The following article was written by Robert McTavish as part of a series of articles about filmmakers coming to the Salt Spring Film Festival on March 6-8, 2015. Filmmaker Dennis Allen will be attending the festival and lead a discussion about the film. The filmmaker series is sponsored by Harbour House.
The Pristine Coast
Scott Renyard trained as a scientist before becoming a filmmaker, and it’s evident in the thorough nature of his new documentary. Yet combing through the complex layers of the fish farming industry he acts the detective as well, revealing a dark undercurrent off British Columbia’s so-called “pristine” coast. The shocking results made him worry: “Are the conclusions I’m drawing correct?” Cue the years connecting the dots between countless research papers and government documents, because he soon found “every time I thought it was over, I would find something new.”
It all began modestly enough while fishing on the Vedder River fifteen years ago. Renyard noticed that Coho and Chum numbers were dropping. He had read about biologist Alexandra Morton’s study of the detrimental effects of west coast open net salmon farms, and wondered if there might be a connection. He called her, setting in motion a collaboration that began filming during Morton’s 2010 “Salmon are Sacred: The Get Out Migration” protest walk on Vancouver Island. The walk over, the story was just finding its legs.
“I’m a storyteller who is used to using the local to build up to a bigger picture,” Renyard says, “but you never know what’s going to happen in a documentary.” This picture grew though, now not just about wild salmon and fish farms but about all fin fish species and the sea-lice spread diseases that threaten them. From sockeye to sturgeon and all the way to herring, the trail expanded. “When I saw the herring, I knew,” Renyard says, and now he had to sift the story down from a four-hour long first cut – no easy task to clearly explain the issues. After all, Renyard “wanted the audience to understand the story’s dynamics from end to end, a piece that would help people know.”
People do need to know what so crucially affects their environments, but Renyard found both the federal and provincial governments have not always been eager to hear bad news in regards to trouble with our marine ecosystems. After all, it affects the financial bottom line. Thus, he dives into the murky struggle between common property fishing and privatized industry. With foreign corporate ownership and little regulation, Renyard questions how to keep our wild fish safe: “In a world without local stewardship, there’s no incentive to keep the greater ecosystem alive.”
And alive is the key word here. Renyard invokes the saying “no fish, no life,” because he’s found the stakes to be much higher than known before. Yes, he says open net farms help foster sea lice that spread fin fish diseases such as VHS – akin to the human Ebola – which can then collapse fish stocks. He also shows the same farming patterns have contributed to collapsed wild stocks across the world for decades now. But what does he mean when he says these same effects can lead to carbon fixing issues in the food chain, which then contribute to climate change? “I think this is really urgent – and fixable,” Renyard says. “It all depends on how resilient the ecosystem is when nature goes back to the way it was. But if we keep the farms, how far can we push the envelope?”
Renyard pushed his own envelope by producing The Pristine Coast on his own, pursuing the ideal of positive change. He hopes government will eventually remove farmed fish from the wild environment to protect wild stocks, and sees his film as a chance to get the information out. “The more people that react and call their MLAs or MPs the better!” he says. “I’m optimistic. By creating the film and having people see it, the hope is that it leads to more research and political action.” Come and meet him at the Salt Spring Film Festival – there will be plenty to discuss.