Tour operators oppose fish farm company's plans to dump pesticide off B.C. coast

A dispute is brewing between a foreign-owned aquaculture company and local conservationists and tour operators off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia over plans to dump pesticides in the water.

Cermaq, a Japanese-owned company that operates a salmon farm near Tofino, B.C., is seeking approval to dump nearly one million litres of pesticide in Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve waters.

The pesticide contains hydrogen peroxide, and Cermaq wants to use it to get rid of sea lice that affect farmed salmon. The company already had a three-year permit to dump pesticides in the water, but is looking to renew the permit as it is set to expire this year.

But Clayoquot Sound is also a feeding spot for migratory grey whales. Conservationists such as Bonny Glambeck, who runs a group that tracks marine activity in Clayoquot Sound, worry that the pesticide will kill off food for whales, such as krill and other crustaceans.

"Grey whales over the last few years have been struggling with finding food," Glambeck told CTV News.

Tour operators such as Leonard John from the Ahousaht First Nation, who rely on whale watching as a substantial part of their business, have also expressed the same concerns.

"I am very worried about these fish farms dumping in our Hahoolthee, our territory," John told CTV News.

John Forde, another tour operator, believes granting Cermaq another pesticide permit would be favouring one industry over another.

"For the life of me, I can't understand why it is being allowed," Forde told CTV News. "I don't understand how one industry can be favoured over the economic benefits of another industry."

Cermaq said in an emailed statement that the pesticide is diluted before being discharged, and naturally decomposes in ocean water, given that hydrogen peroxide is unstable.

The company also told CTV News that the high levels of hydrogen peroxide "may have a negative affect on larval stage crustaceans," buy says it would be "highly unlikely" that high levels of the chemical would be discharged during normal usage of the pesticide.

"We are inclusive in our approach and open minded to all opinions. We work hard to achieve standards better than global best practices, as well as standards set by the Ahousaht Nation, in whose territory we operate in Clayoquot Sound," the company said.

B.C.'s provincial government doesn't have a deadline for the decision on whether to renew the permit. Environment and Climate Change Minister George Heyman said that the pesticide is "effectively hydrogen peroxide and breaks down into hydrogen and oxygen."

Cermaq also said it has been engaging in consultations with the Ahousaht Nation.