Residents on Denman Island did some trash talking again at the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Courtenay office on Monday morning.
It seemed like Fisheries officials didn’t hear them the first time they did it last year. So they did it again.
The issue was the continuous garbage dumping that has been occurring on the beaches of Bayne Sound, 90 per cent of which is being blamed on the shellfish industry.
Islanders hauled to the Fisheries office on Monday the 4 to 5 tons of garbage and equipment that they collected during Denman’s week-long annual Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup.
It’s not new to Fisheries and Oceans Canada as Denman islanders, at the same time last year, presented them with trucks and a trailer loaded with residuals from the shellfish industry. That was a year ago and not much has changed, much to the dismay of Denman residents. They are also disappointed with the federal government’s lack of action.
“This has been our eighth beach cleanup and every year the amount of garbage we take to the landfill is the same,” said Pam McLaughlin, the chair of the Denman Island Marine Stewardship Committee. “Much of them are recyclable but we haven’t found a way to get the industry to pick up what they can. This year the people are fed up of cleaning up after them.”
The residents had intended to unload all the collected garbage and equipment at the Fisheries office on Monday to send a strong message. They wanted Fisheries to use the found items to track down the owners and dealt with accordingly. The officer that met the residents indicated that Fisheries do not have that capability and threatened to call the RCMP if they left their collected items there. The unwanted trash that included fishing nets, metals, plastic containers and buoys were eventually hauled to the dumpsite in Cumberland. McLaughlin said it cost around $1,000 to ferry the garbage to Courtenay, and transport them to the dumpsite. The cost does not include the hours spent by around 100 volunteers who had helped scour and clean the beaches.
One of the residents Shaun White said some of the items like the net and metal rods posed a serious risk to beach goers.
“They are very dangerous to everyone especially to the children who walk along the beach,” said White. “They can step on them or brush by them and get seriously injured. The children can also drown if they get caught on the nets. It’s totally unnecessary.”
McLaughlin said this problem is not a yearly thing. They see it happening everyday.
“What we pick up once a year is just a small portion before they end up on the beach,” said McLauhlin. “It does go on year-round.”
Another resident, Alan Stoddart, expressed disappointment that the government can’t do anything.
“There’s no mechanism in place,” said Stoddart. “All of these that we’re showing them appear to be pointless. They seem to treat it like a small thing. When is it going to be considered a big thing before there can be a mechanism in place.”
McLaughlin said there has to be consequences to the industry because of the hazards they pose to the environment.
“The outcome of this unhealthy practice could be very serious,” said McLaughlin. “There could be toxic consequences. All the plastics that are not picked up and covered in the sand and decomposes can create toxic outcome in Baynes Sound. Nobody knows what that would be.”
A couple of years, the government tried to require the industry to have their equipment labeled but with little success. But because the industry’s equipment are small, tagging them was difficult and cumbersome.
Local Fisheries officials decline comment and referred the matter to its communication advisor from Vancouver Michelle Imbeau who said in her media statement that
“Fisheries and Oceans Canada recognizes loss of debris from shellfish farms is an important issue to the public, as well as for maintaining safe clean waterways and for the protection of fish and fish habitat.
“Fisheries and Oceans Canada is continuing to work with the shellfish aquaculture operators to improve the performance of the industry, including decreasing equipment loss and debris.”
Under the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations, the new Conditions of Licence require shellfish farm operators to ensure “site improvements, grow-out equipment and structures are capable of withstanding adverse weather conditions”, and that licence holders should not store farm materials or debris in the intertidal zone or riparian vegetation unless it is utilized in that location as part of the regular farm activity.
The Denman committee wants to meet with the B.C. Shellfish Growers Association for the purpose of finding a solution to this problem. McLaughlin said she understood the association can only do so much.
“They are trying to cooperate but not all the shellfish growers belong to the BCSGA,” said McLaughlin. “They can only make recommendations and hope that their members can abide by some of the regulations. But they don’t have any power to do anything.”
The committee questioned how an industry can call itself green and sustainable when it continuously allows its equipment and garbage to pollute the very environment on which it relies.
The BCSGA was contacted by the Echo but was not available for comment.