Bloody effluent still spewing from B.C. fish processing plant, photographer finds

Tavish Campbell says samples he collected from discharged waste reveal that the PRV virus, which is potentially harmful to wild salmon, is still present. B.C.'s environment ministry says a review of permits at all fish processing facilities is underway.

Samples reveal PRV virus is still in discharged waste, says Tavish Campbell, more than year after initial find

B.C. photographer Tavish Campbell initially performed dives off the B.C. coast in 2017 and found effluent contaminated with piscine reovirus released into the ocean. (Tavish Campbell)

A photographer on Vancouver Island is again raising concerns about the practice of dumping effluent containing fish blood from fish processing plants.

Tavish Campbell says little has changed since he collected samples from bloody waste discharged into the ocean last year. 

The samples, from processing plants that handle farmed salmon on Vancouver Island, were tested by the Atlantic Veterinary College and found to contain piscine reovirus (PRV), a virus that some researchers believe is harming wild salmon.

The findings prompted an investigation by B.C.'s Ministry of Environment and a province-wide audit of fish processing facilities.

Last month, Campbell returned to the plant in Tofino to repeat the tests.

"It was very distressing to see that nothing had changed in that year," he said, noting the new samples also contained PRV.

Permit review underway

The ministry of environment said it is in the process of reviewing, and amending if necessary, each of the 30 effluent discharge permits for fish processing facilities that have been issued under the Environmental Management Act.

That review is to "ensure that effluent discharge permits in the fish processing sector contain provisions that are protective of the environment," the ministry said in a statement.

Campbell is also calling for stronger regulations on fish pathogens — such as PRV — from the federal government.

But the science on the risk to wild salmon is far from conclusive, said federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

"There are certainly very different perspectives from a scientific perspective," he said.

Wilkinson has appointed an expert panel to study PRV and said he does not expect any potential changes to regulations until the panel reports back.

Fish plant to treat effluent

Meanwhile, changes are underway at the Lions Gate Fisheries processing facility in Tofino where the samples were taken.

It has installed a system to treat effluent before it enters the ocean. That system is expected to go into operation in January.

"As a certified organic company we always strive to do better for our fish and for the environment where we operate," said Tim Rundle, general manager of Creative Salmon, which owns the processing facility.

"We worked with Lions Gate and the provincial government to amend the discharge permit to allow this trial and that is now in place."

While PRV is found both at aquaculture sites and in the natural environment, changes to effluent permits are welcome news, said Dr. Mark Sheppard, a former lead veterinarian for Fisheries and Oceans Canada who now works for aquaculture companies, including Creative Salmon.

"There's always room for improvement. It's encouraging to see that effluents are being screened as much as possible to try to improve the quality of the effluent," Sheppard said.

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