UNION BAY — A large group of people came out to the Union Bay Community Hall June 14 to hear about an application to grow sea cucumbers in Baynes Sound.
The application is for 155 hectares of sub-tidal land stretching from Gartley Point in south Royston, to just north of Union Point in Union Bay.
Dan Bowen, one of the applicants, said he’s pleased with how the public information meeting went, and he believes most of the confusion surrounding the application has now been cleared up.
“We cleared the air a lot about the application. I think everybody now understands what the application is for, which is good,” Bowen told the Comox Valley Record. “It’s very clear now and people, I think, are relieved and some people are still upset, so we have kind of a mixed bag.”
Confusion and concern surrounded the application when the public first learned of it and viewed it on the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) website. For example, geoducks were listed, which caused people to start talking. However, geoduck clams are not included in the application which is only for sea cucumbers.
The meeting, which lasted about four hours, featured a selection of speakers including local aquatic biologist Lora Tryon, Vancouver Island University’s Deep Bay Field Station manager Brian Kingzett, aquaculture manager for FLNRO Kathy Evans, a Department of Fisheries and Oceans representative, the applicants and others.
Tryon, who is involved in the project, spoke about the research aspect, pointing out that there is plenty to learn about sea cucumber aquaculture because it’s new to the province. She noted the creatures’ ability to clean waste in the ocean.
The juvenile sea cucumbers would be housed in oyster shell heaps in deep water. Tryon added fencing would likely need to be set up around these ‘nursery’ areas. After three years of research, she said the hope is to use a ranching method of farming which would enable the sea cucumbers to float freely.
The nursery areas are expected to use about one per cent of the total tenure. And Tryon noted the goal is to keep density low for a number of reasons, including lower risk of disease and parasites.
Kingzett said research requires collaborative partnerships between science and industry due to the need for funding, and he’s already studying sea cucumbers at the station. He is interested in expanding the station’s studies to include more field work, and he said the work done at the centre is not confidential — the public can come and see what they do there.
He said sea cucumbers can’t eat live algae or kelp, and actually act like “a worm in a compost heap.”
“They will have a role in recycling nutrients in the ecosystem,” he said.
Research is a large component of the six-year pilot project, but Bowen acknowledged product could be ready to sell within three years from the beginning of the project.
The application process is just beginning, according to Evans. Although the application was submitted in October, preliminary work just wrapped up recently. The applicants received a letter that their application is accepted and posted an ad in an area paper.
That acceptance is only preliminary. Now, the FLNRO (provincial) reviews the application for Crown land among other things, the DFO (federal) will decide whether to grant an aquaculture licence and the Ministry of Transportation (federal) would review it in relation to navigable waters.
— Comox Valley Record/Black Press