Community Articles
Go to Site Index See "Community Articles" main page
General News · 20th January 2011
Brian Hayden
An Open Letter to Regional Directors and Cortes Islanders,

Recent actions by a few shellfish growers in the Cortes community (perhaps at the behest of corporate owners) to drive away waterfowl from Gorge Harbour do not seem to be in line with the goals of the Official Community Plan. As a property owner on Cortes Island for over 12 years, I would like to ask them to stop. I spend some time on island each month of the year and plan to be a permanent resident starting in the fall.

The latest development that has sparked some discussion has taken the form of using powerboats and the repeated blowing of boat horns in order to drive waterfowl away from shellfish leases (and all of Gorge Harbour). The result was that the 500+ scoters and goldeneyes that I enjoyed watching, and which are usually regular winter residents between Tan Island and the Cortes shore, were repeatedly driven away for days at a time while residents had to put up with the harassing noises and constant boat throes. It seems clear that these actions contravene the Official Community Plan of Cortes in both letter and spirit.

The Cortes Official Community Plan Bylaw, established in 1995, clearly states the following community planning goals:

- To preserve the rural quality of the area while protecting its ecological integrity.
- To safeguard the quality of the marine environment, given its importance to the economic and social well-being of the community.
- To emphasize our respect for all forms of life and the need to protect biodiversity and the health of the environment that it reflects.
-To preserve areas deemed to be environmentally sensitive from inappropriate forms of development.
-To protect coastal areas from development deemed to be inappropriate by reason of location, form, scale, or density.
-To protect environmentally sensitive areas and to promote the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat.

I acknowledge that shellfish growers, as a group, provide valuable economic and cultural contributions to Cortes and that this is also recognized in the OCP. However, this recognition does not constitute a license for a few growers to do whatever they want to the environment to increase their profits, or to ignore other major parts of the OCP, or to ignore bylaws and disrupt the lives of other residents in whatever way they please.

From the OCP excerpts cited above, the harassment of waterfowl, not to mention the placement of large industrial scale shellfish operations in the Gorge (the most environmentally sensative bay on Cortes), seem to contravene both the letter and the spirit of the Official Community Plan. They disrupt the ecological integrity, the rural quality of life, the biodiversity and health of the Cortes environment. The constant industrial-scale boat traffic to and from large shellfish leases, the machinery noise, the constant flotsam of styrofoam, plastic trays and string -and now the harassment of the water fowl (with added threats to use sound cannons and firearms)- have made a mockery of our OCP goals and have ruined my enjoyment of (and ability to work as a writer in) this very special place.

There are aquaculture zoning bylaws that prohibit machinery being used in the Gorge on shellfish leases and that prohibit structures over one meter above the waterline on leases (except for a small storage shed). However, these have never been enforced. The Regional District has stood by and done nothing while industrial shellfish development has taken over in the Gorge and is now paving paradise with shellfish leases. This never should have been allowed to happen. When there were fewer and smaller shellfish leases in the Gorge, the situation was in a much better state of balance with other users and species and there were few problems. However, a number of large-scale operations have taken hold (in some cases owned by international corporations with little regard for local concerns) and they now seek to transform the landscape, the environment, and anything else required to increase corporate profits. The situation has gotten out of control. We must ask: Is this the kind of future that Cortesians want? Why don't Regional District officials enforce their own bylaws and regulations? Thus far, nothing has been done to enforce the aquaculture bylaws of the Regional District, despite numerous complaints by a number of people over the past 10 years. The one and only enforcement suit that the RD has ever launched has been in limbo for years and appears to be permanently shelved.

I would like to call upon the Regional Directors to stand up against the incursions of the industrial-sized shellfish operators who have little apparent regard for the impact that their actions have on other Cortes residents, the ecological health of Cortes, other species, other businesses, recreation, navigation, or other interests. There are even a few growers who appear to stop at nothing to eliminate any species (crabs, waterfowl, sea stars) that might limit their quest for profits. It is time to stop the pillage and to stop the waterfowl harassment. What will the Directors do?

Brian Hayden
729 Whaletown Rd.