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'Blood water' continues to spew into the ocean off the coast of Vancouver Island

Wednesday, December 11th 2019, 12:50 pm - Government and industry say they are taking steps to address the issue, which was first reported two years ago.

When Tavish Campbell first saw thick, bloody water pouring out of an underwater pipe near Campbell River back in 2017, he said he felt shocked. When he went back down for another dive this year, that shock turned into fear.

"Going back and diving again, the feeling was more disappointment that it is still happening, and fear for our wild salmon."

The bloody water is coming from a pipe that connected to Brown's Bay Packing Company (Brown's). They are a federally-licensed and provincially-permitted fish processing company that has been in the community of Campbell River since 1989. The company came under scrutiny in 2017 for its practices. Tavish claims nothing has changed.

Aside from taking the new video of the bloody water, which was first reported by CTV, Campbell also collected samples to be tested for viruses or bacteria. The samples were sent to the Atlantic Veterinary College and also tested by an independent biologist. According to Campbell, the samples tested positive for Piscine Reovirus, or PRV.

PRV is contagious amongst fish, but the exact side effects are still unknown. Some studies that have been done suggest that PVR can be extremely serious and cause heart and skeletal inflammation in salmon.

In an email to the Weather Network, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) says it is conducting several research projects on PRV and the effects it can have on the salmon. A recent study by the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat showed minimal risk to Fraser River sockeye salmon due to PRV, but the ministry is still doing active work.

While more research is needed, concerns have been raised that the wastewater is being dumped in the middle of a popular migratory route for wild salmon.

B.C. salmon has suffered tremendously in recent years. The Weather Network has reported on several stories focusing on everything from the warming water trend known as the blob, which can negatively impact salmon populations, to the Big Bar Landslide that occurred earlier this year and blocked an important spawning route for salmon in the Fraser River.

VIDEO: OFFICIALS REVEAL SALMON POPULATION NUMBERS POST LANDSLIDE

While the government worked around the clock to try and rescue the salmon by transporting them past the blockage via helicopter, hundreds of thousands of salmon didn't make it to their spawning grounds this year, leaving several salmon species possibly facing extinction. Campbell says we need to act now before it is too late.

"The salmon are doing very poorly. This year the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon basically failed to return to the river. It was the lowest year ever in Canadian history since we started keeping records in 1893. So it really is death by a million cuts because there really are a number of different things that are impacting Pacific Wild Salmon. We can't keep messing around with this, we can't keep talking about this, we can't keep arguing over the science. We need to act."

The Weather Network reached out B.C.'s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy to see what is being done about the blood water and protecting wild salmon from PRV.

"The province takes any risk to our wild salmon and the aquatic environment seriously and that is why we initiated updates to permits for fish processing plants," officials said in an email, adding that the fish processing industry had been operating under an outdated permitting regime, going back several decades. Steps are being taken to ensure permits are updated and strengthened at facilities across the province.

Permit updates include additional environmental protection provisions, such as more rigorous discharge requirements, increased monitoring, and the use of the best available technologies.

The Ministry says Brown's permit was amended on April 8, 2019. The new permit includes requirements on disinfection works, pathogen control, and monitoring, reporting, and adaptive management requirements for the disinfection agent. The ministry will be monitoring the company closely this year and will report back in March 2020.

Brown's seems willing to comply with the new rules and regulations.

"In January 2018 B.C.'s Ministry of Environment enacted a process to review wastewater treatment permits in the fish processing sector," the company says in a statement on its website.

"Our new permit contains the strictest water quality testing parameters and ongoing monitoring requirements for fish processing effluent on the coast of B.C. We fully support the strict and responsible standards."

VIDEO: SEE HOW LOW SALMON STOCKS IMPACT OTHER SPECIES

The statement, which is signed by the company's managing partner Dave Strover, says the company has invested $1.5 million towards improving wastewater treatment technology.

The federal government has launched initiatives as well.

"[We are] committed to further enhancing the sustainability of our oceans and coastal communities and addressing issues of concern," the DFO tells The Weather Network.

"That is why, over the longer-term, DFO will work with key federal departments and provincial governments to continue to explore potential technology approaches, including closed containment."

During the recent federal election, the Liberal party promised to end open pen salmon farms in B.C. and transition to closed-containment systems by 2025.

Tavish agrees this is the solution to the problem but it won't be an easy transition.

"This is a big industry so that transition is a large undertaking," he says.

"It needs to be done responsibly and it needs to be done in a way that looks after these coastal communities that currently rely on agriculture for some of the jobs."

The industry will need to re-train workers Tavish says, pointing to on-land containment facilities in the eastern U.S.

"It is happening elsewhere in the world ... British Columbia has to change and adapt their industry as well or else we are going to be left behind."

He says he will do whatever it takes to make sure the federal government keeps its promise to protect B.C.'s wild salmon.

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