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Aquaculture views clash at fish meeting

Gulf Islands Driftwood, Tuesday, May 27, 2003

By Gail Sjuberg

Opinions flowed both ways when government employees who deal with aquaculture operations met Salt Spring residents at an Islands Trust-organized meeting Friday. Most people's questions centred on the environmental impacts of the Walker’s Hook Road hatchery, which the representatives felt were no cause for worry.

Several Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) personnel and Lloyd Erickson from the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection (MWLAP), said they believed Sablefin Hatcheries Ltd.'s proposal for dealing with effluent and the injection well system of pulling in marine water and sending it back into the ground was environmentally sound. Erickson, and MAFF regional aquaculture coordinator Andrew Morgan, explained the effluent would be tripled-screened through a 37-micron screen to remove "very small particles" on its way into a drum, then into a settling pond and a septic system that will be pumped out.

As for the sea water being used, Erickson said, "Marine water is taken out of the ground, some very tiny fish swim through it and then the water is pumped back into what we'd call a marine aquifer . . . What is in the water that is going to cause an impact?"

But some people remained unconvinced that the system would be 100 per cent benign, especially since no environmental assessment will be done. One member of the public jumped on Lloyd Erickson's statement that if the system works as it should then "we have a reasonable expectation . . . that there will be no [environmental] damage. "A reasonable expectation to me sounds very, very weak," the man responded. Erickson also explained that Sablefin will receive his department's approval to operate for 15 months, with commitments to meet certain standards. If those are met, a two-to-five-year waste management permit will be issued.

Water monitoring will be done by Sablefin and MWLAP will not be monitoring the marine receiving environment or the well water. Depending on what results the company provides, some MWLAP auditing could occur, said Erickson. To counteract skepticism about the injection well system, Erickson said a professional hydrologist must confirm in advance that it will work.

Resident Julia Hengstler said having a company hydrologist certify the system did not offer a safeguard for the community and she suggested a third-party hydrologist should be used.

Morgan said if an aquaculture operation is out of compliance with its waste management permit, then its MAFF licence, which is issued annually, may not be renewed.

Hengstler was also concerned about residues of antibiotics or fungicides making their way to the Walker Hook beach via the injection wells.

Salmon enhancement biologist Kathy Reimer also felt the plan poses some environmental threat. "The amount of water they have flowing through their tanks, there is absolutely no way of screening diseases out of the water and they could be released into the wild from the tanks," she told the Driftwood Monday.

Chris Acheson also criticized the well system, and the lack of environmental assessment that takes place before permission is granted for its use. "It's a cheap way of getting rid of your water," he told the Driftwood, and suggested a proper outfall should be constructed instead.

Rather than pollution being diluted as Erickson suggested, Acheson said a professional opinion he received from Michael Holloran claimed any pollution would be pushed back into the Walker Hook beach area. Acheson also pointed out how the Department of Fisheries of Oceans conditions for approval stated that no wastewater must enter the marine environment.

Walker Hook area resident Donna Martin said she disagreed with the operation being sited in an environmentally sensitive and archaeologically significant area. Six First Nations skeletons have been recovered from the site where pipes have been laid for the well system, the meeting heard. A government permit to disturb the registered archaeological site was granted. "We don't want industrial aquaculture on our island," Martin said. "It puts an industrial complex on the property."

Morgan maintained the hatchery building was small, at 23 by 46 metres, and that all activities and nose would be contained within that building. He also defended aquaculture, which he observed people regard "as a bastard child of fisheries." The previous provincial government allowed on-land aquaculture, he noted, and while "it doesn't look like wheat waving in the wind, it's still about food production." Morgan was also asked to articulate how the project benefitted the community. He said employment would be created for 14 individuals and had already been seen through construction, "and a fairly cutting-edge, interesting technology is being developed here on Salt Spring."

Area resident Frank Moore showed visible frustration at the bureaucrats' pro-hatchery positions. "You guys are justifying why this should happen," he said. He also wondered why, when the application across their desk, no one in government said, "Why don't you do this somewhere else? People didn't come here for the factories."

Morgan said he wished residents could view the site to personally judge the hatchery's impact.

Trustee Kimberly Lineger, who moderated the meeting, said future siting conflicts will hopefully be addressed through a protocol agreement for the entire Islands Trust area that will be negotiated with the province.   

                                                                                                                                               

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