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Friday, January 7, 2011

So long 2010: A year in review

Well, happy 2011! We’ve survived another trip around the sun aboard our shiny, water-coated vessel, and ended up back where we started (in solar terms anyway). Another summer has come and gone, blessing fishermen, bears, and natal streams across BC with record numbers of sockeye salmon. Over twenty-thousand grey whales have migrated from their calving grounds near the Baja Peninsula to the rich marine-buffet of the Bering Strait and back, while millions of shorebirds have completed even longer return migrations.

Think you have a long commute?
It’s a retrospective time of year. Has anything changed during the latest cycle of our cosmic voyage? Personally, I’ve migrated from Nanaimo to Sointula, found a new job, and got married. But I digress, for there have been other changes over the past twelve months, far more relevant to marine conservation.

David Helvarg recently described the five biggest wins and losses for the ocean of 2010 in the Huffington Post. Obviously there are many more, so I thought I’d share with you some of the more notable changes that LOS has helped to bring about for the ocean over the past year.

Progress on closed-containment salmon farming. In a joint op-ed published in the Victoria Times Colonist in February, Clare Backman of Marine Harvest and Jennifer Lash of LOS announced a commercial-scale pilot project for a closed-containment salmon farm. This will be a joint project between Marine Harvest Canada (a division of the largest salmon farming company in the world) and the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform (CARR), which includes LOS and four other conservation groups. The project, which is scheduled to break ground in mid 2011, is an unprecedented collaboration between conservation groups and the aquaculture industry with the aim of improving conditions for wild salmon in BC.
Overwaitea Foods offers closed containment salmon. In April, Overwaitea Foods became the first retailer in Canada to make closed containment salmon widely available. Overwaitea is a retail partner of Sea Choice, a joint initiative between LOS and four other environmental non-profit groups which work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to help Canadian businesses and consumers make sustainable seafood choices. For years, conservation groups and scientists have promoted closed containment salmon farming as a means of protecting wild salmon and the marine environment.
Ancient Glass Sponge Reef one step closer to protection. This past summer, DFO identified the glass sponge reefs of Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound as an “Area of Interest” and began the formal process of establishing a Marine Protected Area (MPA) around these features. Glass sponges reef structures are up to 9000years old and are unique in the world to BC and Washington State. These living fossils are extremely vulnerable to damage from bottom trawling, and can take hundreds of years to recover. If everything goes as planned, this MPA will finally be designated by 2012.

Mapping reveals fishing permitted in 99 percent of Marine Protected Areas. A paper was released in November, authored by several LOS staff, which examined fisheries closures in 161 MPAs in Canada's Pacific coastal waters. Alarmingly, the paper revealed that 160 of these areas are open to some amount of commercial harvesting. The paper also contains recommendations for improvements which would allow the Canada to meet its commitment through the International Convention on Biological Diversity to build a network of MPAs by 2012 that protect 10 percent of every habitat type.
Motion passed in Parliament to support a legislated ban on oil tankers. Finally, if you’ve been following Water Blogged over the past month or so, you’ve probably heard that the majority of the House of Commons voted last month to support a legislated ban on oil tankers on Canada’s Pacific North Coast. The vote followed months of public opposition to Enbridge Inc.’s proposed pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to the BC coast and the associated tanker terminal in Kitimat. First Nations, fishermen, tourism operators, environmental groups, politicians, and local residents held rallies and ultimately sent delegations to Ottawa to voice their concerns about the threat to the environment and coastal economies from increased oil tanker traffic. A Private Members Bill has since been tabled in the House, proposing a permanent ban on tanker traffic in Hecate Strait, Dixon Entrance, and Queen Charlotte Sound.

As you can see from this brief review, 2010 has been a busy year for marine conservation in BC. There are many challenges ahead for 2011, but many exciting opportunities as well. Stay tuned to this blog, dear reader.

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