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"Bloodwater" photographer keeps up the pressure on fish farms

BC salmon farmers have struck a committee to look into wastewater procedures following release of videos.

The environmental group Pacific Wild livestreamed a video of effluent being discharged from a fish plant near Tofino as part of an effort to keep public attention focused on the possible dangers of &quotbloodwater."

Pacific Wild

The environmental group Pacific Wild livestreamed a video of effluent being discharged from a fish plant near Tofino as part of an effort to keep public attention focused on the possible dangers of "bloodwater."

A B.C. photographer hopes being able to see farmed fish “bloodwater” spew out of pipes in real time will spur more calls to change what he believes is a dangerous practice.

Two weeks ago, Tavish Campbell’s videos of discharge from fish packing plants on Vancouver Island spurred a commitment from B.C.’s environment minister, George Heyman, to inspect one of the plants. After seeing the video, Dominic LeBlanc, federal fisheries minister, asked the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to look into the discharge procedures.

Pacific Wild, an environmental group, livestreamed video on Facebook from a plant near Tofino on Dec. 7. The video shows red coloured effluent being released and various types of rockfish feeding on the discharge. 

That’s a concern, said Campbell, because 80 per cent of farmed fish are infected with a virus called piscine reovirus (PRV). A severe heart and muscle illness that can kill fish “always occurs in the presence of PRV,” according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Scientific studies have not yet found a definitive link between the two, but researchers agree PRV is a “leading candidate” to cause the disease.

“Eighty per cent of farmed fish are infected with this virus and we need to think whether we as a province think that risk is acceptable,” said Campbell, adding that the heart and muscle disease poses more of a threat to wild salmon because the disease slows down the fish, making them easier prey.

Campbell hasn’t received any updates from B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. The ministry did not return Metro’s request for comment.

Jeremy Dunn, a spokesman for the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, said the fish farm industry has also acted in response to Campbell’s videos: they’ve struck a committee to look at best practices for discharging fish plant waste and will be meeting with Heyman after the Christmas holidays. 

Dunn said the link between PRV and the heart and muscle disease has not yet been definitively proven, and if regulations are changed, they should change based on science.

Campbell said samples from one of the plants was tested by the Atlantic Veterinary College, and were found to contain PRV. But Dunn questioned the veracity of that testing: “Experts I’ve spoken to say they don’t know of any way of testing for PRV in wastewater (when blood is mixed with seawater).”

Vancouver Island photographer Tavish Campbell took this photo of a pipe spewing blood near a fish packing plant.

Tavish Campbell

Vancouver Island photographer Tavish Campbell took this photo of a pipe spewing blood near a fish packing plant.

The plant in Campbell’s first videos is Brown’s Bay Packing Co. near Campbell River. Dunn said that plant, which handles large volumes, is required to treat their effluent with chlorine. B.C.’s fish farm industry has been especially focused on eradicating a disease called infectious haematopoietic necrosis.

Plants like the one shown in the Dec. 7 livestream, Creative Salmon near Tofino, are not required to disinfect their discharge but must screen it through a mesh.

“We think everyone releasing discharge needs to be held to the highest standards,” Dunn said.

But Campbell said his videos show the need for B.C.’s fish farm industry to move to closed containment systems on land, rather than pens in the ocean.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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