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General News · 19th February 2017
Bill Dougan
I have lived on Cortes Island for 12 years and in my time here seafood farming in the Gorge has always been an issue. I wasn’t around when it all began but I am aware that it was not easy and neighbour against neighbour grudges still last today. On a recent trip to the Baja I met an older man who told me about those early days of Oyster Farming, for him on Okeover. It was all new, there were no rules, we didn’t even know what we were doing to be honest, he told me. There was no infrastructure, it all had to be imagined and then created. He described it to me as hard work, by eager young people seeking a way to make a living off of the land and maybe get rich. He never did get rich, he slept outside at his lease for 6 months of the year but he sure had a lot of great stories about those days. Things have changed incredibly over that time and its now a viable business for many local folks on the coast, it’s also, like anything else become a big business.

I have refrained, up to now, in throwing my opinion out there because I naively felt that the issues could easily be resolved but now I’m not so sure. Upon reading the notes just released about ISF‘ s negotiations with the Regional District in 2008 , in regards to mechanization in the Gorge , I believe there has been a failure since that time from Island Sea Farms and the Regional District on adhering to their own agreement.

A little background information for those not aware, I will make it short and simple. The Gorge Harbour is NOT zoned for mechanization when it comes to oyster/mussel farming. Companies started to use mechanization which prompted people living on the Harbour to complain. The regional District became involved and eventually began a lawsuit to have it stopped. The Regional District, concerned about the cost of the lawsuit (25 000$) and decided if both parties were willing to go the arbitration route it would cost about a third. In the end this is the path they chose.

In my opinion the RD made a mistake and did these negotiations behind closed doors and has failed for 8 years to release those notes. Imagine someone negotiating on your behalf and not letting you know what or how their negotiating went and presenting you with a final deal that, in the end, gave the companies everything that they wanted and the locals very little. The RD may have saved tax payers money but the issues never went away, the locals are still upset, the deal was a bad one. Up until recently, the issues were not always spoken of , but there still there, just scratch a little and you will stir up a hornet’s nest of complaints. The Regional Districts job is to represent ALL of its constituents and in this matter and in my humble opinion, failed. It now also appears that the Regional District has not enforced the provisions of the agreement. Only harvesting from the bee islets on the weekends in summer? Harvesting is done at the East end of the harbour on weekends for years and still happens today. Island Sea farms was supposed to mitigate the sound of their equipment by building enclosures which has never been enforced. The only part of this deal that has been enforced is to make sure that the sounds coming from this equipment are less than 65 Db as heard from the closes land. Maybe none of this has been enforced because there was no one to force these issues to be adhered to because, maybe no one in the local domain knew of them. The RD should not negotiate behind closed doors in our best interest and then not enforce the deal they put together. I also find it interesting how the RD wanted the noise level set at 35-45 but the number was set at 65Db in the final agreement, what prompted the sudden change? Negotiating behind closed doors , as the Government likes to call it ironically “ in camera “, may be needed at times but at the least explain yourselves afterwards and enforce the agreement you put in place.

The biggest reason for my lack of confidence in an easy agreement though is my complete lack of trust and faith in ISF to negotiate in good faith on any of these issues. I have come to the conclusion since reading the RD notes on the agreement that ISF looks at local complaints as a nuisance and nothing more.

I feel it’s important for us as a community to realize how important Island Sea farms is to Cortes Island , this is the reason why I finally decided to write this letter. ISF employs at least 25 full time young men and women on this island. These are jobs that allow young people to make a living on Cortes Island, stay here, raise families and keep our community vibrant. I personally know all of these men and women who work there. They work their asses off in rain, sleet and yes even two feet of snow. They work 10 – 14 hour days at no overtime. They work at 6 in the morning and sometimes their working at midnight. They work on the water at great risk to themselves, not to mention they grow a damn good Mussel. They put in a hard day’s work and they should be proud of the job they do. Gorge Harbour has one of the largest seafood operations on the west coast of Canada, close to 80 000$ worth leaves here every week. In a recent trip down the coast of North American, every restaurant that I went into from Seattle to the Baja,, that served mussels, served the mussels grown right here in this harbour. We as a community should be proud of the people that work growing this delicacy. It is because of these workers and the importance of this business to or community that ISF needs to look at these issues seriously that are negatively effecting Gorge Harbour.

