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Sablefish farm seeks freedom to pump effluent into ocean, not land

Gulf Islands Driftwood, Wednesday, November 15, 2006

By Stacy Cardigan Smith

Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd. has applied to the provincial environment ministry to change the way it discharges hatchery effluent from its on-land Walker Hook sablefish farm. Sablefin, established in 2002 amid much local controversy, hatches black cod (sablefish) fry and sells them to other fish farms. The company was originally criticized for discharging its effluent into wells in a midden and gravesite area used by the Penelakut tribe for thousands of years on the Walker Hook tombolo.

An environmental protection (EP) notice published in the November 1 Driftwood states Sablefin’s intention to amend the permit that “authorizes the discharge of effluent to ground from a land-based marine fish hatchery . . . . This amendment requests that the following conditions be changed from discharge to land to discharge to ocean in Trincomali Channel one kilometre from shoreline.”

In an e-mail response to Driftwood questions last week, Sablefin representative Nancy Dixon wrote: “Our reasons for proceeding with an outfall revolve around our desire to continue good relations with First Nations and the Penelakut Elders and Tribe. It is our hope that our efforts to amend our existing permit will allow relations to grow and heal with the Penelakut and the community on Salt Spring.”

Sablefin declined a telephone interview and re-scheduled an in-person interview last week in order to allow sufficient time to contact the Penelakut Tribe and Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group (HTG), of which Penelakut is a member. HTG representative Eric McLay had not received any information from Sablefin last week, nor had Penelakut chief Lisa Shaver. Shaver did not respond to further Driftwood e-mail questions by press time.

“The new outfall pipe will be connected to the hatchery with a new upland pipe, thus avoiding the tombolo completely,” said Dixon, adding that hatchery production will not change as a result.

But Salt Spring Island Residents for Responsible Land Use member Sharon Bywater believes Sablefin has ulterior motives for the move. “Sablefin’s decision to go to the outfall is a purely business decision . . . . if they were wanting to improve their relations with First Nations, they would have moved years ago,” said Bywater last week. “I also wonder if the injection wells are proving to be problematic,” she added.

In 2005, the B.C. Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management denied Sablefin the ability to construct four additional wells for discharge purposes because the archeological site is of cultural significance to First Nations.

Before the permit is amended, Sablefin will likely have to undergo an Environmental Assessment through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, said Kirsten White, environmental protection officer with the B.C. Ministry of Environment (MOE). An assessment will determine if any habitat will be destroyed or harmed due to the change, said White. In addition, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Health Canada, the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, local municipalities and districts, First Nations peoples and the public may also have the opportunity to speak out. DFO reps did not return calls by press time to clarify DFO’s role.

Currently, Sablefin must undergo quarterly effluent testing, said White, and effluent must meet MOE parameters. Tests look at a number of factors, including the temperature, salinity and ammonia content of the effluent, and will not change if the permit is amended.

“Hatchery effluent is of such quality that it can be discharged to ocean without having any impact on the environment,” said Dixon. “The hatchery’s effluent is well below the limits set out in the government guidelines and restrictions outlined in Sablefin’s existing permit. In fact, the hatchery’s effluent is generally cleaner than samples of ocean water taken in the vicinity of Walker Hook. We have conducted extensive monitoring over the past three years and are confident that there will be no effect on the beach environment and adjacent marine environments.” Dixon said further information is available by contacting Sablefin at 537-4161 or sablefin@telus.net.

The public has until November 30 to respond to the EP notice. Written comments and concerns can be sent to Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd. at 335 Walker's Hook Road, Salt Spring Island, B.C. V8K 1N7, with a copy sent to the Regional Manager, Environmental Protection at 2080A Labieux Road, Nanaimo, B.C., V9T 6J9.



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