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Gauging the seaweed harvest in Bowser

Bowser’s representative on the regional district board says he believes seaweed harvesting can be sustainable, but he wants to bring all affected parties together to talk about the issue.

At last Tuesday’s Regional District of Nanaimo’s regular board meeting, Bill Veenhof brought forward a motion asking that all agencies involved in the harvest have a chat.

“I think there might be room for a sustainable harvest,” said Veenhof.

The motion comes after three passionate pleas in February when Deep Bay/Bowser residents urged RDN directors to help them protect the shoreline from a seaweed harvest, which has been operating legally with government-issued licences.

The seaweed lining Deep Bay contains what is known as mazzaella japonica, a resource rich in carrageenans, valued for their gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties. It is estimated the carrageenan industry is worth $700 million worldwide.

Those who support the seaweed harvest claim it will open economic opportunities to tap into a growing industry; those who oppose it allege the harvest will degrade the marine ecosystem and eventually cause permanent environmental damage to the region.

A 36-page study released in 2013, led by former Fisheries and Oceans research scientist Ian Birtwell, criticized the harvest saying seaweed is "a vital component of the marine ecosystem."

"I'd like to start some dialog between my constituents and government," said Veenhof. "It's an emotional issue. We need to start some dialog and we need to listen."

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