Fish farm takes blame for feed bags on Tofino-area beaches

A Port Alberni-based fish farm has taken responsibility for the thousands of plastic feed bags that are fouling beaches in Pacific Rim National Park. Parks Canada has recovered 3,000 bags, as well as a roof and part of a wall from a sunken barge.

Omega Pacific Sea Farms said in a statement Tuesday that the bags spilled into the water after a series of storms battered the barge connected to its Jane Bay farm in Barkley Sound.

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The first storm hit on Oct. 18, partially sinking the barge, said owner Bruce Kenny.

“The Canadian Coast Guard attended, and determined the incident to be of low environmental risk,” Kenny said in the statement.

“As we were in the process of developing a salvage plan, a second storm on Nov. 6 caused further damage. After this storm a number of feed bags were recovered from Jane Bay by our staff and caretaker, and placed in empty fish totes all tied and secured onto a cement storage float,” he said.

“This is an unfortunate event and we want to thank the efforts of those who have helped retrieve additional aquaculture bags from beaches and the environment we all care about.”

The fish farm has been operating in the area for the past 30 years.

Parks Canada said Tuesday it has recovered another 1,000 feed bags in addition to the 2,000 that were recovered from several islands in the Broken Group Islands in Pacific Rim National Park. The bags were first discovered on Nov. 10.

“The debris, which includes plastic bags, a roof, part of a wall, and other miscellaneous items, appear to be connected to an incident that was reported involving a lost structure that fell off a barge in Jane Bay in October 2017,” the federal agency said in a statement.

Parks Canada said it will continue to inspect the islands for plastics, with support from the Canadian Coast Guard.

The agency is planning a more formal cleanup effort in the national park in collaboration with First Nations, community groups and other federal departments.

Its investigation is ongoing. The responsible company could face a fine.

Parks Canada has come under fire for keeping the plastic spill secret for a week and then not communicating with community groups that were offering to help with the cleanup.

The Tseshaht First Nation in Port Alberni, whose territory includes the Broken Group Islands, said it is concerned it learned of the plastic spill through the media instead of directly from Parks Canada.

“As the investigation continues and steps are taken to rectify this issue, it is critical that Parks Canada is transparent and inclusive with Tseshaht First Nation in their process,” Chief Cynthia Dick said in a statement.

“Tseshaht First Nation wants to see a strong commitment from Parks Canada to work collaboratively in ensuring this is addressed and action is taken to prevent similar occurrences in the future.”

Parks Canada said it has reached out to Indigenous partners and municipalities to provide an update on the cleanup efforts.

“Parks Canada appreciates the concerns of all those who contacted us after learning of the debris, and extends its thanks to the community members and local businesses who have offered to support cleanup efforts,” the agency said.

Over the weekend, volunteers from the Surfrider Foundation, and environmental advocacy group, and Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation picked up dozens of bags that washed up on Tofino beaches including Schooner Cove, Esowista Beach, Combers Beach and Florencia Bay.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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