The owner of a B.C. fish farm has been ordered to pay a penalty of $500,000 for spilling hundreds of litres of diesel fuel off the coast of northern Vancouver Island nearly five years ago.
Cermaq Canada had previously pleaded guilty to the March 5, 2017 spill at its Burdwood Fish Farm in Echo Bay, northeast of Port McNeill, where approximately 550 litres of diesel leaked into Raleigh Passage.
The company said the incident was cause by human error while staff were transferring fuel from one tank to another, leaving a nozzle unattended.
According to the B.C. Provincial Court ruling, an employee left the fuelling pump on while performing other duties. When asked to turn it off, the employee attended to other duties and forgot to shut off the pump.
In the early morning hours of March 5, staff discovered a storage tank had overflown into the ocean and immediately contacted the Coast Guard and Cermaq officials.
Clean-up from the spill lasted seven days with help from Western Canada Marine Response, the Coast Guard, the B.C. Ministry of Environment and two neighbouring First Nations. Cermaq paid $885,000 to cover all costs incurred, according to the ruling.
The judge also heard from experts who testified that diesel contains chemicals harmful to fish, but found that the evidence was “inconclusive” on the extent of the harm done, or potential for harm to, the marine environment.
“It is simply not possible to measure the impact of the marine diesel on all organisms. No one observed any dead fish, including the salmon in the pens,” wrote Judge Catherine Ann Crockett. “The amount of harmful substances in organisms such as clams quickly dissipated to the point there was no health risk for consumers.”
One of the expert’s testimony indicated that the greatest potential for harm was in regards to herring roe in the impacted area, but the judge concluded it was “minor.”
She noted Cermaq seemed genuinely remorseful for the spill and pointed to the fact that the company had taken steps to lower its spill risk.
“I am satisfied that Cermaq sincerely regrets this incident and would not view a fine, in any amount, as simply the cost of doing business,” she wrote.
While the Crown sought a fine of $1.4 million and Cermaq suggested a fine of $250,00, the judge concluded that $500,000 was “appropriate” given the circumstances of the offence.
Cermaq has also been ordered to publish the judge’s ruling on its website for 90 days.