41. Sea Farm
Sunrise, approaching Trial Island, near Victoria, B.C.
Report on Sea Farm, Saturday, March 12, 2022
Yesterday we finally got off to see the farm location. This had been the cumulation of numerous phone calls, texts, and emails to the participants: Chrissy Chen, Fisheries Manager for Tsawout, Jodi Rooke, boat skipper, Richard Underwood, Fisheries technician, Sergio Pacione, early member of the farm proposal, Peter Pare and Lisa Baile, both members of the Penderpods ocean conservation group. I don’t have a lot of experience writing and relaying messages back and forth. The organizing gene has been hibernating. Chrissy’s the boss and she set the original departure for a couple of days earlier, but I had called Jodi, the skipper, that morning after looking at the marine weather and asked, considering the strong northeasteries, whether the trip was on. She decided to postpone until Friday. Good call.
I arrived at dock C in Tsehum Marina dressed for a rough, open boat crossing: paddling jacket, rain pants. I was greeted by Chrissy and Richard, with Jodi at the wheel of an immaculate, large, aluminum landing craft with inside seating for 10 and twin 300 hp outboards out back. Just three weeks old, custom made for the Tsawout by Silver Streak in Sooke. I quickly shed all my rain gear. My first introduction to Jodi: Bright, lively, quick to smile. So young, I thought, not much past girl stage. I’m too old to know these things, as she mentioned she has a 6-year-old son who can already steer his own little skiff. Jodi’s dad lives on Brethour Island, one of the small, off the grid islands just northeast of Sidney. Her husband owns a shrimp boat, her uncle a salmon boat and she has been piloting boats on these waters for years. She also knows a lot of its history. As we were passing Poets Cove I mentioned to Chrissy, who is new to these parts, that the hotel had been built on an old indigenous burial site. Bad karma. Jodi had lots to add. She said that before contact the Cowichan tribe came and attacked the local inhabitants and killed so many the bay was soaked red with blood. The passage became known as blood passage.
We picked up Richard, Lisa and Peter at Port Browning Marina and then rounded Razor Point and followed my GPS coordinates to the site. It was a bit windy, and Chrissy did ask about the exposure. I mentioned to her and the others that, yes, there will be times when it will be too rough to access the farm with a small skiff, but the lines themselves will be at least 2 meters underwater and mostly unaffected. We’ll put down heavy anchors on the rocky bottom to hold everything in place. Chrissy liked the location and said, “let’s do this!” On the way back she told me about growing up in Prince Rupert. She has Tsimshian and Chinese heritage. Her grandfather was not allowed in to stores, couldn’t vote, was an outcast. She carries that with her and yet has a wonderful, easy-going manner, a beautiful smile and is quick to offer hugs. Runs a tight ship, though.
Chrissy Chen: Fisheries Manager of Tsawout First Nation
Pender Island Sea Harvest Brochure
January 9, 2023
I first stumbled on to Greenwave about 6 years ago (see chapter 6). Bren Smith, a Newfie, after fishing commercially in the Bering Sea and other places, and working in fin fish aquaculture, had become dismayed at the damage the whole system was doing to the fisheries and the ocean environment. He pioneered raising shellfish in suspended baskets together with seaweed hanging from long lines anchored underwater. Seaweed purifies the water, absorbs excess nitrogen, and provides oxygen to the shellfish which acts as a buffer against excess acidification. Shellfish clean the surrounding water- up to 5 gallons a day for oysters. The system is called regenerative ocean farming and it struck me that it was fully in sync with Indigenous stewardship principles.
Sometimes an idea has to sit in the mind for awhile to slowly develop and expand until it becomes too hard to ignore. In my case I got busy with kayak parts and herring rejuvenation and my wife went through the dark tunnel of cancer treatment during the pandemic, eventually coming through to the light. Years passed. The climate crisis has become even more obvious and pressing, and fisheries everywhere are collapsing.
