Earth News
Written by Joan Russow
Thursday, 05 December 2013 16:04

By Joan Russow PhD Gobal Compliance Research Project

December 4, 3013

 - A crane from the Biley crew lifts a bag loaded with seaweed. - Photo by Pamela Suzanne Smyth
Photo by Pamela Suzanne Smyth
BC is Ignoring the Precautionaary principle
Canada signed (June, 1992) and ratified (December, 1992) the legally binding Convention on Biological Diversity and that the BC Government, at the cabinet level, endorsed the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992 (document obtained through Freedom of Information)

BC is thus legally bound to comply with the Convention on Biological Diversity, which contains the following commitment to the precautionary principle;

Where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimize such a threat

Also under the 1995 agreement (Law of the Sea) “related to the Conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks, which includes herring and salmon is the requirement to invoke the precautionary principle

 In addition, there is the obligation, under the above Agreement, to protect Habitat and to develop data collection and toadopt plans which are necessary to ensure the conservation of such species and to protect habitats of special concern. (Article 6 3(d))

 There is a precedent in Eastern Canada where there is evidence that mechanized harvesting has caused the long-term depletion of the seaweed


The existence of seaweed is vital to the survival and bottom breeders including herring and ultimately salmon. Seaweed is also vital to near shore coastal food chains as habitat and nourishment for the production of shellfish, finfish, birds and mammals.


Seaweed Harvesting on the East Coast of Vancouver Island, BC”: a Biological Review

In the recent Report, “Seaweed Harvesting on the East Coast of Vancouver Island, BC”: a Biological Revieware the following observations


THATmost studies of seaweed harvesting indicated an immediate short-term decrease in densities of strandline species extending to fish species in estuaries. But, although the recovery of these species occurred relatively rapidly after single events, “long-term harvesting created a beach fauna and flora very similar to beaches that had no input of beach-cast seaweeds. Differences in beach topography and habitat values have also been noted between raked and un-raked beaches. Where in use vehicles in the coastal environment have also been identified as a source of negative impacts on coastal ecosystems” (Zempke-White et al. 2005). 

ii THAT There is substantial scientific literature on the role of seaweeds in marine ecosystems. This body of knowledge supports concerns that this new seaweed fishery, as it is currently practised, could be detrimental to habitats of species supporting existing commercial aquaculture ventures as well those existing commercial, recreational, and Aboriginal fisheries. This concern is based on the documented significant role that seaweeds play in the near shore aquatic environment and the ecological effects that will accrue due to its removal. There are particular concerns about the physical and mechanical impacts of collection process. Previous studies have identified key knowledge and research gaps related to the removal of beach-cast seaweeds from the coastal environment. These gaps include: (i) inadequate quantitative data on the distribution of beach-cast seaweeds; (ii) the relationship between beach-cast seaweed and off-shore algal stands; (iii) the residence time of the seaweed on the beach; (iv) the ecological fate of beach-cast seaweeds; (v) the ecological role of floating seaweeds; (vi) the effects of seaweed removals on coastal ecosystem and fisheries resources. These aspects are also of relevance in relation to the seaweed harvest along the east coast of Vancouver Island.


iii THAT existing Provincial guidelines for the harvest of marine plants are as follows: “Before an application can be considered, the applicant should be able to demonstrate that the product will be used for a viable business. The applicant should provide a comprehensive outline of the proposed harvest operation and processing arrangements. When an application is approved, a licence quota may be set based on the amount of product requested and historical inventories (where they exist) of the marine plant resources in the area. In all cases, the conditions of licence will stipulate that no more than 20% of the total biomass of a marine plant bed may be harvest. Other conditions related to particular species of marine plants may also be imposed. These measures ensure the long term sustainability of the resource and minimize the impact to fish and fish habitat.” (


iv. THAT the provincial government’s guidance regarding the harvesting stipulates certain requirements and consequences for non-compliance: (


v THATin addition to the powers that may be exercised by the minister under section 18, the minister may suspend, revoke or refuse to issue a licence under this section in the minister’s opinion 

(a) the licensee has failed to comply with a condition of a licence, or

(b) the harvesting of kelp or other aquatic plants under the licence would

(i)  tend to impair or destroy a bed or part of a bed on which kelp or other aquatic          plants grow,

(ii)  tend to impair or destroy the supply of any food for fish, or

(iii)be detrimental to fish life.


(The underlined and italicized sections shown above relate to the concerns expressed in this document regarding the harvesting of seaweed and the fisheries and ecologically important areas that support them).


The Ministry of Agricultuire mus discontinue issuing licences and do the following


1   Invoke the precautionary principle


2.    ban seaweed harvesting in ecologically valuable areas

Restrictions should be specified to protect certainecologically valuable areas from any future harvesting (e.g. inter-tidal pool and lagoon areas within 3 km of Deep Bay, unconsolidated-sediment areas comprising spawning beaches for “forage fish”, and marine riparian habitats).


       3 Ban mechanized harvesting with vacuum or similarly industrial harvesting


       4 Institute a moratorium on non-mechanized harvesting until and only if the following conditions are met

i. A full environmental impact assessment be carried out by the Department of Fisheries

ii. A reassessment of what quota would be socially equitable and environmentally sound

iii. full consideration is given to determine the impact on the life cycle of dependent species such as bottom feeders, herring and salmon

iv. Identification and assessment of ecological impacts of the Mazzaella fishery

v. The establishment of an effective network of protected areas in Baynes Sound that exclude shellfish culture should be established. The network should include sensitive habitats and key bird habitat.





See Petition at

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 10:32