Meeting with Geoduck Farm Proponent held 27 November 2013

On Wednesday 27 November, 2013, sixteen concerned people from Kye Bay attended a meeting at the K’omoks Band Hall, arranged by Salish Sea Farms Ltd at our request. This company, which is owned by the K’omoks First Nation, has applied for a licence to occupy about one square km of sea bed off Kye Bay, for the purpose of farming geoducks (see link “Potential Geoduck Farm in Waters Off Kye Bay”, right, for application details and initial reactions from Kye Bayers). Mr. Tom Broadley, a Registered Professional Biologist and company agent, answered our questions for some 90 minutes.

After the meeting, the consensus was that, if Salish Sea Farms followed through with the plans as described by Mr. Broadley, the group’s concerns were not serious enough to warrant an objection to the application.  Indeed, many felt that a letter of support might be more appropriate.  The group felt that establishing a neighbourly relationship with the K’omoks might be helpful in creating an environment where ongoing issues could be dealt with amicably and efficiently.   We were informed:

  • The company’s vision is to operate a sustainable business that will remain viable for the band’s grandchildren and beyond.
  • The company wishes to be a good neighbor and will have an open door and mind to any reasonable concerns of its neighbours.
  • All areas proposed by the company for geoduck farming are already being harvested for wild geoducks every 3 years, and have been so for many years. The existing commercial fishery is near collapse due to harvesting at an unsustainable rate. Residents may have noticed boats in the spring which are conducting surveys or harvesting.
  • The company is expecting the most significant resistance to its application to come from existing geoduck fishing licence holders who will likely claim loss of income. The approval process may take as much as 5 years.
  • The primary difference between what is occurring now and what will occur in the future, if the company’s application is approved, is that the farmed areas will be reseeded with juvenile geoducks after harvesting, and the sandy bottom will be covered with a net (about ¼” mesh) for 1 to 2 years.
  • The net is buried around the edges and held 6″ above the sea floor by PVC or wood posts to prevent predators (crabs, starfish, urchins) from eating the young geoducks. The net is recovered and reused after the geoducks have grown and burrowed deep enough to be safe from predators.
  • The geoducks are harvestable about 8 years from seeding.  Each year, about 1/10th of the licence is seeded.  After about 8 years, the first area seeded is harvested and re-seeded.
  • The company will be required to reseed after every harvest. Failure to do so will result in the loss of their farming licence.
  • Harvesting is accomplished by divers working from a boat who use a high pressure water hose to loosen the clams.  The sand is coarse enough that it does not migrate very far away from the site.
  • Boats used for farming operations are relatively small (about 30’ aluminum) and will be difficult to see from the shore. Engine noise is low and will probably not be audible from the shore. Hours of operation are normal business hours. Operations will not take place in the middle of the night or early mornings.
  • All farms, including the Kye Bay licence, are located at a minimum low tide depth of 30’ and the nets and other evidence of the farm will not be visible at low tide.
  • The proposed Kye Bay farm is outside the reef.  For the most part, the seeded areas will be more than 2 km from shore.
  • The habitat preferred by geoducks and consequently all areas applied for farming by the company are barren flat sand. A person diving in these areas would observe little or no life. The impact of geoduck farming on other species is thus low.
  • The company is not permitted to farm geoducks in environmentally sensitive areas such as kelp or eelgrass habitat. Even if the company were permitted to operate in these areas it would not do so because it understands the importance of kelp and eelgrass to the ecology. Furthermore, farmed areas have no rocks and therefore are not suitable for kelp growth.
  • The company does not intend to modify the local wild geoduck genetic stock. All broodstock will be obtained from local wild populations. No broodstock will be obtained from other regions such as Washington State.
  • No nutrients or drugs will be applied to the farmed areas.
  • The company is required to contribute to an industry association fund that will pay for equipment removal and habitat restoration in the event that the company fails.
  • The company must also post a bond to enable cleanup if the project is abandoned, though the abandonment costs would not be very high (two years of netting and net posts.)
  • Equipment losses are important to the farmers, as their business depends on keeping the predators out until the geoducks are established. The company patrols beaches adjacent to its farms on a weekly basis and will promptly remove any netting or other equipment that washes ashore. Residents are also encouraged to report any farm debris to the company and it will be dealt with.
  • Winds and currents in the Kye Bay region are such that in the unlikely event that a net did break free, it will not end up on Kye Bay beaches. If a net did end up on a Kye Bay beach the company would retrieve it with boats and would not operate equipment on the beach.
  • The company’s application included the possibility of sea cucumber farming. The reason for this inclusion and the company’s plan are unclear. Mr. Broadley said sea cucumbers are not the focus of the planned business.
  • An environmental impact study will be conducted prior to approval of the company’s application. It is unclear what input or review Kye Bay residents will have over this study.

Potential Geoduck Farm In Waters Off Kye Bay

Thanks to our neighbour Sandy Stewart, in mid-November 2013 the Kye Bay Ratepayers’ Association (KBRA) learned that Salish Sea Farms Ltd has applied to government for permits to farm geoducks in the waters off Kye Bay.  Their application is at:

http://arfd.gov.bc.ca/ApplicationPosting/getfile.jsp?PostID=43271&FileID=51766&action=view

The application includes a map which shows the proposed 94 hectare farm extending from a point in deep water off the end of the Kye Bay spit, parallel to the coastline to a point north of Air Force Beach. I understand that Salish Sea Farms is owned and/or operated by K’omoks First Nation.

KBRA directors have been examining the application. What is the local impact of a geoduck farm?  While the marine ecology is of course of interest, so is any impact on the amenity value of Kye Bay as a residential area and as a recreation destination for the Comox Valley.  What sights and sounds would Kye Bayers experience during the farm operations?

The farm would be in waters some 10 metres deep.   Seeding and harvesting the crop would be by boat.  Divers would seed the sea floor with hatchery stock, covering the area with netting against predators such as starfish and crabs.  The netting would be kept in place for the first two years, then removed.  After a total of some 8 years, divers would harvest the mature geoducks by injecting sea water into the sea bed.

The government has invited comments on Salish Sea Farms’ application  with a deadline of Thursday, November 28th. Written comments should be emailed to the Manager, Aquaculture, Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations at AuthorizingAgency.Nanaimo@gov.bc.ca

Following an approach by the KBRA, Salish Sea Farms has kindly agreed to meet with Kye Bayers for a question and answer session.  All  are invited:

• 7:30 pm on Wednesday November 27 • at the Band Hall, 3320 Comox Road, Courtenay (adjacent to the Queneesh gift shop).

Mr Tom Broadley, Agent for Salish Sea Farms, will be attending.

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