Cermaq’s Brock Thomson and Karen Bernard speak to the SRD at the March 28 meeting. Photo by Mike Chouinard/Campbell River Mirror

Strathcona Regional District asks for local clean-up help from aquaculture company

Directors cite projects such as Earth Day beach clean-up on Quadra Island and wild salmon restoration

Aquaculture company Cermaq has been involved in clean-up efforts on Vancouver Island before.

They might be joining an Earth Day effort close to home this month after appearing before the Strathcona Regional District in March.

Community partnership coordinator Karen Bernard and innovation director Brock Thomson spoke to the SRD board at its meeting on March 28 to outline some of the community work the company is doing in Vancouver Island communities.

“At Cermaq we believe in contributing to the community above and beyond salmon farming,” Bernard said. “We like to be part of global initiatives.”

She referred to United Nations’ sustainability goals, which the company has signed up to support. These include ending hunger, supporting nutritious food and ocean conservation. She cited strategic projects, such as working to enhance wild salmon stocks.

“We know this is a huge issue for Vancouver Island, for B.C. and for the First Nations,” she said.

One of these is working with the Ahousaht in its traditional territory.

“This is our main First Nations partner in the Tofino area,” she said.

They are helping to develop a hatchery to restore the chum salmon in the region. This also includes an educational component, with a viewing centre to be built in the future.

Another project includes seaweed projects at salmon farm sites while fallow. These, she said, could provide opportunities for First Nations partners and complement the salmon farming.

As well, Bernard outlined marine debris cleanup work the company conducted with the Ahousaht during the summer. Through this, they removed plastics, abandoned vehicles, even boats. In all, they cleaned up 365 tonnes of debris through the project, which was in partnership with the Coastal Restoration Society.

Thomson expanded on some of the commercial ties Cermaq has with the Campbell River area, in addition to other sites around Vancouver Island. This includes a head office and production facility. He said they produce about 5,000 tonnes of salmon in the regional district each year.

“The impact on the regional district isn’t just from these facilities,” he said.

He cited not only an annual payroll of about $7 million but procurement opportunities worth $30 million.

Following the presentation, Area C Director Jim Abram said he was pleased the clean-up efforts Cermaq was making but hoped they could add the annual beach clean-up on Quadra Island in conjunction with Earth Day on their calendar, particularly because of the debris in the ocean associated with the aquaculture industry.

“We’ve got floats out all over, around Quadra Island and other islands,” he said. “There’s farm equipment and floats and debris that has been there for the past 10 or 15 years. It’s still there. It’s starting to sink, it’s starting to disintegrate.”

The volunteer event, he said, is slated for Sunday, April 28. He suggested they provide not only people but boats to help with the campaign. The volunteers try to recycle some of the plastic, while some remains waste, though the Comox Strathcona Waste Management waives tipping fees for the event. As well, many companies donate trucks to help with collection.

“We usually take about 10 dump truck loads of plastics gathered off the beaches,” he said. “I would like to see your industry, your company participate in that this year…. I would like to challenge you to participate.”

Bernard thanked Abram for bringing the event to Cermaq’s attention and said she would like to get more details. She added the company is doing some beach clean-up projects with schools in the area.

Charlie Cornfield, one of the Campbell River SRD directors, followed up with a question about their work on stream restoration and hatcheries with the Ahousaht, asking if the company has any similar projects closer to this area.

Thomson said the company has contacted the Oyster River Enhancement Society, adding the company historically had not done a great job in seeking these opportunities but was now looking for ways to help wild salmon.

“At the core of what we do, we’re salmon people,” he said. “We want to help, we just don’t necessarily know how and where to help.”

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