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Seaweed Harvesting

Seaweed Harvesting
Along Bowser and Deep Bay Shores

A pilot project was authorized by the provincial government that permitted commercial operators to remove red seaweed from our local beaches and this commercial interest is growing. Interest in the seaweed is due to some constituents that are valuable to the food industry, for their gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties. Beach harvesting of thousands of tonnes occurred in the late fall and early winter of 2012 and 600 tonnes in 2013. People and vehicles were on the beach collecting the algae, placing it into large bags for transport to drying and processing locations.

Concern

At first sight, the seaweed washed up and accumulating along our shores (termed wrack) appears to have fulfilled its submerged role as habitat and food for aquatic organisms while it is attached. However, as the detached stranded material breaks up and decays it provides nutrients and particulate food for countless organisms. It is at the base of, and one of the driving forces behind, a vibrant, complex, and very significant component of our nearshore highly valuable food chains. It is essentially compost for the marine nearshore environment.

IMG_1281 REDUCED

Red Algae Habitat on Beach

Our local shore and its legacy

We are fortunate to have a complex local shoreline that directly supports many important organisms of high economic (such as shellfish aquaculture, commercial recreational and aboriginal fisheries) and ecological value.

herring eggs on algae 1 REDUCED

Herring Spawn on Red Algae

Fish that are fed upon by others (termed forage fish, for example sand lance (needlefish) and smelt) spawn on the beaches and their eggs incubate there during the winter. They occur in the very areas where large amounts of the detached algae accumulate and are, therefore, directly at risk from human activities on the beach. Herring, a primary forage fish for salmon and other animals, and other important fish species spawn each year along our shores and especially in our unique and extensive tidal lagoons which are a legacy from the local First Nations. The lagoons provide habitat for spawning, and as nursery, rearing and food supply areas for many organisms within the near shore food chain. Here beds of algae and eelgrass provide substrates for egg attachment, rearing and nursery habitat for the hatched young.

Over the last 35 years there has been a loss of kelp beds in Georgia Strait. These aquatic forests provided habitat for many organisms, and also food while it was growing and also when it was decomposing. This loss has only increased the importance of the other near-shore vegetation that currently performs a similar function, for example, the eelgrass and algae of the tidal lagoons and natural beaches. Many organisms derive food from the lagoon area and depending on the time of year large numbers of ducks and geese, seals, sea lions and otters, eagles and humans can be found harvesting the food produced there. It is likely not coincidental that these areas are also those where much algae accumulates after storms and in doing so provides the basis for such productivity.

Logically, removal of food from such highly productive areas will have detrimental impacts on those that rely on it. Hence, we may deduce that the harvesting of seaweed has a potential to have far-reaching adverse ramifications to the wellbeing of aquatic communities and those that rely upon them.

seaweed harvesting oct 26 2013 (1) REDUCED

Machine Tracks on Beach

seaweed harvesting Nov 6 2013 (3) REDUCED

Machine and Workings on Beach

Assessment

A number of local enhancement groups, and citizens, including scientists knowledgeable about the aquatic environment, have been collaborating to inform the respective federal and provincial government regulators of concerns over this new industrial activity in our area. It is hoped that a thorough evaluation of the effects of seaweed harvesting will be undertaken so that appropriate, sensible, and sound decisions may be made based upon pertinent factual information. We have also worked closely with members of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre who assessed the legislative aspects of the new industry and the obligations of all concerned to address potential impacts and safeguard natural resources. Click Here to see the full Report.

Reporting

A biological assessment of the seaweed harvesting issue was undertaken to determine if there was a scientific basis for environmental concern. This document determined that there was a scientific basis for such concerns and it is presented here. The document was completed in May 2013 by Ian. K. Birtwell, Ramona C. de Graaf, Doug E. Hay, and G. Ross Peterson. It is titled “Seaweed Harvesting on the East Coast of Vancouver Island, BC: a Biological Review. The report was sent to the Qualicum First Nation, regulatory authorities, politicians, the regional district and other groups with jurisdiction over, and interest in, the local waters and shores.

Public meeting

A public meeting was convened by Scott Fraser, our MLA, and Bill Veenhof, RDN Director for area H, to obtain public comment on the seaweed harvest. Recorded comments and the presentations will be submitted by Scott Fraser to Provincial Government Minister Pimm, who is the responsible authority for the harvest. Substantial negative sentiment was expressed over the harvest by attendees of the meeting and the harvest continues to be the subject of media articles.

 

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