Seaweed needs more study

While we might applaud Jason Rose’s wishes to establish a cottage industry harvesting seaweed, let’s look at some of the facts.

This letter is in response to the article titled ‘Misconceptions tackled’ (The NEWS, March 6).

While we might applaud Jason Rose’s wishes to establish a cottage industry harvesting seaweed, let’s look at some of the facts.

In comparing his business to the oil industry, Rose suggests that small industries such as his result in only small ecological effects. Not necessarily so. Impacts depend on the kinds of activities undertaken, where they take place and when. The facts are that Rose’s business involves activities that are likely to be very harmful to important forage fish, at a place of high use by these fish and at a time of high sensitivity to disturbance.

For example, Rose claims that he uses a single track vehicle that doesn’t assert (sic) more pressure than a human footprint. This doesn’t match the evidence on the beach where track disturbance extends to a depth beyond that of the incubating eggs of forage fish. This suggests a high probability of harmful effects.

Rose says he wants to develop a low-impact business. Laudable, yes, but we should be mindful that proof of low impact can only come from rigorous scientific study of the resources at stake and measurement of the impacts from the types of activities proposed by Rose and others.

Unfortunately, such studies have not yet been undertaken, so it would be premature to claim that impacts have been low from his activities. Further, it would be prudent for our provincial government to await the completion of such work before issuing further licenses for seaweed harvesting.

A precautionary approach would be to go slowly on any development of this new industry because of the many uncertainties and high risks involved.

Rose says that he has been “studying the area for years, talking to marine biologists and government officials trying to figure out the most environmentally sound way to capitalize on an abundant resource in B.C.”

I don’t know about the abundance claim, as this would have to be assessed to determine what might be an ecologically sustainable harvestable surplus (if any), but I applaud his desire to learn from government officials. That’s what I would expect from any would-be resource harvester.

However, and this is not Rose’s fault, government officials do not have the necessary information on the seaweed ecosystems nor on harvesting impacts to pass on to Rose to help him in his search. More’s the pity. Issuing licenses in ignorance of the resources and the risk of damage is irresponsible. I expect better from my government.

Ross Peterson

Nanoose Bay