Fish plant waste problem is solved

  • Mar. 13, 2009 8:00 p.m.

The four fish plants on the islands can now get back to work, after Ottawa agreed to allow them to dump fish waste into the ocean until the end of June, while a long-term solution is sought. The plants -three in Masset, one in Charlotte – were told in November they’d no longer be allowed to dump the waste, effective this season, as doing so is contrary to the Fisheries Act. That left the plants scrambling, and threatened the jobs of up to 300 islanders. Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen got involved, and has helped broker a short-term solution, as Environment Canada has given the plants until June 30 to come up with a plan for dealing with the waste in a way consistent with the Fisheries Act. In the meantime, they’ll be able to dump waste as they have for years, meaning they’ll be able to work normally until the end of June, and likely longer. “They’re not going to shut us down on June 30. We have to have a plan in place by (then),..” said Al Frick, manager of CB Islands Fisheries in Masset. “We will be able to carry on dumping for a short period of time,” he said, “as long as we have a comprehensive plan submitted, and some time lines.””My assumption, essentially this fishing season, we are good,” MP Nathan Cullen told the Observer in a telephone interview from Ottawa, “We can continue on doing what we are doing while we put something else in place.” Mr. Cullen also said the problem may have a silver lining, as a reduction plant, which would satisfy Ottawa’s concerns, is one possible solution, and it would create on-island jobs as well as provide stability for the plants.There are two other possible long-term solutions, disposing of the waste in a landfill or getting a permit for deep sea dumping. Ocean dumping is permitted only in very rare cases, leaving the plants here to determine which of the other two is best. “This is why we are looking at doing this feasibility study,” Mr. Frick said, “we have to see which one would be the most viable. We’re not sure at the moment.” The plants are looking for about $50,000 to study the problem, and are applying to Community Futures and the Misty Islands Economic Development society and others for money. While all appears well at the moment, not everyone is happy. Mr. Cullen says he’s frustrated by the way the federal government has proceeded, giving the plants very little warning that the Fisheries Act was about to be enforced. “The timing was about as bad as you could imagine,” he said. But he says the plants needed time, and that, in the end, was what Ottawa gave them. “I had some conversations with ministers here. They kind of understood how the application of the rules needed to have a little moderation or common sense,” Mr. Cullen said, “the message got passed down and we are where we are.” Mr. Frick is not that happy with Ottawa either. “To be quite honest, here we go again. I still think this decision was made without any factual evidence that (the dumping) was a problem to begin with,” he said, “but it’s the same old game. We are guilty until proven innocent, I guess.” Meanwhile, at least one of the plants is ready to go. Masset’s CBI Fisheries expects to start buying clams March 26. That means work until the end of June for a total of up to 55 diggers and plant workers, who otherwise would have faced a very bleak spring.

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