While Deep Bay’s seaweed harvest has sparked outrage for some, Jason Rose sees it as a way to use the “ingenuity of the West Coast.”
Rose said this year he became the first to conduct a substantial seaweed harvest in the area, opening what he called “a gateway to a new industry on the Island.”
“The West Coast is one of the last places with that wild west mentality where you can still build something from scratch,” said Rose.
But not everybody is sold on seaweed — the most recent RDN meeting saw three delegations opposing the harvest, a 36-page study led by Ian Birtwell was released warning against the ecological effects of the harvest and a grassroots protest was hosted on the shoreline of Baynes Sound late last year calling for the harvest to stop.
While Rose admits he “understands” the frustration people are feeling, he sees the potential of the harvest as an opportunity to benefit the economic sustainability of the area.
The NEWS has covered meetings involving local residents, politicians and the provincial government who issued the licenses to harvest; however, the actual harvesters have been largely silent on the issue — until now.
Rose, co-owner of Stormy Shores Seaproducts, sat down with The NEWS on Tuesday to explain the other side of the seaweed harvest. Rose said there are many “misconceptions” about the environmental impacts of the harvest, his company and their intentions.
Rose, who was born and raised on Lasqueti Island, said he has an affinity for West Coast nature and no intention of ruining it. “This is my home,” said Rose. “It’s beautiful and I’ve lived in many other places and always come back here.”
Growing up on the Island, Rose said he watched big industries like fishing and logging fluctuate over time and is well aware of the difficulty to find employment.
“I have a lot of friends who work up north on the oil rig and I want to create an alternative to that lifestyle so people don’t have to leave their families,” he said.
“Talk about environmental damage — that (the oil industry) is huge in comparison to anything we’re doing.”
Though the Ministry of Agriculture’s senior biologist Gary Caine links the seaweed harvest to a $700 million carrageenan market (worldwide), Rose said he has no intention of expanding into a multi-national company — ever. Currently, he employs ten local people and does not see his company growing much bigger.
Rose wants to create what he calls “a small cottage industry” harvesting mazzaella japonica — an invasive seaweed lining the shore of Baynes Sound.
Rose said the seaweed harvest definitely is not an attempt to get rich at the expense of the environment.
“This is actually the first year the company hasn’t lost money,” admitted Rose, who recently moved into his RV parked at Stormy Shores to save money. “And because of the unconventional licensing (given out on a one-year term) banks will not lend us any finances because we can’t guarantee business will continue, so to date we’ve spent all our personal savings and borrowed money from friends and family to make this happen.”
Additionally, Rose said there is a huge degree of uncertainly in regards to whether or not Stormy Shores will be re-issued a license for the 2014-2015 season.
Rose said due to “political pressure” the government has been tight-lipped about licenses, meaning the company is forced to wait and see if their application will be accepted.
Last year, Rose said he didn’t find out he received a license until two weeks before the harvest started, nearly one year after applying. He called the entire process “nerve racking.”
Rose said his lack of job security coupled with some very vocal individuals who oppose the harvest has been “emotionally hard on me.”
“We’re trying to create a low impact, sustainable business,” said Rose. “And we keep being told that we’re raping and pillaging the ocean.”
Rose said he’s been studying this area for the past four years, talking with marine biologists and government officials trying to figure out the most environmentally sound way to capitalize on an abundant resource in B.C.
“We use one single track vehicle that doesn’t assert more pressure than a human footprint and we keep it above the seaweed line whenever possible,” said Rose.
“We don’t use rakes because they penetrate the beach, when we do use pitchforks we always position them so they’re parallel to the ocean to avoid penetration and we don’t work during the herring spawn to mitigate any impact on herring.”
Rose said he was instrumental in the Ministry’s decision to reduce the perimeters of the harvest from 21 kilometres to just 5 kilometres, a suggestion he made after studying the viability of the original harvest license. And even though the license allowed for five months of harvesting, Rose said his company was done in two and a half months, wrapping up this season in early January, six weeks before their deadline.
Rose said unlike Asia and Chile who practice live-harvesting, where seaweed is killed for harvesting purposes, Stormy Shores strictly works with seaweed that is already detached, dead and rotting on the beach. And while many have voiced their concern over the ecological effects of removing this seaweed, Rose said his company “leaves a majority of the product behind to maintain habitat.”
Rose said he’s trying to create a sustainable industry with a low ecological impact so both the environment and economy on Vancouver Island can thrive.
When asked what Rose would like to see from the government-issue seaweed harvest pilot project, he responds: “I’d like to see it continue on a small scale until the scientific review is finished.”