Dumping of iron into sea off Haida Gwaii suspended amid acrimony

Controversial U.S businessman Russ George, who orchestrated a dump of more than 100 tonnes of iron sulfate into international waters off the coast of Haida Gwaii last year, has been fired by the Old Massett-based Haida Salmon Restoration Corp.

“We have parted ways,” Old Massett Village chief councillor Ken Rea said in an interview.

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The unauthorized iron experiment, which was designed to increase salmon runs by creating an algae bloom for fish to feed on, led to international controversy and accusations of geoengineering.

The Haida Salmon Restoration Corp., which was funded to the tune of $2.5 million through the Gwaii Trust Society and a village reserve fund, will undergo a strategic review, Rea said.

That means greater community input and restructuring the business “so that it … effectively responds to legitimate concerns raised by various stakeholders around the world,” he said.

“It starts with some bold steps — like parting ways with Russ George,” he said.

Old Massett economic development officer John Disney, who will serve as interim CEO, said he is confident in the technology but the right leadership and business plan are needed.

“We have a responsibility, not only to the shareholders but the citizens of Old Massett and Haida Gwaii to get it right,” he said.

However, in a twist, George denied in an email that he had been fired.

“The reports that I have been removed as a director of Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. are, unfortunately, inaccurate,” he wrote.

“The other board members of HSRC did not have any authority to remove me as a director.”

Ocean Pastures, a company owned by George, holds 48 per cent of HSRC shares and has the right to appoint two out of the four board members, he said.

“I shall remain a director of HSRC and look forward to moving the business plan of the company forward,” he said.

That will include commercialization of last year’s experiment, he said.

For Rea, the future does not include George.

The strategic review means that the second iron fertilization test, planned for June, will not take place, Rea said.

“I can’t say if it will be done again ever. I won’t know until we get the results of the strategic review,” he said.

Rea would not speculate whether the village has lost out financially.

“There’s value in the company and value in the data, and we intend to preserve that value,” he said.

The unauthorized test was heavily criticized by the Council of the Haida Nation and federal Environment Minister Peter Kent, who called it a “demonstration of rogue science.”

In March, Environment Canada officials seized scientific data, journals and files from the company’s Vancouver headquarters, and the corporation is now fighting to have them returned.

It is too early to say whether the algae bloom will mean better salmon survival, but anecdotally other marine species are doing well, Rea said.

George previously told Old Massett council that there was money to be made through the sale of carbon credits, although there is no proof it is a viable method of carbon capture.

It was the second time that George had proposed a carbon-credit scheme for Old Massett. The first plan, to cut down alders beside creeks and replace them with fast-growing evergreens, was scuttled by Fisheries and Oceans.

George has a history of trying to conduct iron fertilization experiments around the world, resulting in his ships being banned from ports by the Spanish and Ecuadorian governments.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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