The provincial government heard the concerns of Denman Island residents and agreed to extend the public hearing for six applications by the Salish Seafoods Ltd. for tenures to culture geoduck clams.
The deadline for the public to give their input on the applications was on Nov. 28. It’s now been pushed to Jan. 24, 2014.
The Association for Denman Island Marine Stewards requested the extension from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources Operations as they felt misled by the public hearing ads placed in local media that the application is for geoduck only. They found out that Salish plans to culture sea cucumbers as well.
The MFLNRO did not explain why the ad specifically states only geoducks in its ads. But
MFLNRO spokesperson, Brennan Clarke said, “should tenures be issued on any or all of the subject applications, the purpose would be for ‘shellfish aquaculture.'”
Clarke also made it clear that the agency responsible for approving operational activities, including species, is the federal government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
“DFO policies around species such as geoduck and sea cucumber are still in development,” he said.
Salish, which is owned by K’omok’s First Nation, wants to create aquaculture operations in Henry Bay, Komass Bluff, Seal Bay, Comox Bar, Willemar Bluff and Kye Bay. It has given the public impression the applications is for geoduck culture only, which its proponents considers will be a big boost to the $30 million shellfish industry in the Comox Valley.
The six tenure applications are huge, totalling 516.44 hectares. It has raised some serious concerns from residents and businesses like Fan Seafoods Ltd.
Fan Seafoods president Fred Lochmatter, has written to the MFLNRO and the DFO to express their opposing views on the Salish application.
“With the exception of the six hectare Henry Bay application, all of the proposed tenures are in open water exposed to southerly winds, which are responsible for most of the severe weather in the area,” Lochmatter wrote in his letter. “We are concerned that the people responsible for the project, or people affected by it, do not fully understand what this means. ”
Fan Seafoods has been in the business of subtital geoduck aquaculture for many years and has gone through the learning process for this type of shellfish culture.
Lochmatter explained the current subtidal geoduck farming technology requires them to cover the juvenile geoducks with predator exclusion nets, that are approximately 30 meters by 5 meters. The nets are buried into the sand with water jets and an occasional stake is added for extra security.
The use of stakes, according to Lochmatter, is done sparingly because of their negative environmental impact and because they don’t work well in all areas. In protected waters the netting method it is sufficient but in exposed areas, a strict and continuous net maintenance program is required to make sure nets do not come loose, wash up on the shores or create navigational hazards.
“If Salish Seafarms Ltd. were to have only one third of their proposed tenure area under net cover at any given time, they would require approximately 12,337 nets,” said Lochmatter. “Strung together, they would form a line 370 km long. To properly maintain this long line in their southerly exposed areas they would have to follow a rigorous weekly maintenance program that requires a least 10 dive boats working non-stop 365 days a year. Even fair summer weather would not allow them to ease up on the maintenance because their areas are frequented by scores of fishermen and pleasure crafts, whose hooks and anchors inflict damage to the nets on a continuous basis.”
To install the 12,337 nets underwater, Lochmatter said, Salish would need another two dive boats working year-round to which they would have to add four more dive boats working non-stop for seeding and eventually harvesting. This number of dive boats creates a lot of traffic and noise in a populated area.
“How is Salish Seafarms Lt. planning on accommodating people walking the beach or owning a permanent home along Point Holmes and Denman Island, if they need to employ 10 to 20 dive boats seven days a week all year long?,” Lochmatter asked.
Lochmatter said they have no problems with further development of the shellfish industry but it has to be done in a “proactive and controlled manner.”
“It does not help our cause if adjoining beaches are polluted by drifting nets or up-land owners get frustrated with the traffic and noise,” said Lochmatter. “We do not want to see the support that Comox council is giving the project turn into a wave of opposition should things not go as planned.”
Lochmatter said just across the border in Washington, a similar case occurred but was halted due to the intense public protest over the development.
“We can only speculate why Salish Seafarms Ltd. is applying for five southerly exposed tenures,” said Lochmatter.
“It is a well known fact in the industry that these tenures are amongst the best places for naturally occurring wild geoducks and that they may hold a significant amount of residual wild stock. Although the Department of Fisheries has not yet made a decision on who owns the residual wild stock, potential future access to it without worrying about further development of the sites, could be one of the few reasons a company would apply for an exposed and expensive to maintain tenure.”