Sea cucumber proponent denies seeding has begun in Baynes Sound

Some area residents are concerned sea cucumber seeding has spread to Baynes Sound — before a controversial project has been approved.

SOME KILMARNOCK DRIVE residents are worried by the amount of sea cucumbers they've seen lately on the beach in front their homes

SOME KILMARNOCK DRIVE residents are worried by the amount of sea cucumbers they've seen lately on the beach in front their homes

Some area residents are concerned sea cucumber seeding has spread to Baynes Sound — before a controversial project has been approved.

A 155-hectare application for tenure for growing sea cucumbers between Royston and Union Bay is being reviewed by the various government arms responsible for granting licensing and use of the area. If approved, the area would be used for research and commercial growing of sea cucumbers, which are edible.

Controversy has surrounded the application and many area residents have expressed numerous concerns such as danger to the area’s biodiversity and sensitive habitat, and issues with recreational use.

Kilmarnock Drive resident Bob Ell is concerned about the proposed project, but he’s also concerned that he’s never seen sea cucumbers on the beach in front of his house in the 18 years he’s lived there, until now.

“I have been walking this beach at low tide for many years in all seasons and this spring was the first time that I saw sea cucumbers at low tide,” said Ell in an e-mail, adding he’s seen many young sea cucumbers on the beach since he first spotted them in April.

“It is very interesting that, after all of the 18 years that I have lived here, that in the year in which applications for sea cucumber ranching are submitted to the provincial government, that we are seeing for the first time a blooming of sea cucumbers on our beach.

“This leads me to believe that the applicants may already be seeding different areas along our beaches even before their applications have been approved or rejected.”

Applicant Dan Bowen said this is “absolutely not” the case.

“The sea cucumbers have always been there,” said Bowen, adding there isn’t a great number of them. “I was out there about a month ago because we were doing some surveying and I saw one, but it was sort of near about the three-foot-plus tide and there was a big adult sea cucumber there, and I said ‘oh that’s interesting, I haven’t seen one out here before’ and when I was over on Hornby Island I saw a couple over there, too.

“It’s just that now that people are thinking about sea cucumbers they’re seeing more of them, maybe because they’re finally becoming aware of their surroundings.”

Don Israelson, Ell’s neighbour, noted he has only lived in the area part-time for about six years, but he hadn’t seen a sea cucumber there before this year either, and he said the amount that are on the beach worries him.

“It was very disconcerting because it’s not just a couple, you know, there are dozens and dozens and that’s without really going on a hunt and looking,” he said, adding he could see larger sea cucumbers in the water at low tide late last week, (three-foot), and he could see smaller, thumb-sized ones further in to land.

“Almost casually, we start to roll over rocks and thought, ‘Holy crap, you know, here they are, and here’s more here’ — very, very unnatural, and again, it just raises a whole bunch of questions.”

Bowen pointed out that a sea cucumber the size of a thumb would be about one year old, and thus would only have been spawn last August or September. The application was submitted last October.

He also said the Gartley Point Hatchery, which is owned by his co-applicant Eric Gant, could not be responsible for the sudden burst of sea cucumbers.

“A hatchery has never created, never spawned out successfully, sea cucumbers, ever,” said Bowen. “This is all brand new science here — so we’re working on the science of how to spawn sea cucumbers — and, hopefully, we’re successful.”

Ell pointed out Bowen told attendees of a public information meeting that recreationally-used beaches would not be impacted by growing sea cucumbers because the creatures live in deep water. However, Ell noted the ones he’s been seeing lately are on the beach where he walks when the tide is low.

“At low tide no one will be able to walk along the low tide mark on our beaches without stepping on literally thousands of so called ‘deep water’ sea cucumbers for every hundred metres of beach,” said Ell.

The public comment period for the application closed at the end of July, and it is now being reviewed by government branches including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations.

However, the public can still submit written comments to write to the manager of aquaculture for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations at 2500 Cliffe Avenue, Courtenay, B.C., V9N 5M6 until the final report has been written. There is no official due date for the report, but ministry staff said the application is in the early stages.

A separate second application for a 107-hectare sea cucumber tenure from Union Bay to nearly Buckley Bay has been filed. Bowen is acting as a consultant during the application process.

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