Shellfish boats and reafts in Baynes Sound

DFO ‘responds’ to shellfish growers concerns

On March 27 Cortes Currents published some of the concerns shared by many Cortes Island shellfish growers. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) did not have adequate time to respond, which it eventually did by email on April 6, 2023. Cortes Currents was hoping to secure an interview and sent DFO a list of topics to be covered. The most important was ‘the problems of liveaboards and recreational boaters coming too close to shellfish growing sites.’

Erik Lyon, shellfish grower, on the rafts at Bee Islets in Gorge Harbour on Cortes Island – Photo by Kristen Schofield-Sweet

According to Erik Lyon, of Rising Tide Shellfish, “The problem is too many people  in too close a proximity to shellfish farms. You can’t have any shellfish destined for human consumption in  water where there’s any kind of a man-made dock, boat liveaboard or float house within 125 metres.” 

“People come in the summer, they’re cruising and they anchor in the harbour.  Maybe they are a new liveaboard. They don’t know the place and)  they’ll anchor right up close to someone’s beach lease because  they’re trying to get into shallow water. They don’t even know about that 125 metre setback, and that’s not their fault that they don’t know.” 

Phil Allen, President of Bee Islets Growers Corporation in Gorge Harbour, confirmed, “You cannot sell any shellfish from that lease while the boat is there.”

CC: So what do you do?  

Allen said, “You just have to harass them. That’s the only option you’ve got. Say, ‘Look, I can’t operate while you are here. Could you please move?’”

Lyon explained, “We don’t have any safeguards to protect us from something as simple as a bunch of people living on their boats too close to our farm because there isn’t any government or regulatory body that has the teeth to enforce, remove, or in any way influence the conduct of the people who choose to live on a boat.”

“It’s highly risky for us because Environment Canada is taking note of  vessels that are in close proximity to the leases. They are GPSing  people’s position (where their boat is), and keeping track of that. If there’s a cumulative risk perceived by them, they will close areas as a precautionary thing – which is what they did in the west end of the Gorge.”  

Another Cortes grower, Kristen Schofield-Sweet, stated, “It wasn’t that the water testing was coming back negative. it’s that DFO decided there was simply too much traffic, too many boats. So they closed that area, but there was no evidence that the water itself was fouled.” 

Lyon added, “They said, ‘this is too much of a risk, we can’t control for this.” 

Those quotes were taken from the March 26 article, and Cortes Currents sent DFO a link. 

DFO’s response does not contain a single reference to ‘boats,’ ‘liveaboards,’ or their proximity to active shellfish growing sites.

Another topic was ‘the recent closure of  shellfish growing sites in Deep Bay/Baynes Sound.’

The March 6 Fishery notice states, “Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) recommends a precautionary emergency vessel closure for bivalve shellfish be put into effect, as outlined below, as a result of the presence of occupied live-aboard vessels anchored and or moored in the Deep Bay area, Subarea 14-8.”

The overboard discharge of untreated black and or grey water poses an unacceptable risk to water quality. Given that overlay waters are a pathway by which pathogenic micro-organisms and other contaminants may be introduced into bivalve shellfish, ECCC concludes that a risk to public health may exist if bivalve shellfish in the area are harvested for consumption.”

DFO emailed Cortes Currents details of the working group set up in Baynes Sound to manage shellfish safety, and who they are working with. They also mentioned a recent inspection of the commercial herring fleet in Baynes Sound   

The only segment of that message applicable to my question about the closure states, “Inspections were conducted in late February and early March, focusing on compliance with waste discharge requirements under the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and the Fisheries Act.”

There is no reference to the source of this discharge and their answer does not clearly indicate the recent closure pertained to shellfish harvesting. However the notice on their website (14.2 in chart above) states the March 6 closure applies to ‘all oysters,’ ‘all mussels,’ ‘Littleneck clams’ and ‘Manilla clams.’ 

DFO either did not answer, or only partially answered, most of Cortes Currents ‘questions’ (actually topics for an interview). The exception was one of two topics that I had intended to touch upon in a following article. There is a popular perception that DFO does not look favourably upon small ‘mom and pop’ growers and would prefer to be dealing with larger companies.

Their media person responded, “DFO’s focus is on providing a clear and robust regulatory framework which protects fish and fish habitat. The structure or size of an operation is not an element that is considered. The focus is on the quality of the application and the ability of the licence-holder to manage their facility in compliance with the Conditions of Licence.”

Their email also included a vision statement: 

“The Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (CSSP) is a federal food safety program jointly administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The goal of the program is to minimize the health risks associated with the consumption of contaminated bivalve molluscan shellfish such as mussels, oysters and clams.”

“Under the CSSP, the Government of Canada implements controls to verify that only shellfish that meet food safety and quality standards reach domestic and international markets.”

“In 2023, there are 486 licensed marine shellfish aquaculture facilities in B.C.”

“Fisheries and Ocean Canada (DFO)’s mandate under the CSSP is to manage shellfish harvest (e.g. to close and open areas, patrol closures) and provide support to illness investigations.”

This article was originally published on April 9, and two paragraphs from the Mar 6 ch fishery notice added on April 12, 2023.

Top image credit: Looking across Baynes Sound, from Vancouver Island  to Denman Island – Photo by Ymblanter via Wikimedia (CC By Sa, 4.0 License) 

Sign-up for Cortes Currents email-out:

To receive an emailed catalogue of articles on Cortes Currents, send a (blank) email to subscribe to your desired frequency: