Company in sea lion drownings avoids prosecution, agrees to community work

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans will accept $100,000 worth of restorative justice work instead of prosecuting Grieg Seafood B.C. for the accidental drowning of 65 sea lions in nets surrounding three salmon farms near Gold River.

The California sea lions, along with four seals, drowned in 2010, during an unprecedented increase in sea lions in the area. Charges of contravening the Federal Fisheries Act by harming marine mammals were dropped Monday.

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Instead, Grieg will pay for public education and salmon enhancement projects. The decision is supported by a community forum including local politicians, First Nations, scientists and a tourism operator, a statement said.

The company reported the drownings to the Department of Fisheries, issued a statement at the time and is committed to barriers that do not harm marine mammals, Grieg managing director Stewart Hawthorn said in an interview Monday.

Since the drownings, the company has spent about $2 million making its nets deeper, stronger and heavier to repel hungry predators, reducing drownings to four sea lions since 2010. “We’re not perfect yet, but we’ve made huge improvements,” Hawthorn said.

“Our goal, absolutely, is to be non-harmful when it comes to any marine mammals at our farms.”

Prior to 2010, no marine mammals had accidentally drowned in any of Grieg’s 21 farms around B.C., Hawthorn said.

The massing of seas lions in the area in 2010 led to some trying to swim under nets, not just push against them. When the animals drowned, farms personnel were “very upset and saddened,” Hawthorn said.

“We, as a company and as farmers, all agreed that that shouldn’t have happened and we worked very hard to eliminate it.”

The company’s nets are now seven metres deeper, at 30 metres.

“We sincerely are sorry for what happened and it’s something we take seriously. We’re absolutely committed to developing and maintaining responsible farming practices and it’s something we lead the world in,” Hawthorn said.

The department of fisheries did not respond to a request for comment.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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