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  • Volume Eight, Number Eight: December 2003

    Defence Department Pressuring Fisheries Officials

    Ivan Bulic

    Environmental groups and public interest watch dogs are asking Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Robert Thibault to clarify whether the Department of National Defence pressured Pacific Regional DFO officials to downplay environmental hazards posed by toxic debris the US Navy dumps at Nanoose Bay.

    In a Sept 23, 2003 letter obtained by SPEC, Defence Minister John McCallum admits that, “DND immediately contacted the Regional Office of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to discuss the change in its previous position on the impact of the debris.”

    McCallum was responding to a question from Burnaby Douglas MP Svend Robinson about federal Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s 2002 report that regional DFO officials have concerns about hazardous materials at Nanoose, despite earlier DND assertions that DFO considered the dumping to be only “an aesthetic matter.” The Fisheries Act prohibits the dumping of deleterious material into fish bearing waters.

    A1996 DND study found that 30 years of torpedo testing has dumped more than 93,000 kms of copper wire, 2,200 tonnes of lead and hundreds of lithium batteries into fish bearing waters off Nanoose. In his letter McCallum writes the “Department of Fisheries and Oceans … reviewed the 1996 assessment findings and concurred with the assessment’s conclusions. The torpedo-testing debris was found to be an aesthetic matter, and as a result, did not constitute a significant environmental concern or contravene the Fisheries Act.”

    McCallum continues that, “Despite the earlier Department of Fisheries and Oceans concurrences that the operations did not pose a significant environmental risk, the Pacific Regional Office expressed concerns to the Office of the Auditor General about the deposits of deleterious substances into fish-containing waters.”

    “We are extremely concerned that the Defence Department may be pressuring DFO officials in BC to downplay the environmental hazards of testing weapons at Nanoose,” said SPEC director Norman Abbey. “We are asking DFO Minister Thibault to clarify this matter immediately.”

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