Residents of the Baker Beach and Quarry Drive area are concerned about the potential consequences of a First Nations shellfish tenure application being considered by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
The application from Penelakut Seafoods Inc. seeks to permit harvest of Manila clams, Pacific oysters and littleneck clams from around 13.6 hectares of intertidal beach stretching approximately one kilometre northwest along the shoreline from the mouth of Booth Canal.
Penelakut Seafoods was incorporated in 2014 as a venture of the Penelakut Tribe, which is engaged in recovering historic fishing and land rights. A referral from the ministry that came to Islands Trust staff and was discussed at the Local Trust Committee meeting on Sept. 27 has elicited an official view that traditional fisheries should be respected, with proper zoning. The plan to incorporate 46,000 square metres of protective plastic netting over the intertidal area set off alarm bells, however.
“Predator netting must not be allowed, quite frankly,” Salt Spring trustee Peter Grove commented at the meeting. “It’s dreadful and it must be stopped.”
The Trust staff response to the ministry’s referral states that current zoning does not permit aquaculture in most of the proposed area, and that rezoning would be necessary to bring the operation into compliance with local bylaws.
Some residents are also concerned about the netting’s potential impact to other wildlife in the rich intertidal area and have more general concerns about the scope of the project.
“As a property owner along the stretch of Quarry Beach that seems to be targeted for some form of commercial fishery, I would posit from the outset that this activity will negatively impact one of the nicest walkable beaches on the island, used by hundreds of Salt Spring residents, and visitors,” Steven Barer told the Driftwood. “Easy beach access from both Quarry Drive and the bottom of Baker Road make this a favourite afternoon destination for many islanders, not just those living in the immediate vicinity.
“It is very important to raise awareness in our island community of the potential for this change, with the very clear objective of preventing any visual or material barriers being used in these sensitive waters.”
Mike Thompson’s house looks over Booth Bay, although his property is not directly affected by the application. He wonders why the proposed area includes sections of Quarry Drive beach that are “totally unsuitable for raising clams.” He is also worried about the effects of fishery and predator netting on the wildlife in the bay, especially since “there has been much more orca activity in the bay this last year than has been seen in the last 10 years.”
Georgia Taylor is another resident who is worried about where the netting might be placed in Booth Bay, which she describes as a “very fragile ecosystem.”
“The whales have started coming in over the past few years, and there’s a lot of other wildlife,” Taylor said. “Around 30 eagles come every spring with their young to learn to forage and feed.”
The BC Shellfish Association states mesh netting can be quite effective in defending shellfish from larger predators, but recommends using it “only when absolutely necessary” to protect stocks.
The LTC discussed other First Nations aquaculture applications in the region with precedent around creating agreements that do not use predator netting. Chair Peter Luckham said he had provided technical research for a referral related to Halalt First Nation shellfish harvesting in the Chemainus River, and noted another application by Penelakut Seafoods near Thetis Island where proposed predator netting was abandoned due to navigation concerns.
Penelakut Seafoods did not respond to requests for comment before press time.
Public comments on the application will be received by the ministry up until Dec. 10. They can be mailed to Section Head- Aquaculture, Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, 142-2080 Labieux Rd., Nanaimo, B.C., V9T 6J9, or emailed to AuthorizingAgency.Nanaimo@gov.bc.ca.