Cermaq Canada fined $500,000 for B.C. diesel spill

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No farmed salmon were killed in the spill but Crown had asked for $1.4 million penalty for 2017 incident near Campbell River. 

On Tuesday, Cermaq Canada, owned by Mitsubishi, was fined $500,000 for a spill that sent more than 500 litres of diesel into waters near Campbell River, in British Columbia. The company had pleaded guilty to a charge under the Fisheries Act of unlawfully depositing a deleterious substance into Raleigh Passage.

Crown prosecutors had asked for a $1.4 million fine for Cermaq. But Judge Catherine Crockett chose to slash that recommended amount by nearly two-thirds, writing that there was no proven harm to wildlife and Cermaq has accepted full responsibility.

According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Judge wrote in her reasons for sentance, “I conclude that the consequences of this incident to Cermaq to date, including the monetary cost and damage to its reputation, go a long way to impress upon Cermaq the need to ensure its systems and training are sufficient to prevent similar offences in the future.”

“Nevertheless, I must impose a fine in keeping with Cermaq’s corporate size and relative financial means, so the fine could not be seen by Cermaq, or other companies that operate in the marine environment, as simply the cost of doing business.”

Tank overflowed
The spill began on March 4, 2017, when an employee of the salmon farming operation was transferring fuel from a main storage tank to a smaller tank.

According to the sentencing decision, the worker ignored the company’s posted instructions about how to complete this transfer and used a rope to hold the fuelling nozzle so the diesel would keep flowing. He then left the area to take care of other duties.

Despite a reminder from his supervisor, the worker didn’t shut off the fuel pump that evening, and both of them went to bed while the diesel was still transferring. At some point during the night, the smaller tank overflowed and the fuel began running into the ocean.

The spill was only discovered when the supervisor woke up at 4 a.m. and smelled gas. Estimates for how much diesel overflowed range between 522 and 550 litres.

$885,000 cleanup 
No farmed salmon were killed in the spill, and tests showed there was no impact on their health, the decision says. All the fish on site were eventually processed and sold.

A scientist who testified for the court said the greatest risk from the spill would have been to herring roe, but overall the judge concluded the harm to sea life in the area was low.

Since the spill, Cermaq has updated procedures at its fish farms to prevent similar incidents and brought in a consultant to review its fuel handling policies, Crockett wrote. Cermaq eventually spent about $885,000 on cleanup efforts.

The salmon farming operation where the spill happened, near the Burdwood Group Islands, has since been decommissioned.