FEBRUARY 28, 2014
BY DREW A. PENNER
Shellfish growers behind a revised aquaculture plan covering 81 hectares along northern Union Bay say now is the time to experiment with farming a variety of sea creatures underwater as one scallop producer blames ocean acidity for the loss of $10 million in product.
Eric Gant, one of three people behind a proposal to start growing cockles, scallops, horseclams and oysters at the bottom of the ocean south of Royston, with a company called Seastainable Aquaculture Ltd., said the recent loss of 10 million scallops announced by Rob Saunders, CEO of Island Scallops, highlights the need for shellfish producers to try different farming methods to work with Mother Nature instead of against her.
“The ocean is not static. It’s dynamic entity,” he said. “We have to become more respectful.”
Along with Bon Thorburn and Dan Bowen, Gant would like to farm 54 tonnes of Nuttall’s cockle, 100 tonnes of Pacific oysters, 27 tonnes of Pacific scallops and 80 tonnes of horseclams per year on the site – though he says it’s hard to say what the yield would be right away.
The application was resurrected and downsized slightly from a previous application for a geoduck and sea cucumber farm that had been denied.
“What we’re dealing with here is an extremely complicated and delicate ecosystems,” Gant said. “I think it’s an oversimplification to say it’s a single-cause problem. We’re hoping to resolve it by doing further experimental work with other species.”
Saunders said his company was caught off guard by carbon dioxide levels in the ocean as high as 1,400 parts per million, causing pH levels to drop so low they are hazardous to scallops.
“I have never seen pHs like this,” he said. “That’s beyond anyone’s wildest speculation.”
Brian Kingzett, manager of the Deep Bay Marine Field Station for Vancouver Island University, said while he hasn’t seen research to support a connection between a high mortality rate of mature scallops and ocean acidification, there is a demonstrated effect on the larvee process.
He pointed out it was curious Seastainable Aquaculture would put in an application for species that right now are only wild harvest.
Some residents and members of industry wonder if Gant, who is the president of the geoduck-focused Manatee Holdings Ltd., is trying to circumvent the freeze on applying for geoduck projects as the government works out its policy on harvesting native animals in setting up farming operations.
While Gant acknowledges that geoducks had been included on the previous application, he explained the area is not all that suited to farming the bivalve, which enjoy surges found in more open waters.
“It’s not a particularly good area for geoducks. It’s too sheltered,” he said, adding, “We still believe in a polyculture approach.”
He see the current application in the context of the larger picture of Vancouver Island shellfish farming.
If the industry gets it right there is the potential for a Salish Sea aquaculture industry valued in the billions.
“We can create something that would be very beneficial to the ecology of the Baynes Sound and the economy of the Comox Valley,” he said, noting the proposals from his Salish Seafarms Ltd. venture could generate $50-100 million annually in revenue. “We have to deal with these uncertainties on an ongoing basis whether you’re a wheat farmer, in chickens or aquaculture.”
March Klaver, with the sea farming division of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said the department will take a look at the application to make sure it fits with their plans for the sustainable operation and development of the shellfish aquaculture sector.
In considering the location of the application, fish habitat, wild populations, at-risk species, fishery activities in the area and First Nations needs for traditional and other purposes are all factors that will come under consideration.
“If a farm is sited appropriately it can dramatically reduce potential impacts to fish and fish habitat,” read a statement sent to the Echo. “Through appropriate siting, and with applicable mitigation measures, the department works with industry to ensure the sector operates with low risks of impact or conflict.”
Though K’ómoks First Nation member Richard Hardy has met with proponents on more than one occasion to discuss the northern Union Bay aquaculture possibilities, the involvement of the band in the project is still something that will be left “to be discussed down the line,” Gant said.
Public comment on the northern Union Bay application will be accepted until March 15.
Please send your comments to:
Aquaculture, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations
2500 Cliffe Avenue
Courtenay, BC V9N 5M6
email address: firstname.lastname@example.org