Haida readying for second round of iron dumping in ocean

The controversial Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. wants Environment Canada to return scientific data and samples — seized during office searches last month — so it can prepare for a second ocean fertilization experiment this summer.

Last year, the Old Massett-based corporation unloaded more than 100 tonnes of iron sulfate, plus iron oxide and iron dust, into the ocean 320 kilometres off the coast of Haida Gwaii.

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

Debate raged over which government departments were aware of the experiment, with Old Massett economic development officer John Disney saying the government had been informed and federal Environment Minister Peter Kent describing it as a “demonstration of rogue science.”

In March, 11 Environment Canada officials spent 23 hours at the corporation’s Vancouver headquarters and other locations seizing scientific data, journals and files, said Jay Straith, the company’s lawyer.

“They took samples and let samples thaw out,” he said.

So far, Environment Canada has not indicated what they are going to do with the seized items and time is running out as the group prepares to collect baseline information in May, followed by a second iron dump in June, said Old Massett legal counsel Joe Spears.

“We have basically been crippled while Environment Canada fiddles around with it. At least, they should give us our copies back.”

The legal team has applied for an order setting aside the search warrant, saying the search and seizures were unconstitutional as there is no Canadian law that applies to the company’s activities.

Spears wants the application heard within a month, so preparations can get underway for the next experiment.

“They don’t want to go to sea without this thing being cleared up,” he said.

Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson said questions about potential violations or charges cannot be answered as they are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the enforcement branch.

“Ocean fertilization is not allowed under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act,” Johnson said in an email.

“The only exception to the above would be in circumstances whereby the project had been assessed … and found to qualify as legitimate scientific research.”

The aim of the iron experiment, led by California businessman Russ George, who was previously prevented from conducting iron dumps near the Canary and Galapagos islands, was to stimulate plankton growth to feed crashing salmon populations.

The Old Massett community was told the $2.5-million cost would be recouped through carbon-credit sales.

“From the science the Haida have done, we are pretty sure what we are going to see are salmon returning in 2014,” Spears said. If the federal government stops the experiment this year, they will have to answer for a drop in returning salmon in 2015, he said.

Disney said the experiment has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, but 170 million data sets have to be “crunched and catalogued and then published” to prove it.

Returning fish will be “the big, visual sign,” he said. “But we are looking scientifically at the microscopic levels, and the results are phenomenal.”

Jim Thomas of the international technology watchdog ETC Group said plans for a second dump are not entirely surprising.

“It seems to me they are trying to force Environment Canada’s hand to say whether it’s legal or illegal,” said Thomas, who believes there will be an international outcry if Environment Canada does not declare the practice illegal.

“But I can’t see them getting away with this again.”

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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