Shellfish aquaculture plans revealed

  • Apr. 18, 2012 6:00 a.m.

By Alex Rinfret–The president of a shellfish aquaculture company that wants to build a large hatchery in Sandspit spoke about his plans at a public meeting Monday (April 16). In partnership with Old Massett Village Economic Development Corp and Skidegate’s Gwaalagaa Naay Corp, Daniel Rabu of Panasea is starting up an aquaculture business called Haida Seafood Products Ltd. that will produce scallops, geoduck and sea cucumber. Operations will take place in several locations around the islands, Mr. Rabu told the 30 or so residents attending the meeting, but Sandspit has been identified as the ideal location for a hatchery. The hatchery will be a $3.8 to $4.2-million operation that will employ eight to 14 people once it is up and running, Mr. Rabu said. He and his partner have 15 years of experience in the aquaculture business on Vancouver Island, and run a hatchery in Courtenay, he said. “You’re going to have a world-class, state of the art hatchery in your back yard,” he told the residents. “It’s the beginning of a great story.” Shellfish aquaculture is an environmentally sustainable business, and Haida Gwaii is proving to be one of the best places in the world to grow scallops and other shellfish, Old Massett economic development officer John Disney said. A pilot project in Kagan Bay has already produced fast-growing, high quality scallops that restaurants in Vancouver are buying for high prices. “We’ve probably got the most productive marine environment on the globe,” he said. “I’ve never found a restaurant that didn’t say these are the best scallops I’ve ever had in my life.” Mr. Disney said the shellfish aquaculture business has the potential to create a whole new economy and dozens of jobs on Haida Gwaii without harming the environment. But Sandspit residents had several concerns about the proposal. Some said they were suspicious because they have been hearing rumours about a shellfish farm coming to town but couldn’t find out any information. Mr. Rabu apologized, but said it was difficult to announce his intentions until he had formalized the partnership with Skidegate and Old Massett. Now that is in place, he said, the company will be transparent about its plans. Rumours about the operation involving pipes or tubes all over the beach are absolutely untrue, he added. That method is used in geoduck farms in Washington State but the company does not plan to do that here, he said. The hatchery will need one intake pipe that will be buried under the beach. “We’re in this for the long haul,” he said. “We intend to be, we want to be good neighbours.” Another resident wondered about why Mr. Rabu had bought property for the hatchery at 483 Alliford Bay Road and cleared it, but has not yet applied for rezoning so it can be used for a hatchery. “If it doesn’t go through, I guess you’re stuck with a cleared lot,” the man said. Mr. Rabu agreed that it’s possible the rezoning won’t be approved. He will be submitting his application to the regional district soon, and is hoping for community support for the rezoning. “That’s why we’re here with Nanaimo bars and coffee,” he said. There were also questions about exactly how many jobs will be created in Sandspit and whether local residents will have the opportunity to apply for them. Mr. Disney replied that jobs will go to the best qualified candidates and the company is hoping to hire as many islanders as possible. Sandspit resident Heather Brule said she noticed some negativity about the project coming from older people, while the young generation was more enthusiastic. She wondered whether older people had asked the same intensive questions of the forest industry 20 years ago, and whether they are afraid of new people moving into Sandspit, which has suffered a declining population for the past several years. “This is kind of a cool project and if they don’t do it here, they’ll do it somewhere else,” she said, to applause. The company must still jump over a couple of hurdles before it can start building the hatchery, Mr. Rabu said. First, the property has to be rezoned; the company also needs various permits and licences. He’s hoping to start building the hatchery this summer and be finished by this time next year. At that point, the hatchery could start producing seed. Geoduck aquaculture is a long process, he said: it takes up to eight years to grow harvest-sized geoducks. Scallops and sea cucumbers take less time. Mr. Rabu and Mr. Disney wrapped up the two and a half hour meeting by telling residents that they are available by phone or email to answer questions. “We look forward to a very long relationship,” Mr. Rabu said. “I will be here often, I am always available. Any further questions you think of after tonight, please give me a call.”

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