Community Articles
Go to Site Index See "Community Articles" main page
General News · 25th September 2017
Brian Hayden
I take exception to Amanda Glickman’s characterization of the shellfish industry as “unquestionably one of the most sustainable.” Such unqualified global statements fly in the face scientific facts. A wide range of studies demonstrate that suspended shellfish culture adversely affects the seaweeds, crustaceans, and shellfish on the sea floor but favor the anaerobic spread of macroalgal matts of organisms producing sulphur compounds. In addition, due to the high concentrations of ammonia in shellfish feces, studies have shown that the occurrence of red tides and blooms is related to the intensity of shellfish farming. The blooms induced by high levels of shellfish farming activity can consume all of the available oxygen in the water columns, and have resulted in the catastrophic death of shellfish in the Dutch Wadden Sea in 1990, and repeatedly in the Saca di Goro Bay in Italy. Similar problems occurred in China and Japan, and other problems have occurred in France and Sweden, and undoubtedly many other locations that scientists have not been able to study. She has clearly not done her homework on the marine biological effects of shellfish farming.

What she fails to recognize is that the impact of any activity depends on the intensity of the operations, the contexts, and the byproducts. As the previous examples demonstrate, although small-scale shellfish farming can be beneficial, industrial-scale shellfish farming can be disastrous. How does Gorge Harbour fit into the overall perspective? Studies on the impacts of shellfish farming have consistently advised against placing high densities of farms in enclosed bays, especially enclosed bays with raised sills at the entrances. These are the most vulnerable locations to environmental degradation from shellfish farming. It is difficult to find bays that are more enclosed than Gorge Harbour, and there is a raised sill at the entrance that traps everything that falls to the bottom in the Gorge. Studies have shown that most of the seafloor of the Gorge is essentially a marine desert where there is no oxygen and nothing thrives. There is little to no kelp, eelgrass, or other seaweed or bottom fish. The studies that have been done have determined that this condition is due to high “organic inputs” in the Gorge. There are several possible origins of organic material, but one of the most obvious is the production of shellfish feces from rafts. Studies on fecal production of rafts show that over 20 metric tons of feces are produced per raft per year. With hundreds of thousands of shellfish per raft, readers can see where this would come from. With hundreds of shellfish rafts in the Gorge, we are dealing with thousands of tons of fecal material added to the Gorge marine ecosystem every year from the shellfish industry very little of which is flushed out to sea. It is these feces which have created problems in other areas. They are essentially manure, and like manure, a little is good, but too much is lethal. That is why, typically there is initially an increase in biomass and biodiversity with the introduction of shellfish farms. However, this generally peaks and is followed by a catastrophic crash that wipes everything out. In 2005, Hubert Steghaus photographed one such crash in front of his house—a plankton bloom that turned the waters of the Gorge into a rainbow and consumed all the oxygen, leaving everything dead in its wake. A geologist by training, Hubert confidently ascribed this event to the production of feces by the shellfish rafts in the Gorge.

Yes, the marine life in the water column under the rafts may flourish, but the rest of the marine ecosystem is paying the price and we are courting dangerous tipping points. Her portrayal of a thriving Gorge ecosystem is both unwarranted and naïve. It is also surprising to see her using unscientific and unsupported anecdotal observations to claim that shellfish have attracted sea mammals to the Gorge. If anything, the science shows that sea mammals as well as salmon avoid areas where there are shellfish farms. If the organic inputs into the Gorge can ever be eliminated, then we will see what the real potential of this remarkable body of water can produce.

Other parts of her article are equally flawed, such as her charges of “slander and misinformation.” I can find neither in the articles preceding hers or in any other articles. It is not slander to state that ISF has not lived up to their agreement with the Regional District, or responded to--or respected—the concerns of Gorge residents. It is simply stating the facts. She claims that Island Sea Farms is not the same as Island Timberlands, but, in fact, the two have a lot in common. Both are industrial-scale corporations run by off-island owners; both are fundamentally driven by profit considerations; and both justify their modes of operation on the basis of providing jobs. And if jobs are to be the criteria for supporting corporations on Cortes, why not open the door to all industries?

When Island Sea Farms created intolerable noise in front of her residence, and when there was a plan to place a large shellfish farm in front of her residence, she clamoured for Cortesians to “Save the Gorge” and, that failing, intended to bail out. Now that this situation has abated in front of her residence, the issues have suddenly become respect and conviviality with the corporate world. This is a fantasy universe populated by people of good will where profits are secondary. I submit that it is fatuous to invoke respect and good will to resolve this conflict when ISF has consistently displayed such poor corporate citizenship over the years—indeed like the vast majority of profit-driven corporations in the world that have ridden roughshod over public concerns, or done even worse.
Understanding is flawed, not the science
Comment by Brian Hayden on 6th October 2017
Dan seems to have misunderstood the arguments. It is the seafloor that is anaerobic, not the water column. It is the seafloor that is dead. There are also two types of harmful algal blooms: ones that create biotoxins and are therefore harmful to humans, and ones that deplete the water of oxygen and are therefore harmful to sea life. It is the latter that creates environmental problems. I would be interested to see any data that Dan may have on the incidence of oxygen depleting algal blooms for the region.
As for scientific credentials, I have a Ph.D. in the sciences and my data was based on refereed articles in established scientific journals which I can make available to anyone interested.
A Flaw in your Science
Comment by Dan on 28th September 2017
Shellfish can't survive in anaerobic conditions so if your Science was right the shellfish in the Gorge would have already died because of themselves.
Also if you look at HAB (harmful algael bloom ) research) to find the occurance of red tide on the Pacific coast you will find it occurs less in the Gorge than in most other areas. Why is that if the cause is aquaculture ?
Red tide causes the DFO to close areas to harvesting . If aquaculture causes the red tides then aquaculture companies would go bankrupt because red tides would mean they couldn't sell their shellfish and therefore go bankrupt.
Amanda has a background and education in ocean science and has been living her life on the water and has done much research. She has tried to mediate without being one sided.
What education or life experience do you have in ocean sciences ?
Your Science is faulty and your background and methods are combative disruptive.