Controversial plan to fertilize waters off Haida Gwaii garnering international attention

A plan to fertilize the waters off of Haida Gwaii has brought international attention to the island and the Old Massett council.

A plan to fertilize the waters off of Haida Gwaii has brought international attention to the island and the Old Massett council.

In July the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, with $2.5 million in backing from the Old Massett council based on a vote held earlier in the year, dispersed 100 tonnes of iron sulphate mix into the pacific ocean in order to encourage plankton to bloom – also called ocean fertilization. With a plankton bloom, the hope was to help revive the salmon runs previously seen around the islands.

“The Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation is studying and developing methods that may be useful in restoring the growth of phytoplankton and thereby sustain and enhance the production of all marine life and create a sustainable economy for Old Massett,” said the company.

The result is a 10,000 square kilometre plankton boom. Those involved in the project say the work is “lawful, on-going, self-funded and in compliance with the Law of the Sea Convention and Canada’s Ocean Act”. According to project leader John Disney, the dump took place in international waters 320 kilometres west of the islands and was not significant enough to break international or United Nations law. The group also says it consulted with government officials, including the Ministry of Environment, and consulted with three different lawyers about the project before the ship carrying the iron left the dock.

Officials with Environment Canada acknowledge they knew about the plan, but Environment Minister Peter Kent was not made aware of the project until this week.

“Environment Canada was not asked to approve this apparent violation of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act,” Kent said in the House of commons.

Speaking to regional media on Oct. 19, Skeena – Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen says the government doesn’t quite know what to make of this.

“The government gave an answer that seemed both neutral and negative at the same time….There is certainly no policy they have on this geoengineering across the board and if they felt it was illegal or wanted to press charges I’m sure they would,” he said, noting that he met with the council this summer and was informed of their idea but not when it may happen.

“People involved with the project thought they were open with the government in talking with their plans. If you’re talking with someone about your plans and they don’t say ‘you shouldn’t do this’ or ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘there will be consequences’ then [proponents] are shocked about the reaction from the feds, which I wouldn’t say is coherent right now…If there were real concerns about this when it was first brought up, the feds would not have let that ship leave dock. They did, which I am sure in some part is condoning this action.”

Cullen also said he does not at all believe that anyone involved knowingly did anything wrong, and says this international-attention grabbing incident should speak to how the current government has handled the pacific fishery.

“The fact that this is the one grabbing all of the attention, the fact that this is the one that the Massett council chose to promote is more of a reflection of frustration of other proposals that keep getting shot down by the government claiming that there is no money or no help. It is pretty frustrating,” he said.

Shortly after the story was picked up by national and international media, the Council of the Haida Nation released a statement distancing themselves from the project.

“The Hereditary Chiefs Council and the Council of the Haida Nation are in no way involved in artificial fertilization through dumping of iron compounds in the ocean around Haida Gwaii. The consequences of tampering with nature at this scale are not predictable and pose unacceptable risks to the marine environment,” read the statement, signed by Council of the Haida Nation president Guujaaw.

“Our people, along with the rest of humanity, depend on the oceans and cannot leave the fate of the oceans to the whim of the few.”