Jim, salivating over herring roe
I read something by a famous philosopher whose name I’ve forgotten: “It’s too late to just write about the environment; do something about it!” And I was reminded by my wife of a quote by a special person with a great sense of humour: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” (Dalai Lama XIV). Although Jim Shortreed and I have failed so far in our endeavors to entice herring back to our Victoria waters (see Chapter 8), we’ve met some very knowledgeable people. Although it was my idea, based on what folks were doing in Vancouver, it is Jim who has become a powerful champion of herring rights. He’s pestered DFO officials about their own studies that show that herring decline has been caused almost entirely by overfishing. Yet they continue to approve fishing the one small population left on our coast. Politics over science. That part is extremely frustrating, but I have taken solace in that my initial idea has been taken up by a small group that is striving to protect the last healthy population. “Perhaps”, I thought, “I really could start the ball rolling on a sea farm before I lapse into my dotage. And what have I got to lose?”
From Bren Smith’s book I learned a few basics about his farm method. I searched online for an appropriate area for the farm: cool or cold, clear water, no shipping, not a whale route, accessible by boat, no docks onshore, few people to bother. After drawing up the basic farm plan on paper I enlisted a geographer friend to configure it in the required digital format.
In November 2021 Jim and I visited Chrissy, Fisheries Manage of Tsawout First Nation, whose traditional territory includes the four Southern gulf Islands: Pender, Mayne, Galiano and Saturna. We were two strangers walking into her office pitching proposals that could affect her entire community. Jim proposed hanging our herring panels off Tsawout beaches and I showed her the farm plans. She was surprisingly friendly and saw potential. The Tsawout and the CRC group on the Gulf Islands, who’ve taken up the project, will have to work together in partnership. There will be lots to figure out, including finances, who does what, when, how to get paid, etc. Problems will inevitably arise. The only way through is to be totally transparent. Trust must be earned.
At first some of the people on Pender Island were skeptical of my proposal. Like, who is this guy and what does he really want? What about property rights, whale entanglement, plastic waste? Many good questions, answered often. It takes time for new ideas to slink into consciousness and then to be accepted by a group. But, Penderites are generally an environmentally informed group and a few key members of the Southern Gulf Islands Community Resource Centre (CRC) have embraced the farm plan.
Ed Andrusiak lives on Mayne Island and is the Chair of the CRC. He operated his own consulting company for thirteen years planning educational programs and infrastructure for parks, museums, and visitor centres. In his role as Manager of Metro Vancouver Regional Parks he managed annual $25 million operational and $5 million capital budgets.
Peter Pare is a retired Professor Emeritus and medical scientist who directed the division of Respiratory Medicine and Department of Medicine at UBC.
Melody Pender (great name for the job) is the executive director of the CRC, has twenty years of managerial experience, and all its diverse programs work through her.
Successful managers sometimes state that their secret sauce is to surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are. This is the case here, although I am the initiator. We have no lines in the water, nothing is growing, and we have a long way to go. But I am increasingly hopeful.
Sea lions at Trial Island
January 30, 2023
During these past few years, I’ve been paddling in the early mornings almost every other day while I’m in Victoria unless the strong winds and seas on our exposed coast shut me down. I roll my kayak on a cart through the graveyard to the little bay I launch from. During the past few weeks there has been a raft of sea lions packed close together while sleeping on their backs with flippers thrust up into the air, just offshore the islands I like to paddle around. Always they were in the water, not hauled up on the rocks like the hundreds of seals that litter the shore. Just floating around and barking occasionally; what were they waiting for? About two weeks ago their activity levels suddenly spiked and they started spiralling out of the water like dolphins. What were they getting so excited about? Then, about a week ago a bunch of big bulls hauled themselves awkwardly up onto the rocks and started barking, growling, and bellowing. Yes, it’s that time of year. It’s exciting for me to visit them so close to town, although I keep my distance. When I return, I am often greeted by two sea eagles that perch on a tree above the bay. We are blessed here at the southern end of Vancouver Island with strong tidal currents running to six knots that bring lots of nutrients to support all of these fish, birds, pinnipeds, and the occasional orcas that hunt them.
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