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Environmental concerns raised as seaweed harvesters scour beaches PDF Print E-mail
Earth News
Written by Joan Russow
Thursday, 27 December 2012 18:16


by Pamela Suzanne Smyth, Oceanside Star
Published: Thursday, December 27, 2012
PAMELA SUZANNE SMYTH PHOTO A crane from the Biley crew lifts a bag loaded with seaweed.

PAMELA SUZANNE SMYTH PHOTO A crane from the Biley crew lifts a bag loaded with seaweed.

PAMELA SUZANNE SMYTH PHOTO A crane from the Biley crew lifts a bag loaded with seaweed.
Pitchforks and track vehicles are combing the beaches of Deep Bay for Mazzaella japonica, a seaweed that's been in the area for years.

Earlier this year, the provincial Ministry of Agriculture issued five harvesting licences to Deep Bay Marine Plants Ltd., Pacific Sea Plants Inc., Stormy Shores Seaproducts Inc., Darryl Henry (BC Seaweeds Ltd.) and Jonathan Biley. Each 2012 license holder can remove a thousand tonnes of beach-cast seaweed from the shoreline in select areas between Deep Bay and Qualicum Bay. The licenses expire Dec. 31.

Jason Rose, of Stormy Shore Sea-products, uses traditional harvesting methods, such as hand-raking or pitchforking seaweed tossed on the beach.


"I am trying to build a small, sustainable, environmentally friendly, resource-based business working along with a biologist and the community to minimize my impact," Rose says.

He's working with the Shea family, which has experience harvesting seaweeds such as Irish moss on the Atlantic coast.

There, sustainable traditional harvesting was replaced in the 1980s by mechanized cutters and suctioners supplying industry giants like Kraft Foods. The resource quickly collapsed and is now closely managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Mechanized harvesting was done in this area, as well, in the 1980s, says engineer Bon Thorburn, of Thor Consulting Ltd. in Deep Bay.

"A tremendous amount of seaweed was taken," he says, "and it took years before it came back, which has only happened in the past few years."

Floyd Shea, from Prince Edward Island, has been in the business 35-40 years and says he supports traditional harvesting methods over automated bulk-extraction practices.

Traditional harvesting uses pitchforks to pick up pieces of seaweed that have broken off from the plant and washed up onshore, he says. "The root needs to be there so the plants will grow back and reseed. In PEI, it was raked and raped away. My brother wrote a letter to DFO about that."

Andy Sinats, director of the BC Environmental Network, says that after licenses were issued for mechanical harvesting in PEI, yields dropped to some 5%. "They decimated the area so badly the seaweed no longer comes up on shore. The whole thrust of this is now being turned over to agriculture. Ocean operations should not be thought of as land operations. The conditions aren't the same. Everything in the ocean is moving and there are no barbed-wire fences."

However, Biley, an individual license holder, has no such qualms about mechanized harvesting.

He says he's the founder of the Island Irish Moss Foundation and CEO of Island and Prairie Carbon Sequestering Inc., a new company that "possesses a license to harvest from an abundant beach-cast source of carrageenan seaweed about $1.1 million this upcoming winter season."

Biley has applied for patents "for a proposed harvest vessel that uses one or more vacuum excavators mounted on a vessel to harvest a tested rate of six metric tons an hour or more, even at low tide. This vessel may be the key to harvesting an estimated 50,000 metric tons that is appearing on the beaches of a 21kilometre stretch each year."

Loreana Hamer, executive director of the Herring Consulting and Research Society, says she is concerned about the potential impact of any form of harvesting on the herring fisheries.

She wonders what else is being taken away when the beach-cast seaweed is hauled to drying facilities, things like herring eggs and other forage fish like surf smelt and sand lance, which feed birds, marine mammals and larger fish, including salmon, which in turn feed sea lions and orcas.

The forage fish "live and spawn on shore," says Faye Smith, project coordinator of the Mid Vancouver Island Habitat Enhancement Society, and are spawning "at this time of year," as the seaweed is being harvested.


"Both are as important as herring," says Ramona de Graaf, a marine biologist and forage-fish specialist with Emerald Sea Biological.

Sand lance provide up to 50% of the diet of the adult Chinook salmon eaten by resident killer whales. Surf smelt are so important that Washington State, noting their decline, has protected their beach habitat as critical salmon habit.

However, she says, while the Atlantic harvesting of Irish moss has been studied for a half-century, little is known about the effects of harvesting Mazzaella japonica, which may have been introduced to BC from Asia a century ago.

"There is no science on harvesting Mazzaella japonica in BC or anywhere in Canada," de Graaf says. "To confuse the species with Atlantic Irish moss and compare it to the 50 years or so of eastern-based industry would be a whitewash to the public."

Aquatic biologist Lora Tryon, of Lake Trail Environmental Consulting, has been following the work for Project Watershed.

"Some things, like the use of a boat versus tracked vehicle for harvest require further study so that impacts to fish and fish habitat can be avoided," Tryon says. "There needs to be a clear policy to identify the best means to go ahead with this, if at all. This would involve involvement of DFO, which I have been told is minimal, and the trial and error approach being applied to this could be a symptom of the ever-decreasing capacity of DFO habitat."

Earlier this month, de Graaf found fish eggs where one harvester was working and complained to the Ministry of Agriculture.

"The beach-wrack harvest," she says, "was taking place directly in line with where the sediment sample was taken and where embryos are distributed. The position of the spawning beds had not been indicated to the licence holders by MOA, who was not aware of the beach spawners until I came on the scene."

She also noted abandoned bags full of harvested seaweed floating out to sea. "We need impact studies," de Graaf says. "Local government and groups should be involved so we can all move together responsibly with informed management.

"I think we need to slow down."

Last Updated on Friday, 28 December 2012 19:23

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