Surfrider Pacific Rim volunteer, and Westerly News staffer, Nora O’Malley joined the foundation’s chair Michelle Hall at a stormy emergency cleanup event along Florencia Bay on Sunday where they discovered more of the empty aquaculture feed bags that are washing up on the West Coast. (Photo - Surfrider Pacific Rim)

Taplow Feeds VP says empty bags washing up near Ucluelet spilled off barge in Alberni Inlet last month

“That’s an awful lot of bags.”

Local volunteers have spent a rainy West Coast weekend trying to remove roughly 2,000 empty aquaculture-feed bags that Parks Canada says washed up on Nov. 10.

The bags volunteers were discovering at cleanups around Florencia Bay, Combers Beach and Schooner Cove are clearly marked with Taplow Feeds’ company logo and Taplow’s vice president Brad Hicks told the Westerly News on Sunday that he believes the bags spilled off a barge in the Alberni Inlet during an Oct. 18 storm. He said the barge belongs to Omega Pacific, which also lost a house that was on the barge during the storm.

“Here’s these poor people, they’ve lost a barge, they’ve lost a house and, rather than sympathy, they get ridiculed,” Hicks said. “I’m an old farm boy and if a neighbour’s farm burned down, you went and helped them. You didn’t go after them…I just think that people should be kinder to each other. That’s all.”

It is not clear if the bags found by Parks Canada on Nov. 10 were the same type of Taplow bags found by volunteers over the weekend. A Parks Canada spokesperson told the Westerly News on Sunday that details about the aquaculture feed bags found around the Broken Group Islands will not be released while a Parks Canada investigation is ongoing and declined to confirm or deny whether the bags had Taplow’s logo on them.

Hicks said he has been involved in B.C.’s salmon farming industry since 1987 and, when news of 2,000 feed bags washing up broke, he found it very strange.

“That’s an awful lot of bags,” he said. “We didn’t know they were ours at the time…and we hadn’t sold feed to anybody in the Alberni [Inlet] for about six years.”

He said Taplow does sell feed to Tofino-based fish farming company Creative Salmon, but that it wouldn’t make sense for bags to have drifted from Tofino to the inside of the Broken Group Islands, where Parks Canada said a large number of bags were found.

“If they had drifted around Tofino Inlet, you’d expect to find way more on Long Beach and you’d also expect to find them north of Tofino,” he said. “They would also be on the outside of the Broken Group, rather than the inside. So, it was unlikely they’d come from Tofino Inlet…Eventually, after a bunch of calls, we found out that it was Omega’s farm that had the trouble.”

He said he’s spoken to the owners of Omega Pacific, who told him they reported the Oct. 18 barge incident to the Canadian Coast Guard immediately, so, he believes it should have been clear to Parks Canada where the bags came from.

“It happened over a month ago…The bags turned up a week ago. There’s no mystery who produced the bags. Our name’s on them. Our phone numbers are on there. So, I’m guessing, they knew where they came from, they knew it was an accident, but just hadn’t told anybody,” he said.

He said Parks Canada has not reached out to Taplow Feeds.

“We’re almost just a bystander in this incident. They’re our bags, but we sold them to somebody else years ago. We’re happy to continue with responsibility, but, at the end of the day, ownership of those bags transferred hands six years ago,” he said. “We can talk to Parks Canada, but, really, it’s between the Coast Guard, Parks Canada and Omega Pacific.”

He suggested the incident would not have received as much media attention had the bags not been related to aquaculture.

“It wouldn’t have been a story at all,” he said. “Probably once-a-month a boat sinks at some dock in British Columbia and, as long as there’s no loss of life, you never hear about it, but because it’s a fish farm associated incident, people start digging…I’ve been at this for 30 years in British Columbia and I’ve accepted that this is part of being a British Columbian fish farmer.”

The Westerly News has reached out to Omega Pacific and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and will update this story as soon as new information becomes available.

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