Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Today's Catch - Murky Science

By Chris Philips

As Sara Randall, Glen Spain and Zeke Grader point out in this month’s PCFFA column beginning on page 18, the need for good science should be obvious to everyone; the problems with “bad science” are well known. One example of “bad science” might be the “ocean fertilization” plan implemented by a native village on the coast of British Columbia, which consisted of dumping more than 100 tons of iron sulfate and iron oxide into international waters west of Haida Gwaii, or the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the North Coast of British Columbia, between July and September of this year.

The idea behind the iron dump by the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. (HSRC) was to provide the missing nutrient for a plankton bloom that would “jump-start” the food web and restore salmon to the area. The dump is intended to mimic a volcanic eruption, which the HSRC believes might be responsible for increases in salmon populations. The company points to the August 2008 eruption of the Kasotochi Volcano, in the Aleutian Islands, and claims the ash fall from that event caused a bloom in plankton that was followed two years later by an increase in Sockeye Salmon returning to the Fraser River.

The corporation is a private partnership funded by the Old Massett Village Council, and the HSRC refuses to talk to the press unless they are assured of a favorable story, according to the “ground rules” in the company press kit ( and confirmed by company spokesman Russ George.

Regardless of whether the dumping of more than 100 tons of dirt into the ocean is good for fish or bad for fish, it’s illegal under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999). A spokesman for Environment Canada told Fishermen’s News that the matter is currently under investigation by Environment Canada’s Enforcement Branch. Mr. George claims the Government of Canada has false information.

Perhaps to mitigate what could be construed as a reckless disregard for the environment and the health of the area’s fisheries, HSRC also claims that the plankton are capturing greenhouse gas – murky science at best, according to an article from the July issue of Nature. The article states that, in spite of studies (plural) suggesting otherwise, a recent study (singular) says that stimulating the growth of algae in the oceans might be an efficient way of removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but also notes that it could produce toxic algal blooms or deplete oxygen levels in the middle of the water column.

While most of the commercial fishing community works to keep the Pebble Mine from fouling the Bristol Bay watershed, the Old Massett Village Council have taken it upon themselves to dump the equivalent of 100-plus tons of mine tailings into the already-fertile Pacific Ocean. While the intentions of the tribe might be good, the science behind the experiment is sketchy at best, and the long-term effects of the dump are unknown. While the Haida people might take credit if fishing improves in the area, will they accept the blame for the possible detrimental effects of their bad science?

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