If things can go wrong, they will

Dear editor

I attended two public meetings regarding two applications to farm sea cucumbers in Baynes Sound.

Dear editor

I attended two public meetings (one in Royston and one in Union Bay) regarding two applications to farm sea cucumbers in Baynes Sound.

The applicants want up to 30 years of tenure on 682 acres of sea bottom stretching from Gartley Point in Royston all the way down to Buckley Bay — one of the largest aquaculture tenures ever applied for in B.C.

I learned two things.

First, almost everyone who attended these meetings (with the exception of those employed by the applicant or with financial interest in the sea cucumber business) were adamantly opposed to granting these tenures.

I also learned a lot about sea cucumbers but there is still a lot about them that is unknown. As a food, they seem to appeal to a luxury up-scale market in Asia.

They are not cheap food. Divers report that there is about one sea cucumber every 10 square metres or about 33,000 in the tenure area. The applicants want to increase the number to up to a million or more.

What would these additional 900,000+ sea cucumbers eat? The applicants had only a vague answer to this question but told us that they wouldn’t be dumping food material into the Sound. I don’t think many of us believed them.

Sea cucumbers are bottom feeders — they eat debris, diatoms and bacteria, algae and plant waste. Each one produces about 600 pounds of feces per year.

Simple math shows that a million sea cucumbers would produce about 600,000,000 pounds of excrement per year in an area, Baynes Sound, where half of B.C.’s shellfish are grown. The applicants did not address this issue.

Sea cucumbers move slowly — about three metres a day or just over one kilometre a year. Some sort of containment apparatus, not even mentioned in the application, would have to be used to keep them within the boundaries of the tenure.

Sea cucumbers, like any other intensively grown agricultural product, are prone to disease and parasites. Many of these ailments, according to a UN study, have no known treatment and others are treated by the introduction of specific chemicals and drugs.

The impact of such a large mono-culture on fish and other shellfish stocks is unknown — as is the impact on birds, sea otters, etc. In fact, there are too many unknowns about intensive sea cucumber farming to warrant granting these large tenures in an ecologically sensitive area.

Sea cucumber meat sells for between $5 and $6 per pound and the Manatee Holdings website projects sales of $45,000,000 to $100,000,000 per year at a 75-per-cent profit.

Manatee Holdings is looking for investors to share in this “biological gold.” The return to the public, in the form of tenure fees would be a bargain rate of $80,000 per year.

The Law of Unintended Consequences and Murphy’s Law assure us that if things can go wrong, they will. That’s not much of an assurance.

So what can you do? You can write a letter to: Manager, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, 2500 Cliffe Ave.,  Courtenay, B.C., V9N 5M6 or e-mail your objection to these applications (#1413722 and #1413764) to AuthorizingAgency.Nanaimo@gov.bc.ca.

You’ll be doing your part in helping to keep this part of the world a place we all want to live.

Ed Varney,