Cermaq Canada has been fined $500,000 for spilling approximately 522 litres of marine diesel into the ocean near Campbell River sometime overnight between March 4 and 5, 2017.
The Crown was seeking a fine of $1.4 million but Judge Catherine Crockett decided on Nov. 30 in Campbell River Provincial Court that Cermaq’s culpability in the case is “at the lower end of the scale but is more than a ‘near miss.’” The company also has no prior record, accepted responsibility and is “sincerely remorseful,” the judge said She also said that the Crown “has not proven harm and the potential for harm was low.” Cermaq pleaded guilty to the charge at “an early opportunity.”
“The law is clear that the predominant sentencing consideration for offences of this nature is deterrence of both Cermaq and others,” Judge Crockett said. “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. I agree with the Crown that general deterrence is particularly important in the context of the fish farming industry which operates directly upon the ocean.”
The incident occurred on March 4, 2017, on a Cermaq farm near the Burdwood Group Islands in Raleigh Passage off the east coast of Vancouver Island. The farm has since been decommissioned.
At 5:03 p.m., a Cermaq employee decided to transfer fuel from a main storage tank to a smaller tank. In order to transfer fuel, the employee needed to hold and press a gas nozzle, in a manner similar to fuelling a car at a gas station, the judge said in her decision.
“The employee left the fuelling station to do other duties. Later that evening, over dinner in the living quarters, the employee told his supervisor that he had the fuel pump going. The supervisor told the employee that they only needed a bit of fuel, so he should shut it off. The employee said he would take care of it. After dinner, the employee attended to some other duties, but did not shut off the fuel pump. Eventually, both the employee and the supervisor went to bed. They both forgot about the fuel pump.”
Sometime between 5:30 p.m. on March 4, and 4 a.m. on March 5, 2017, the small storage tank became full and began to overflow into the ocean. The supervisor awoke around 4 a.m. on March 5 and could smell diesel. He went outside and discovered the spill. He immediately shut off the fuel and took appropriate steps to deploy the emergency spill response equipment on site. He contacted the Coast Guard and sought further emergency response assistance from Cermaq. Cermaq supplied additional spill response materials from other farm sites and from Campbell River. The Coast Guard provided further spill response equipment.
Officials from the BC Ministry of Environment attended the fish farm. They and the Coast Guard told Cermaq to retain Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, an organization that provides response to oil spills. Cermaq immediately hired Western Canada Marine Response Corporation to lead the clean-up efforts which took seven days to complete. The “vast majority” of the marine diesel was recovered from the environment within four days and no fish died as a result, Judge Crockett said.
Cermaq cooperated fully with the investigation of the spill and also paid for all the costs incurred under the Incident Command System. Those costs were approximately $885,000.
After the incident, Cermaq implemented material changes to its practices and procedures at the fish farm to address the underlying causes that led to the offence and to prevent similar incidents in the future, the judge said.