EDITORIAL: A shell game

DFO's answer to reports of illegal harvesting of shellfish just not good enough

Where have been a lot of letters to the editor and stories written this summer about shellfish harvesting on the beaches of Parksville Qualicum Beach.

Some residents believe — and there’s no reason to doubt them — people are illegally harvesting shellfish, especially the huge and elusive geoduck.

The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) suggests people call their toll-free line when they suspect illegal activity (1-800-465-4336).

We understand there are cutbacks and finding a conservation officer — either provincial or federal — is no easy task. These few officers now have large regions to patrol and many duties.

Often, when a business or government agency can’t afford real people any longer, they ramp up their websites in an effort to partially fill the gap. The DFO website has a lot of information but it’s very difficult to navigate. We’re talking maps and layers and tables and overlays and, well, just finding where you can or cannot harvest shellfish is a half-day chore. And that’s if you’re web savvy.

Unfortunately, the people who take what they want, in the amounts they want, with no regard for the species or sanitary closures or red tide warnings, don’t likely read rants like this or pay attention to websites or warnings. We hope their stories don’t end with sick or dead family members or friends, but that’s not out of the question.

Nor is the endangerment of certain shellfish species out of the question if this illegal harvesting continues. Oldtimers in the area will remember a time when pit-lamping was allowed to catch herring, which almost destroyed that fishery and forced a closure for many years.

Relying on residents to tattle is no way to handle conservation. The DFO needs to do a much better job, for the sake of residents (aka the taxpayers who fund the department) and the species it is charged to protect.

That means up-to-date signage at every beach access, an easier-to-navigate website and more on-the-ground staff (summer students from marine biology courses?) during the busy summer months.

If federal officials bury their heads in the sand beside the geoducks on this issue, it may spell the end of a fun, educational and tasty part of life in Parksville Qualicum Beach.

— Editorial by John Harding