Is salmon food being threatened?

Discussion at Regional District of Nanaimo meeting centres around seaweed harvesting and how it is affect sand lance, a food for salmon

Some central Island residents are worried the removal of wrack from local beaches might lead to their ruin.

Speaking at Tuesday night’s Regional District of Nanaimo committee of the whole meeting, Ramona deGraff said the harvesting of seaweed that has washed up on local beaches — otherwise known as wrack — could have unintended consequences for local marine life.

Of particular concern, she said, is the sand lance, a small, slim fish that she said lays its eggs in the washed up seaweed at high tide, right at the same time as the annual harvest takes place. The sand lance is an important food for salmon.

“People were authorized to remove 500 tons in 2012,” deGraff said. “There was a lack of notification and there was no environmental assessment done.”

Beach wrack, she continued, also serves as habitat for birds and other creatures.

“Decaying seaweed is an enormous food source,” she said. “It is not an excess commodity. There are many threats to our marine system. Is it prudent to remove another food source?”

She noted the timing and location of the seaweed harvest in the Bowser-Deep Bay area is problematic.

“I was on the beach and they were harvesting directly on top of sand lance spawn,” she said.

The timing and location of seaweed harvesting directly overlap with the sandlance and smelt.

Co-presenter Ross Peterson said he’s concerned that future permits could see increasing amounts of seaweed harvested. He suggested that besides the social concerns of trespass, noise and lights, the ecological impacts could prove significant.

“The ecological impacts could be huge and we suspect they are,” he said.

Although they acknowledged the RDN does not have jurisdiction over fisheries, the pair asked directors to support their recommendations to have a rigorous assessment of the impacts of the seaweed harvest. As well, they want an assessment done of what is a realistic surplus of seaweed, to have a list of mitigation measures and finally to get a plan to monitor the situation.

In response, Bowser-Deep Bay director Bill Veenhof noted the RDN has set up meetings with the Minister of Agriculture at the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting later this month.

“The science needs to be understood, public consultation needs to happen and the social issues need to be addressed,” Veenhof said.

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