October 30, 2003



Canada's British Columbia Shellfish Industry Aims To Triple Revenues in 5-years Time


A new marketing push is boosting British Columbia's (B.C.) shellfish aquaculture industry in Canada with a five-year goal to triple revenues and create new jobs.


"The big danger in B.C. is if we do not move ahead quickly enough, we are going to be bypassed," says Blair Salter of Daystar Marketing, the company that has worked with the Vancouver Island Economic Developers Association on the project.


Chile and Alaska are poised to take advantage of any opening in the market. Washington state and Prince Edward Island already outstrip B.C.'s shellfish production and we have a chance to catch up, he said from Delta on Tuesday.


Environmentalists are speaking against expansion, saying more research is needed to understand whether the environment can handle a massive increase in production.


Shellfish farming has long been touted as a possible economic windfall for the Island.


In 1998, a consultant's report said it could blossom into a $100-million industry in B.C., provided the land base was doubled and production increased.


And a KPMG Consultant's study in 2001 for VIEDA analyzed marine industries' potential growth on Vancouver Island.


Aquaculture was among possibilities listed and Island communities decided to back shellfish farming because of its growth potential of tripling its revenues within five years, Salter said. Federal and provincial money, along with funds from 10 Vancouver Island communities, covers the $100,000 budget for this fiscal year for the New Marine Frontier Project, beginning six weeks ago.


Yesterday, Salter promoted the industry at the Aquaculture Association of Canada's annual meeting, which would last all the way till Saturday, at the Victoria Conference Centre, where an industry trade show is also being staged.


The marketing effort focuses on encouraging existing companies, with experience and technology, to move here and possibly partner with local interests.


Promotion work includes visits to seafood trade shows, advertising, preparing promotional literature and profiling communities.


Many of B.C.'s shellfish farms are on the Island's west coast and around Georgia Strait. Baynes Sound and Cortes Island are among areas of concentration.


B.C. has more than 480 shellfish tenures for mainly oysters and clams on more than 2,000 hectares. About 1,000 people work in the industry, which generates approximately $25 million in gross revenues annually.


Laurie MacBride, of the environmental group Georgia Strait Alliance, said we still do not know the carrying capacity of the environment and how it could be impacted by an increase in shellfish farming. "We are putting the cart before the horse."


She believes it is possible for the industry to be environmentally sustainable but calls for a slowdown to any expansion while more research is done.


Concerns include probable impacts on the intertidal zone where beach farming is carried out, worries that sea birds can get tangled in predator nets, and impacts of waste from oyster rafts in the water.


Some Island residents have complained about noise from equipment on beaches and lack of access to the waterfront, she said. "Our communities are a long way from consensus on this issue."


Leah Bendell-Young, a Simon Fraser University ecologist studying the shellfish industry, said this summer that early work indicates beach ecosystems can be disrupted. Native birds and mammals can lose access to their normal feeding grounds.