Lots of sea cucumber questions — lots of answers

More information on a controversial Baynes Sound sea cucumber tenure application will be shared at a public meeting Wednesday evening.

SUE SMITH signs a petition opposing a sea cucumber tenure for Baynes Sound.

SUE SMITH signs a petition opposing a sea cucumber tenure for Baynes Sound.

More information on a controversial Baynes Sound sea cucumber tenure application will be shared at a public meeting this evening (June 13).

Sea cucumbers are edible and are related to starfish — they are sometimes referred to as ‘earthworms of the sea.’

The tenure, if approved, would be 155 hectares and stretch from south Royston to north Union Bay. It would be sub-tidal, meaning fully underwater at all times. The application is for 10 to 30 years.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. (June 13) at the Union Bay Hall and is organized by the three applicants. Representatives from various government agencies involved with the application process and Vancouver Island University’s Deep Bay Shellfish Research Station will be present. Questions from the public will be addressed.

Dan Bowen, one of the applicants, spoke for an allotted 10 minutes at a packed meeting Thursday, which was organized by concerned area residents.

He noted the plan for the tenure includes research for one to two years — which would involve biologists from VIU — and the research would be new to B.C.

“All we have here (in B.C.) is a wild fishery,” Bowen told area residents. “But there’s no sustainable sea cucumber operation in B.C. except for a couple on the west coast.

“There’s going to be several types of research going on and all this information is going into VIU for our biologists. It will become the basis of policy for DFO (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) with regard to sea cucumber tenures.”

The DFO and the Ministry of Transport (both federal) are responsible for approval of parts of the application like the aquaculture licence and zoning, and the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (provincial) is responsible for approving the land tenure.

The size of the tenure application is a concern for a number of those opposed.

According to Bowen, juvenile sea cucumbers would live in oyster shells for predator protection and less than one per cent of the 155 hectares would house these shells. The remainder of the tenure would be left in its natural state.

“In reality, it becomes a marine park because nothing will ever happen there,” he said.

Kathy Evans — manager of aquaculture for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, one of the three government agencies involved in the application process — told the Record the rest of the area would likely be used by the sea cucumbers when they grow bigger.

“Nursery structures for the early rearing of sea cucumbers would be limited to approximately one per cent of the area of the proposed tenure,” Evans said in an e-mail. “The juvenile sea cucumbers would be contained within these ‘nurseries’ for a few months to avoid predation and would then grow outside of these. It is anticipated that the entire area (155 hectares) would be utilized by larger juveniles and adult sea cucumbers.”

The length of time left to comment, which was until June 29, was another concern for opposed area residents. Bowen said he will repost the ad in local newspapers this week and the comment period would be extended to 51 days past the posting.

Sue Smith, a concerned area resident, said she worried that the DFO was not represented at the meeting Thursday.

“No DFO official was there. DFO is cutting scientists across Canada at the same time this project is being pushed through,” said Smith in an e-mail, adding she is also concerned about DFO monitoring if the application goes through. “Lack of DFO officials to ensure the applicant is abiding by terms of their lease. Lack of DFO officials to protect the wildlife of the area. Lack of DFO officials to return phone calls to address concerns.”

Along with other area residents, Smith also wanted to know what the possibilities for reassignment of the tenure would be if the applicants decided to abandon the project.

Evans confirmed neither a lease nor a licence of occupation can be sold, adding the applicants could sell their assets but the tenure belongs to the Crown and the purchaser would have to apply for it.

She also said another application must be submitted to grow any species besides sea cucumbers, and if the site is no longer used for the purpose of aquaculture it must be returned to the same condition it was in before the tenure was granted.

The Ministry will not consider a 30-year term due to the experimental nature of the application, according to Evans.

Janet Thomas, another concerned area resident, said the application is premature and suggested the research component of the project be done elsewhere.

“These experiments should be done in a smaller, more controlled area such as an artificial pond environment where if there are any negative impacts, they can be observed and controlled,” said Thomas in an e-mail.

Some other resident concerns included: environmental impact such as threats to the Important Bird Area and the sensitive ecosystem in the area; noise; beach access; and esthetics.

Bowen said foreshore and boating access would not be changed. Occasional boats would be the only visible part of the operation because work would be done underwater by divers; no floats or markers would be visible.

He also said sea cucumbers are good for the environment.

“It is a positive thing for the environment because they do have this special place in the ecosystem, that is, they do recycle the substrate and the nutrient they put back in the substrate is a higher nutrient value,” said Bowen.

Area resident Andrea Lang said she hasn’t taken a stance on the application yet. She felt some of her concerns had been addressed at Thursday’s meeting, but she still has questions and plans to attend the meeting this evening.

Bowen said more information will be shared at this meeting to clear up any confusion, as misinformation has been circulating. For example, some residents originally believed geoducks, a large species of clam, were part of the application because an outdated map was included.

According to Thomas, more than 200 people have signed a petition to stop the application.

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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