Local kayak guide Alex Scarth is sounding the alarm over a concerning and rapid increase of fish waste in Ucluelet’s harbour.
“Last summer was bad, but this summer has just been disgusting,” Scarth told the Westerly News, adding he’s been kayak guiding in Ucluelet for the past six years and the offal issue began last summer, worsening this year. “What happened two years ago? That’s my biggest question of this whole situation.”
He suggested that he and other kayakers are frequently having to scrub offal off their gear.
“Our kayaks are coated with hake slime; so gnarly,” he said, adding fish guts have also been washing up on docks.
Scarth has been documenting the rise in waste with photographs showing intestine sacks and other offal in the harbour and on docks and suggested apathetic processing management could be to blame.
“I truly believe the root cause comes down to the management at the production level,” he said.
The Westerly reached out to several other residents who work on the ocean and agreed with Scarth’s concerns, but they did not feel comfortable speaking about the issue on the record.
The Westerly also reached out to Pacific Seafood to enquire about processes around the disposal of fish waste, but had not heard back by presstime.
Scarth’s frustration boiled over last month when he was guiding a group of kayakers and came upon a grotesque dump site of unprocessed hake carcasses in the harbour.
“There were about a dozen sea lions diving down and coming up with fish. I’d never really seen anything like that unless the herring are spawning,” he said. “Then we saw a whole bunch of seagulls on the shoreline and we went over to investigate and there were thousands of fish. I’d say 10 metres along the shoreline there were just fish dumped the whole way and all the seagulls were eating them and the whole water was pinky and murkish and oily over the top from the decaying going on…That’s just what washed up on shore, but there must have been a bigger pile underwater we couldn’t see that all the sea lions were going after.”
He said the fish had not been harvested and the carcasses looked significantly rotten.
“They were completely intact,” he said. “They were gnarly. All the eyes were rotten out, the fins looked like they were completely rotten.”
He said his first reaction was “not again,” adding he has come upon two other similar fish dumps over the past two years.
“The fisherman in me just sees this huge amount of waste, but that amount of decay, bacteria and viruses and other stuff in such a small little area, that concentration can not be good for the environment,” he said, noting that nearby Mercantile and Thornton Creek are key salmon habitats.
“At high tide all that sludge, debris and waste gets washed up the rivers and when the tide goes down it stays on the shoreline and that process happening two times a day is bringing all this waste, bacteria and virus up into some pretty critical salmon habitat.”
Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada spokesperson Leri Davies noted that Section 34 of the Fisheries Act prohibits the waste of any fish that is suitable for human consumption, but said DFO had not received reports about Ucluelet.
“Fisheries and Oceans Canada Conservation and Protection (C&P) fishery officers were not made aware of complaints by local guides about fish offal in the harbour over the summer,” Davies told the Westerly via email. “C&P was also not made aware of the recent large fish dump. It appears that these incidents were not reported to the DFO’s public reporting line or to the local Detachment officers themselves.”
She suggested reports are “completely confidential” and reporting is a key tool in DFO’s ability to stop illegal activities.
She urges anyone who sees any contravention of the Fisheries Act to report their sighting to DFO Pacific region’s toll-free violation reporting line at 1-800-465-4336 or by email at DFO.ORR-ONS.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.
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