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Official grilled over seaweed

Regional District of Nanaimo directors pose tough questions to Ministry of Agriculture representative

The harvesting of seaweed in the Bowser area is going ahead, but on a much smaller scale.

Speaking at Tuesday night's Regional District of Nanaimo meeting, Ministry of Agriculture representative Jim Russell said last year saw five, 1,000-ton licences issued over 21 kilometres of beach stretching from Maple Guard Point to Qualicum Beach. Only about five kilometres was actually utilized and only 300 tons was harvested, he said.

This year, he said, the areas are confined to five kilometres and only two licences were  issued, for a total of 600 tons, a reduction of 88 per cent.

The species in question is called Massaella japonica, an invasive species Russell said came to B.C. shores prior to the Second World War, likely when it was used as packing material for shipments of oyster seed. When the seed was dumped out on the beach, some of the seaweed survived and later thrived.

Russell noted the ministry has consulted with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well as with the Ministry of Environment about the harvest, both of which gave it the green light. In addition, he said he is liaising with scientists at the University of Victoria to do an ongoing study of the impacts of the harvest.

Despite the significantly reduced harvest, RDN directors had some hard questions for Russell.

Bowser-Deep Bay director Bill Veenhof led the discussion, noting the harvest issue has been front and centre with his constituents.

"All the concerns I have heard revolve around the perception of a lack of consultation," he said. "The Qualicum First Nation would certainly like to have a dialogue with you. That's the number one thing, consultation."

Veenhof said a group of retired biologiests in the area have expressed concerns about the impact of the seaweed harvest on forage fish that spawn in the intertidal area, such as sand lance. They also have a concern, he added, about the loss of nutrients flowing back into the sea.