Volunteers made a “Plastic Goddess” from some of the debris at last year’s beach clean-up of Baynes Sound and Denman Island. File photo by Gerry Ambury

DFO defends Vancouver Island ‘ghost gear’ clean-up grants

Marine stewards want more enforcement of polluters in region

The federal fisheries department is defending its effort to promote ocean cleanup in the region.

A spokesperson from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) responded to questions about funding for a recent program to help shellfish operators remove ocean debris that had sunk below shellfish farms, as well as about its commitment to cleaning up all debris and enforcing ocean polluters.

Regarding the recent funding, DFO spokesperson Alexandra Coutts told The VI Free Daily via email, “The Ghost Gear Fund garnered a great deal of interest, resulting in the submission of 82 proposals requesting in excess of $39 million. Unfortunately, the interest in this program greatly outweighed the available funding at this time.”

The Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards (ADIMS), in a newspaper submission, had criticized the announcement in July that DFO was funding clean-up of ‘ghost gear’, including money for the BC Shellfish Growers Association (BCSGA) to help members remove gears such as baskets and traps from areas before shellfish farms.

RELATED STORY: Shellfish industry get funds to clean up Baynes Sound and beyond

READ MORE: DFO should enforce regulations, not pay for cleanup

ADIMS president Dorrie Woodward had met with the industry and said it should be paying to remove its own plastic debris. As well, she said the grant only covers work for BCSGA members to remove submerged gear rather than all plastic waste.

“We believe this grant will only account for a small part of the industry’s plastic debris problem as we witness it from Denman’s shores,” she wrote. “This industry’s lost gear constitutes a well-recognized threat to fish and fish habitat by depositing toxic plastic debris into critical salmon and herring spawning and nursery habitat.”

Another issue she had cited in an interview with the newspaper was the need for more enforcement by DFO in the region’s waters, which she said often amounted to too few staff for too much enforcement work.

In her submission, she added, “This decade of under-staffing and under-budgeting for basic regulatory functions can only be viewed as a policy decision, for which the Minister is responsible.”

The DFO said it currently has 10 fishery officers designated for the British Columbia Aquaculture Regulation Program. They are located at offices in Campbell River and Nanaimo, though they travel frequently, as required, to areas within the Pacific Region to ensure compliance.

As well, DFO points out it will reassign officers from other offices to fulfil needs in the region when extra efforts are necessary. It said it places a high priority on issues regarding “the traceability of shellfish product in British Columbia due to human health risks associated with the consumption of contaminated products and has assigned fishery officers to specifically focus on this important issue.” Those charged under the Fisheries Act may be subject to a fine of up to $100,000 on summary conviction, or $500,000 by indictment, or, for a subsequent offence, a higher fine or imprisonment.

RELATED STORY: Annual Denman Island shoreline cleanup set to tackle growing debris

As far as other ocean waste, beyond ghost gear, DFO said it has worked with the BCSGA and community groups like ADIMS on beach clean-up events around Baynes Sound and on Denman Island.

For Woodward though, as she told the newspaper earlier, the key is enforcement in order to reduce the problem of plastic debris and ocean waste in the first place.

“DFO has the means to deal with that…. They will not deal with that,” she said. “It’s created a culture of impunity.”

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