Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Mon, 2014-11-03 09:09Judith Lavoie
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The Secret Lives of Sea Otters: Top Predators Not So Cute and Cuddly After All

Sea otters

Sea otters score top marks on the cute and cuddly scale as they float around kelp beds holding hands or hugging fuzzy pups, but when they show up on the marine doorstep, it is like having a pack of badly behaved German shepherds taking over the neighborhood.

They weigh about 80 pounds, they eat 4,000 calories a day and they just tear through the environment,” said Eric Peterson, co-founder of the Tula Foundation, which funds research at the Hakai Institute, a field science station on Calvert Island on the Central Coast.

Sea otters and the effect they have on the environment became one of the institute’s research projects almost by accident after about 150 of them showed up near Calvert Island two years ago.

The results have been quite amazing and dramatic,” Peterson said.

Research has centred around the effect sea otters have on sea urchin populations and kelp beds.

Mon, 2014-10-27 08:57Judith Lavoie
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'Explosion of Discovery’ at Remote B.C. Research Station Bucks Trend of Cuts to Science

Hakai Institute

A former luxury fishing lodge on a remote island off B.C.’s Central Coast has been transformed into a cutting-edge research centre, producing some of the province’s most innovative science.

From early April until mid-October each year the off-the-grid Hakai Institute field station on Calvert Island houses renowned scientists, university professors, graduate students and post-doctoral students researching all aspects of the B.C. coast, from grizzly bears and sea otters to sand formations, archaeology and microbes.

The breadth of the research was show-cased Friday when more than 200 scientists and First Nations researchers gathered in Sidney for the Hakai Research Exchange.

And, sitting at the back of the room, listening intently to the presentations, were the two people who have made the field research station a reality.

Thu, 2014-01-09 10:24Erika Thorkelson
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DFO Library Closures Anger Scientific Community

Historical documents in the dumpster

Walter M. Miller Jr.’s classic sci-fi book “A Canticle for Leibowitz” tells the story of a post-apocalyptic future in which a small group of monks strive to preserve the remnants of humanity's scientific knowledge. After the destruction of civilization, in the absence of physical records of its history, humanity repeats the worst of its mistakes.

There have been many tales over the years of the destruction of books. Sometimes, as with the sacking of the library of Alexandria, it was out of sheer thoughtlessness. Other times, it was with the clear intent of the reigning regime to banish knowledge that didn’t fit its worldview. However it happened, it was only in hindsight that we understood to what extent the loss set humanity back.

It’s hard not to think of these things when reading stories of the closure of seven of the eleven Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries across Canada. Local media outlets have reported dumpsters full of books. The Winnipeg-based North/South Consultants brought a flatbed truck to the closure of the library at the University of Manitoba’s Freshwater Institute and packed it full with the history of Canadian water.

Thu, 2013-10-17 08:00Meribeth Deen
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Failure to Monitor Ocean Pollution Risks Health of First Nations

traditional smoked salmon makes up a part of coastal first nations' diets

A decade ago a group of First Nations communities on Vancouver Island approached Health Canada and asked whether it was safe to eat the foods, like wild salmon, or harbour seals, that make up a traditional diet. Health Canada did not have the answer, but introduced these communities to a Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientist named Peter Ross who made it his mission to find out.

Dr. Ross worked his last day as a government employee in late August, which officially brings his study on the contamination of traditional seafoods to an end. At the sixth annual Vancouver Island Traditional Food Conference, Ross expressed the significance of this: coastal aboriginal peoples will be the first to feel the effects of the DFO’s reduced capacity study ocean pollution in Canada.

An elder named Ipswa Mescacakanis described the cutbacks to DFO and ocean pollution research in particular as a broken trust. “The government of Canada has promised us access to food, to safe food, and culturally appropriate food. We can no longer be sure if the food we eat is safe.”

Fri, 2013-07-19 10:20Elizabeth Hand
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Fresh, PRV-Infected, B.C. Salmon: Now Available at a Supermarket Near You

superstore skinny salmon

A report, published on July 11th of this year, reveals that the Piscine Reovirus (PRV) is decimating British Columbia salmon populations. This report, published in Virology Journal, was co-authored by researchers from the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island, Centro de Investigaciones Biologicas in Chile and, and the Raincoast Research Society in British Columbia. The research shows that B.C. fish tested positive in both farmed and wild salmon sources.

Yet, despite the report’s findings, officials for the Canadian government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) claim that the virus is no cause for alarm. As with any of the three deadly European viruses found on the coasts of B.C., the DFO doesn’t consider the appearance of a virus as a threat. They will only take action in the event of a major disease outbreak.

