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10 million scallops are dead; Qualicum company lays off staff

Island Scallops in Qualicum Bay said it has suffered $10 million in losses because of high acidity levels in the Georgia Strait. - JOHN HARDING PHOTO
Island Scallops in Qualicum Bay said it has suffered $10 million in losses because of high acidity levels in the Georgia Strait.
— image credit: JOHN HARDING PHOTO

High acid levels in the waters around Parksville Qualicum Beach have killed 10 million scallops and forced a local shellfish producer to scale operations back considerably.

Island Scallops CEO Rob Saunders said the company has lost three years worth of scallops and $10 million.

"I'm not sure we are going to stay alive and I'm not sure the oyster industry is going to stay alive," Saunders told The NEWS. "It's that dramatic."

Saunders said the carbon dioxide levels have increased dramatically in the waters of the Georgia Strait, forcing the PH levels to 7.3 from their norm of 8.1 or 8.2. Island Scallops seeds its animals at its hatchery in Qualicum Bay and they are reared in the ocean in small net cages attached to horizontal "longlines," according to the company's website. The longlines are submerged about 10 metresĀ  below the surface in water about

30 metres deep. From hatchery to harvest takes about three years. Saunders said the company has lost all the scallops put in the ocean in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

"(The high acidity level means the scallops) can't make their shells and they are less robust and they are suseptible to infection," said Saunders, who also said this level of PH in the water is not something he's seen in his 35 years of shellfish farming.

"It's really kicked the hell out of us."

In January of 2013, Saunders said Island Scallops had an audit done on its animals in the strait that estimated it had 10 millions scallops in the water. By April of 2013, the company was noticing a high mortality rate.

"By the time July came we had lost about 95 per cent of our crop," said Saunders. "It's a phenomena that's happening worldwide. There's very little hope for us."

Saunders said the company has had to lay off 10 people at its farm operation in Qualicum Bay and about the same amount of people at its processing plant, totalling about 30 per cent of it's workforce.

"We've had to cut back considerably," said Saunders. "There's nothing we can do to the ocean to change things."

Island Scallops has about three million animals in the ocean now, put there in 2013.

"We have our fingers crossed on that one," said the CEO.

In the meantime, the retail outlet on the Island Highway close to the Big Qualicum River continues to sell other forms of shellfish. The company has a boat in Alaska harvesting sidestripe shrimp and prawns, said Saunders, who also said shellfish companies are spending a lot of money researching the issue and he added: "We're hoping to get some support from the federal government."

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