According to the sentencing decision, the worker ignored the company's posted instructions about how to complete this transfer and used a rope to hold the fuelling nozzle so the diesel would keep flowing. He then left the area to take care of other duties.

Despite a reminder from his supervisor, the worker didn't shut off the fuel pump that evening, and both of them went to bed while the diesel was still transferring. At some point during the night, the smaller tank overflowed and the fuel began running into the ocean.

It cost Cermaq Canada $885,000 to clean up the spill. (Daniel Hillert via Bob Chamberlin)

The spill was only discovered when the supervisor woke up at 4 a.m. and smelled gas.

Estimates for how much diesel overflowed range between 522 and 550 litres. Cermaq spent about $885,000 on cleanup efforts.

No farmed salmon were killed in the spill, and tests showed there was no impact on their health, the decision says. All the fish on site were eventually processed and sold.

A scientist who testified for the court said the greatest risk from the spill would have been to herring roe, but overall the judge concluded the harm to sea life in the area was low.

Since the spill, Cermaq has updated procedures at its fish farms to prevent similar incidents and brought in a consultant to review its fuel handling policies, Crockett wrote.

Her sentence also includes an order for the company to post her decision on its website for 90 days.

The salmon farming operation where the spill happened, near the Burdwood Group Islands, has since been decommissioned.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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