No geoducks in Baynes Sound shellfish tenure, says applicant

Some Baynes Sound residents worry about an application for a 10- to 30-year 155-hectare aquaculture tenure.

A 155-HECTARE sea cucumber farm could go in between Royston and Union Bay. This is an example of what a sea cucumber looks like.

A 155-HECTARE sea cucumber farm could go in between Royston and Union Bay. This is an example of what a sea cucumber looks like.

Some Baynes Sound residents worry about an application for a 10- to 30-year 155-hectare aquaculture tenure.Sea cucumbers and geoducks are listed in the application package, and area residents are circulating a petition based on concerns that include habitat degradation; industrialization of shoreline ecosystems; marine debris like PVC pipes and plastic netting; degradation of biodiversity; and interference with public recreational and residential uses.However, Eric Gant — one of the four people listed on the application and owner of a geoduck aquaculture business called Manatee Holdings Ltd. — said geoducks would not be farmed in the area.”This is not an application for geoduck — it’s an application for sea cucumber — not for geoduck,” said Gant. “That was a breakdown in communications.”Brennan Clarke, public affairs officer for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations — one of three government agencies involved in approval of the application —  said he doesn’t know why geoducks were listed, but he confirmed the application is for sea cucumbers only.”If they wanted to do geoduck they would have to go back and do a whole new application for that, so they can’t just add it in later,” he added.Clarke said this application — filed back in October with a decision expected June 29 — is going through the usual processes, but application procedures for aquaculture operations were recently streamlined to “speed up and simplify the process.”The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Ministry of Transport, both of which are federal ministries, are also involved in the approval process.Clarke said public consultation is not required, however, he added Ministry staff have advised these applicants to seek input from the community.Gant said the applicants will submit a press release about the proposed operation to local media late this week or early next week.Also, an informational meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on June 17 at the Union Bay Community Hall.Tom Murray will likely be at this meeting because he wants some answers. He owns a beachfront home in Union Bay which that would overlook the aquaculture tenure if it goes ahead. He was concerned as soon as he heard about the application, and said he tried to get information from government agencies — such as the DFO — to no avail.”All we have is this (application package) and what we see is geoducks, because that’s what the application says; it doesn’t say sea cucumbers, it says both of them,” Murray said. “My understanding is that they’re going to come along and basically level the field and put in these containers, which will hold geoducks and sea cucumbers.”Murray referred to a photo taken from a geoduck farm in Puget Sound, Washington State, which shows PVC pipes sticking out of the sand with nets over top.”I sure don’t want that,” he said as he pointed to the photo, “for 30 years in front of my house.” Gant said the geoduck operations he owns do not use those farming methods, and this sea cucumber operation certainly wouldn’t.According to Gant, the sea cucumbers would be grown in deep water and they would be harvested by divers.”As far as visibility, visible pollution, there’s none. All our work is done under the water,” said Gant. “There’s not even so much as a marker ball on the surface.”He also said people would have the same access to the beachfront as they do now, and the operation would not restrict boater access.Clarke confirmed sea cucumber operations happen under water.”With sea cucumbers it takes place all under water between two to three meters to 20 metres under water,” said Clarke. “There’s no structures on the surface, no rafts and no floats.”Gant also said growing sea cucumbers is environmentally beneficial, not detrimental, but said he will elaborate on this point at the public meeting on June 17.According to Clarke, the proposed operation would be “considerably larger” than existing oyster and clam leases, but “considerably smaller” than the existing scallop operation in the area. He added other sea cucumber leases do exist in the this region.Concerned residents have organized a meeting at 7 p.m. on June 7 at the Fallen Alders Community Hall in Royston. Murray noted Comox Valley MLA Don McRae, North Island MP John Duncan, and other officials have been invited.Gant said he heard about the meeting only via a rumour, and will be out of town at that time. He said no residents tried to contact him for information about the proposed project.While Murray said he has not personally tried to contact the applicants, he believes a few residents have tried to talk to at least one of the four.writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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