Contractors working for Cermaq Canada are cleaning up a 550 litre bio-diesel fuel spill at the company’s Burdwood fish farm, located in the Broughton Archipelago, 45 km northeast of Port McNeill.
“The root cause of the release was human error,” said Brock Thomson, Cermaq’s regional production manager in Campbell River. “Staff were transferring fuel from one tank to another and left the nozzle unattended and that lead to the release of the diesel.”
A team of emergency response officers from the ministry of environment, Fisheries and Oceans Canada as well as representatives from Cermaq are currently working in Port McNeill to determine the best course of action to recover the diesel within the fish farm’s footprint. The diesel outside of that area has been deemed irrecoverable because it is too thin of a layer for the equipment to absorb.
During a fly over of the area, incident commanders from the Canadian Coast Guard and the Ministry of Environment confirmed a discontinuous silver and rainbow sheen within a three-mile radius of the fish farm. On Monday afternoon that had dissipated to be less than a one mile radius according to Philip Murdock, superintendent for environmental response for the Canadian Coast Guard in the western region. Murdock added that diesel has a high evaporation rate and generally doesn’t stay in the marine environment for very long.
However, fuel has made contact with some shorelines in the Burdwood Island group.
The spill was discovered in the early hours of Sunday morning. Thomson said the crew on site called the coast guard immediately and proceeded as directed from there. While waiting for the coast guard to arrive they deployed all of the spill clean-up equipment that they had on site, which included boons and spill pads. When it was safe to do so, they also brought in equipment from the six neighbouring farms.
Thomson said they made the decision to call in Western Canada Marine Response Corporation to take over the clean-up operations at around noon on Sunday.
Upon arrival, the coast guard performed a fuel reconciliation and determined closer to 600 litres were spilled and not the originally reported 1,500 litres.
According to John Kervel, environmental emergency response officer for the ministry of environment, the next step in the process will be contracting a qualified professional to develop a sampling plan and make sure the area meets public safety and environmental benchmarks. This will include sampling the clams, mud and water in the surrounding area.
Despite the surface contamination, the fish on the farm are behaving normally, said Thomson.
“Fortunately at the time of the incident was during the evening hours, so it was dark out,” he said. “Generally the fish in the pen are pretty docile at that time and not breaking the surface. The potential for exposure to the contaminant was very low.”
At the moment they are not feeding the fish to keep the risk of exposure to a minimum and they are monitoring them with the underwater cameras they have installed on site. Thomson also said there has been not significant change in mortality rates since the incident.
Courtney Bransfield, Mt.Waddington Regional District’s emergency program coordinator, has been working as an information officer with the response team even though the regional district does not have any involvement with the site.
“My concerns are just that Cermaq is working in a timely manner to take care of this so that none of our communities are affected by the spill,” she said.
And from what she has heard, they have been right on top of it.
Bob Chamberlin, elected Chief of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis is waiting to see the effect the spill will have on the clam beaches in the area.
“We are extremely disappointed that it happened in the first place,” he said. “To have this disperse into our territories is completely irresponsible.”
Chamberlin is also concerned with the response from the government.
“In this situation there needs to be a much more streamlined approach to the availability of equipment, appropriate leadership that is found at sites such as this and of course now our attention turns towards the impact to the environment,” he said.
MP Rachel Blaney called for the government to show real leadership with a marine safety plan that strengthens preventative measures so that accidents like this no longer happen. She spoke in parliament today calling for transparency and accountability.
“Canadians deserve to know what went wrong,” Blaney said in a press release. “The federal government must be fully transparent and accountable about their spill response. Coastal communities and the people who love this coast will live with the impacts of the most recent spill. The government’s actions and assessment should be shared right away with our communities.”