Twyla Roscovich sought to find out why in her Documentary, Salmon Confidential. In it, she asked Dr. Gary Marty, B.C. Health Vet, what his conclusions were about PRV contamination, in relation to the drastic decline in fish populations in the Fraser River and Rivers Inlet Sockeye. Dr. Marty said that he doesn’t know what the problem is, so the virus shouldn’t be blamed.

Tue, 2013-05-07 09:31Erin Flegg
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Conservatives Say Fisheries Act Was Not Meant to Protect 'Puddles'

The Great Lakes from space

Almost a full year after the fact, the Conservatives are changing their tune regarding the reasons behind changes to the Fisheries Act and major water pollution legislation.

A statement on the Conservatives' website outlines the administration’s commitment to Canadian fisheries which entails spending millions of dollars to support scientific activity relevant to the industry, such as “eliminating paperwork for low-risk projects to ensure we can dedicate more resources to protecting real fisheries from major threats.”

The site suggests the real reason for the changes to the Fisheries Act was due to the impracticality of treating all bodies of water “from puddles to the Great Lakes” as if they were the same. The site claims opposition parties are propagating the wrong message about the change.

Wed, 2013-04-24 07:48Erika Thorkelson
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DFO Library Closures "Unworthy of a Democracy"

A portion of Canada’s national archives is once again going on the chopping block as the federal government closes seven of its eleven Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) libraries. The closures are being billed as a “consolidation” of resources but critics fear that the move reflects the federal government’s continuing disrespect for science.

It is information destruction unworthy of a democracy,” said Peter Wells, an ocean pollution expert at Dalhousie University in Halifax told Postmedia News. He described the closing of the libraries as a “national tragedy.”

Mon, 2013-04-08 09:29Erika Thorkelson
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Study Finds no Evidence of Federal Environmental Assessment Backlog

alt image

A new study has found that there is no evidence of the delays in the federal environmental review process that lead to the sweeping changes the Harper government introduced in last year’s omnibus budget bill C38.

The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, found that the average time for reviews was already less than two years for large projects and a year for smaller projects, which fit well within the guidelines established by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

Inordinately long review times may be a misperception based on a minority of cases, and thus the recent environmental policy changes in Canada may have little effect on the pace of economic growth,” concludes the paper, written by Derrick Tupper de Kerckhove, Charles Kenneth Minns and Brian John Shuter of the University of Toronto.

Wed, 2013-04-03 14:27Matthew Linnitt
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The Department of Wild Salmon? New Documentary Salmon Confidential Exposes Government Muzzling of Scientists, Calls Locals to Action

British Columbia’s Fraser River was once the most productive sockeye salmon river in the world. In recent history, hundreds of millions of salmon would return to its tributaries, spawning along the thousands of kilometers of rivers and streams that serve as nesting grounds for this keystone species. 

During the early 1990’s scientists began to document a significant drop in the returning salmon to the Fraser River basin. With each passing year the number of returning salmon continued to fall. Over the years the cause of this enigmatic decline has been attributed to several different environmental happenings, but has largely remained elusive.

The new documentary film ‘Salmon Confidential,’ directed by filmmaker Twyla Roscovich and featuring biologist and wild-salmon advocate Alexandra Morton, tells the untold story of the biologists studying BC’s salmon while operating under gag orders imposed by the federal government. As the documentary uncovers, these researchers were prevented from informing the public of a new virus referred to as Salmon Leukemia Virus (SLV) and the proliferation of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) in British Columbia’s wild salmon stocks.

Wed, 2013-03-20 09:59Erin Flegg
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Future of Experimental Lakes Area Still Uncertain

Experimental Lakes Area

The future of Ontario’s Experimental Lakes Area is still up in the air, but the Conservative government has already begun dismantling the cabins that house the scientists who come to study at the world-renowned research facility.

With only two weeks left until the government is set to revoke funding, it’s still unclear whether the facility will be transferred to new management or shut down completely.
But the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ decision to quietly start removing windows and doors from researchers’ quarters, as well as personal possessions, indicates the desire to be rid of the place may be stronger than the push to put it in new hands.

With the ELA set to begin research into the effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), one of the primary toxins produced by tar sands development, it’s not hard to imagine why.

The Harper government announced in May of last year, with the release of the federal budget, that it would be withdrawing funding for the unique facility. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) spokesperson Melanie Carkner said that it would no longer conduct research that required the use of whole lakes and ecosystems. In a statement, the DFO added that, “every attempt will be made to transfer the ownership of the facility to universities or provinces.” But with less than two weeks left on the clock, the government has still not found anyone to take over.

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