Island Sea Farms (ISF) produces the Saltspring Island Mussels brand. Screenshot

ISF defends efforts to mitagate noise from mussel operation on Cortes Island

Industry representatives stress that safety is a key factor when choosing a location

Island Sea Foods (ISF) produces an estimated 80 per cent of the province’s mussels.

Its operation in Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island though has been at the centre of a dispute with some neighbours over issues, especially noise.

RELATED STORY: Cortes residents battle mussel operation over noise

From Jan. 22 to 25, applicants Vern and Mary Kemp and Brian Hayden as well as ISF testified at a hearing of the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board (BCFIRB) in Campbell River over these issues. BCFIRB is an administrative tribunal that hears complaints from the public related to odour, noise, dust or other disturbances arising from agriculture and aquaculture operations.

The applicants testified first at the hearing and were finished Thursday morning, outlining a number of concerns, primarily noise from ISF’s equipment and the boats they use to scare away birds from the mussels. The BCFIRB also considered matters such as Styrofoam waste from equipment.

By late morning on the Thursday, ISF’s Paul Simpson and fellow witnesses explained their efforts to deal with the noise. ISF had Giacomo Cocci, the president of Cocci Luciano which manufactures mussel farming equipment among other products, testify via Internet about ISF’s equipment and size of operations. He stated no one had ever complained about the machinery in his experience, and he talked about measures to reduce noise.

Vern Kemp cross-examined Cocci on why his company referred on its website to the type of equipment ISF uses as “processing,” as opposed to “harvesting.”

Cocci responded that the categories are not so clear-cut.

“These categories are not written in the stone,” he replied.

One of the points the applicants have tried to stress is that ISF’s activities should be considered processing, not harvesting, and not in compliance by regional district bylaws.

Others, such as B.C. Shellfish Growers Association executive director Darlene Winterbottom, have responded that the federal government has set definitions of processing and that the company’s actions such as removing mussels for tumbling in machinery or de-clumping before being returned to the water are harvesting.

As well, panel chair Peter Donkers has emphasized at various times the BCFIRB is not considering zoning or local bylaws. The board is only examining whether ISF’s activities are producing noise, wake from boats and occasional debris in accordance with typical farm practices.

ISF founder Paul Simpson and Dan Hilton, one of the farm operations managers, outlined the measures the company has taken to mitigate sound issues at Gorge Harbour. One example is a system Hilton designed by flipping over tote boxes to control noise by almost 10 decibels.

As part of the testimony, Simpson distributed photographs of similar operations from other regions or countries such as P.E.I., Washington, Croatia, Italy and France, to compare the equipment.

“What we do is in no way way unique,” he said. “It’s a very, very common industry in many coastal communities.”

He also referred to efforts such as their work scheduling and alterations to machinery as evidence they have made efforts to mitigate sound issues from the site.

“We’ll prove today we are very responsive neighbours,” he said.

Hilton talked about measures such as controlling company boat speeds in the Gorge, efforts to control the wake from boats and how they replaced some of the machinery simply for noise mitigation, even though it was neither old nor broken. He also responded he never ignored any contact from the public about potential issues.

“Every single phone call, every email I got, I followed up,” he said.

As the hearing went on, the BCSGA called three other shellfish operators and board members, Steve Pocock, Keith Reid and Alex Munro, to discuss typical aspects of the industry, including the size of the province’s in the global scale as well as what equipment and techniques are used. One common response was the regular use of mechanization to help with activities on site.

Another point that arose was the importance of the site, not only for its ability to encourage shellfish operations but also for safety issues – specifically, how most sites were located in sheltered areas such as the Gorge. This was underscored by the three shellfish operators, who emphasized the need for mechanization to make a living in the industry. They also talked about how many operators would like to base hours around a normal schedule, but this is not always feasible.

“What drives the whole thing is when the customer wants the product,” said Munro.

Finally, Klahoose representative Kathy Francis testified to talk about their role. Among their aquaculture interests, the Klahoose hold the tenure, which they lease to ISF. Ron Francis, another ISF operations manager, is also a Klahoose member.

Kathy Francis disputed claims from applicant Hayden, an archaeologist, that they do not have a claim in the area. She referred to many former village sites in the region, which she described as part of the traditional Klahoose area.

“I’m not sitting here as an aquaculture expert,” she said. “I’m sitting here as a treaty negotiator.”

She also talked about the importance of aquaculture to the Klahoose on Cortes, especially for young people in the community.

“We’re trying to create an economic base for our nation.”

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