Election issue in Deep Bay/Bowser: VIU gets grant to study seaweed

This comes after years of complaints from local residents about the harvesting of seaweed on the beach

In what director Bill Veenhof is calling “a step in the right direction,” the government has granted a long-awaited research contract to study Deep Bay’s controversial seaweed harvest.

The Ministry of Agriculture made the announcement Tuesday morning, vowing to work with Vancouver Island University Deep Bay Marine Field Station, who is slated to present their final report by March 25, 2015.

This comes after years of fighting from local residents concerned about the environmental impacts of removing seaweed from Deep Bay’s coastline.

This is countered by some who point to the seaweed’s economic potential.

The seaweed in question is called mazzaella japonica, a foreign resource rich in carrageenan that is found in many products including processed foods like ice cream, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

In January of this year the ministry’s senior biologist Gary Caine said the carrageenan market is worth $700 million worldwide.

VIU marine station manager Brian Kingzett, who is spearheading the research project, said he recognizes “there are competing narratives in the community.”

“We are not taking sides,” he told The NEWS Tuesday in an e-mail. “We are a non-advocacy research group and will be providing science to the topic.”

Kingzett said researchers will monitor the ecological aspects of the storm cast seaweed harvest in the Deep Bay area.

“This is a highly contentious community issue with a lack of sound ecological information to back it up,” he said. “Our project will be to conduct a 3D party research program around the storm cast events and the related ecological effects … Very much the type of local research around community issues that we built the field station for.”

He said undergraduates, co supervised graduate students and recent graduates of the resource management officer technology program will work on the study.

Veenhof, who is the RDN director for Deep Bay/Bowser, said he is “very pleased” with the ministry’s decision to support a research study.

“It (the study) is what we’ve been asking for and I see the ministry’s response as being the end product of not just my efforts but of many of the residents in this area,” he said, adding that he’s particularly happy VIU will undertake the study as they are “on the grounds closest to the harvest.”

He called the news “exciting” for himself, the local community and the VIU marine station.

However, competing RDN candidate Donald Mussell said the study “doesn’t go far enough.”

Mussell, who recently relocated to Deep Bay in June, said he is “completely against it (the seaweed harvest).”

“It damages the eco-system and birds and animals can’t feed on it (seaweed) anymore,” he said. “It’s a bad idea.”

While Mussell admits he hasn’t lived in the area long, he said “I know what I hear from neighbours and they aren’t too happy (about the harvest).”

He said if elected he will write a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture asking government to stop the seaweed harvest immediately.

Asked about the economic impact of the harvest, Mussell, a self-proclaimed advocate of tourism said “the number of jobs it creates is minimal in comparison to the jobs it has the potential to lose in the tourism industry (in Deep Bay).”