British Columbia

Province announces review of fish processing plants

B.C.'s environment minister, George Heyman, has announced the province will undertake an immediate review of fish processing plants to ensure wild salmon stocks are not impacted by any waste products from plants.

Review comes after photographer releases images of effluent pouring into ocean

A B.C. photographer took this underwater photo in Brown's Bay near Campbell River, B.C., that he says shows effluent being released into the ocean from a nearby fish farm processing plant. However, the plant in question says, despite its red colour, the effluent was specifically treated to deal with any fish pathogens. (Tavish Campbell)

B.C.'s environment minister, George Heyman, has announced the province will undertake an immediate review of fish processing plants to ensure wild salmon stocks are not impacted by any waste products from plants. 

"Today's announcement is to say, 'We've heard the public. We thank people who brought this to our attention," said Heyman.

Specifically, Heyman thanked B.C. photographer Tavish Campbell, whose underwater images released last month drew attention to waste discharged from processing plants. 

Contamination claims disputed

Campbell claimed samples he took from waters off the coast of Campbell River and Tofino tested positive for contamination with a fish virus. 

Heyman said the province has taken its own samples from both plants but the results are not back yet. 

The B.C. Environment Ministry announced Wednesday it will conduct an immediate review of fish processing plants to ensure waste products do not contaminate wild salmon. (Horsefly River Salmon Festival/Facebook)

Brown's Bay Packing Company, which operates one of the plants involved, and the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association defended processing plant practices, saying, despite its red colour, the effluent was disinfected and treated for fish pathogens before it was released into the marine environment. 

Salmon farmers support review 

The executive director of the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, Jeremy Dunn, says he welcomes a review and expects the association will have the opportunity to participate in it. 

"Our members operate five of the 35 processing plants authorized for wastewater discharge here in B.C., and we agree with government that permitting should be based on the best available science and best practices in other jurisdictions," Dunn said. 

"All aspects of salmon farming are governed under science and best practices, and we take a precautionary approach to our operations with respect to wild salmon every step of the way."

B.C. photographer Tavish Campbell says he performed four dives off the B.C. coast and found effluent contaminated with piscine reovirus released into the ocean. (Tavish Campbell)

Minister Heyman says the goal of the review will be to update regulations and permits around the discharge from processing plants.

"The permits that people are using for discharge, in particular, in Campbell River and Tofino are close to 30 years old. The conditions attached to them don't reflect modern views or modern science, so we want to update them," he said. 

Heyman says there are approximately 35 waste discharge permits for plants along the B.C. coast.

He says the province will work with First Nations, the public and industry to modernize regulations.