The owners of Island Sea Farms have known of these issues, they made a deal, behind closed doors and have done very little if anything to honour it. How hard is it to muffle the sounds of your equipment ? Why would they when the Government was not going to enforce it? It tells me a lot about a company’s motives when they disregard the communities they operate in. Being fully aware of the neighbours’ complaints but not doing anything about it tells me they don’t care , what they care about is simply making as much money as possible and damn the locals. The proof is there. This isn’t 1916 its 2016. Business s sit down with the communities they operate in and listen to the issues and if their responsible and serious they work towards resolving these, they don’t do what ISF has done which is force it to court and then settle, with no effort to live up to the deal they made or to actually resolve any issues as they arise. They have, alienated the people living on the Gorge, allowed their workers to be yelled at and disrespected by some in the community. They have failed to support the community they operate in, and the people who work their butts off to make them money. ISF urged their employees to go to the island meetings about bylaws and zoning to stand up for their business. These same workers who are on the front lines of the local’s anger because of how their bosses operate were asked to go to a public forum to defend those actions. It is another sign of the disrespect the Owners of ISF have their employees and for Cortes Island. If you feel your operating in a proper manner then defend yourself, don’t hide behind the hard working people making you money.

Island Sea farms is also known as Salt Spring Mussels, this is where their offices are and where some of the major shareholder s live. Salt Spring Island has a long history of kicking business s out who don’t operate in a community minded way, I wonder how many Salt Springers are aware that a company that uses their islands name treats another island so poorly.

When I spoke with Kel Kelly an arbitrator that came to Cortes Island to hold a meeting with all sides he asked me what the chances of a resolution being made. I told him I felt it could easily be resolved if they wanted it resolved. The meeting ended with no such resolution.

I worry that no resolution will be forth coming in the next round of meetings and rules will be brought in that will make it harder not for ISF, but for the local oyster growers and the smaller operators. There are a dozen of them working hard to make a living off this industry as well in the Gorge. ISF is a large company they will be able to tweak and modify their operations if more strict and enforceable rules are brought in, these smaller operators may not be able to.

I don’t want to see a single person lose a job or have less profit. Island Sea Farms is a very important business for this island, its time their employees are respected by the owners of their company, respected by the community and that we as Cortes Islanders can be proud of the amazing product grown here by your neighbours. Island Sea Farms owners need to come to the table with ears open and be willing to make changes to how they operate that ensure community support. This community will work with you and making sure a real, community driven solution is made for all parties, this has gone on too long, your profit and our communities’ future depend on it.

Much appreciated Bill
Comment by De on 13th March 2017
Excellent, informed analysis. I suspect that some results might be obtained if we go more public with this, i.e. social media exposure, restaurant industry news media, contact with Salt Spring community, etc. Reputation is the one point of leverage with powerful corporations; they do sedulously protect their all-important brand name.
gorge harbour resident
Comment by ann marie ikoma on 11th March 2017
Well said Bill.
Thank you for speaking up for us all.
ann marie

Thank you, Bill!
Comment by Nancy Beach on 20th February 2017
And, thank you, Mike!
Comment by GABRIEL DINIM on 19th February 2017
I want to feel disrespected by the management of ISF but I don't even think we are on their radar at all.
We are beyond notice, it is economic colonialism.
Comment by Donna on 19th February 2017
Thank you for this posting, Bill Very clearly, solutions seem to exist; peaceful coexistence is possible and well worth the effort to realize.
The solution is simple and not very expensive
Comment by mike malek on 19th February 2017
Good mufflers would go along way to stop the annoying grind on the water. Employ someone to build a harvesting shed for the noisy stuff to work in. I think were spending more in legal and community battle than it would take to solve the problem.

Bill, I think your letter is good.
Well said
Comment by Ian Ross on 19th February 2017
Nicely said, Bill. You've hit the nail on the head, I think, especially regarding who it is we need to point our fingers at (as well as praise). Nice to read a well-balanced point of view. Thanks for writing.