The shellfish industry is getting some help to deal with plastic pollution because of some recently announced federal government money.
The BC Shellfish Growers Association (BCSGA), headquartered in Comox, will oversee money this year and next to help businesses in the industry remove old baskets, ropes and other material left over from fish farming operations.
“We applied early this year, and we were lucky enough to receive $350,000,” said BCSGA executive director Jim Russell.
The association will receive $150,000 this year and $200,000 next year. The money is part of an $8.3-million announcement from the Fishers and Oceans Canada (DFO) for 26 projects or groups to clean up “ghost” fishing gear from the water.
“Fighting plastic pollution a priority for our government. We can’t have a healthy ocean or a strong blue economy if our waters are severely polluted by plastic. The overwhelming interest in the Ghost Gear Fund demonstrates that Canadians share this priority and want to be a part of the solution,” Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Bernadette Jordan said in a July 8 news release.
Currently, there are 226 shellfish farms in the province using “suspending culture” or floating techniques out of about 500 total. Over years, even decades, a lot of equipment has been lost to the seabed where it can have a detrimental effect on fish and their habitat.
Businesses can now apply to the association for funds to help with the clean-up of debris underneath farms, said Russell. The money is coming at a good time when some of the businesses could use some help to conduct clean-up work. The program will cover 50 per cent of the costs for work.
“In the course of decades, some equipment has broken away and fallen to the bottom, mostly plastic trays,” he said. “It’s ultimately the shellfish farmer’s responsibility to make sure that materials and recovered and disposed of properly.”
All shellfish operations are eligible, but Russell expects this funding will primarily affect the oyster business, including ones in this area.
“They’re the most likely candidates because they use a lot of trays,” he said. “Baynes Sound is certainly going to be a priority.”
Other areas likely include the Gulf Islands and the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
DFO and the Province have regulations about operating sites in a safer and sanitary manner, but the industry has faced leaner times of late, Russell said, so the funding will help the businesses immediately.
“It should help speed clean-up,” he added.
According to DFO, more than 8 million metric tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year around the world.