Cortes Island Coastal Plan – Shellfish Aquaculture

Cortes Island Coastal Plan for Shellfish Aquaculture (July 2003) – Gorge Harbour

Unit 5 Gorge Harbour

Marine Area 364 ha Shoreline 16 km

Substrate Mud Slope Sloping

Exposure Moderate Depth Photic

Current Low Benthic Summer Temp Warm

Roughness Low

Description: Gorge Harbour is a large enclosed harbour with a narrow entrance (the Gorge) and is the smallest planning unit within the Plan Area. The harbour’s south side is characterized by bedrock and sand & gravel beaches and the north side by sand or sand & gravel beaches. The harbour proper has a generally muddy seabed, limited water depths (less than 35m) and elevated summer water temperatures due to restricted water exchange. The area is recognized for its high biological productivity and values, intensive commercial, recreational and private uses and ideal biophysical conditions for shellfish culture. The upland surrounding the Harbour is well developed with permanent residences, cottages and summer homes, particularly along the northern and north eastern shores. There has also been some residential development along the southern shore just east of the Gorge entrance. Much of the land immediately surrounding Gorge Harbour is privately owned with a mixture of private and Crown land away from the immediate vicinity of the Harbour.

· The distinguishing features of Gorge Harbour are low wave exposures that proyide all-weather protection, and the narrow bedrock entrance (the Gorge) where currents can exceed 4 knots.
· Nearshore Habitats: mix of beach and protected inlet habitats
· Shellfish deepwater capability: oyster and scallops Good or Moderate throughout
· Shellfish beach capability: Good in various bays
· Salmonid streams (3 reported, two of which are local knowledge)
· Sea run cutthroat trout (local knowledge)
· High bird values (local knowledge)
· Area of High Marine Biodiversity: (1) The Gorge
· Area designated as a No Discharge Zone under Pleasure Craft Sewage Discharge Regulations
· Entrance to the Gorge and Gorge Harbour are areas of high visual quality
· Area of use by migratory birds (local knowledge)
· Important habitat for many juvenile fish species (local knowledge)
· Marina provides the only marine fuel supply for Cortes as well as amenities to boaters and general public.
Current Uses and Activities:
· Shellfish aquaculture tenures (15 beach culture sites occupying 16.44 ha and 7 off-bottom sites occupying 13.25 ha.(two of the off-bottom tenures contain small beach culture areas)
· This unit supports the largest cumulative area (about 13 ha.) covered by off-bottom culture tenures compared to the next most developed area, planning unit 6, which has 3.13 ha tenured for off-bottom culture. This compares to a total of 20 to 24 ha. of off-bottom tenure for the whole Plan Area and reflects the desirability and capability of Gorge Harbour to the industry for off­bottom culture purposes.
· There are currently 321 rafts present.
· Private Moorage (8)
· Light industrial (2)
· Log handling site (1)
· Marina (1)
· Campsites (1) Private at Gorge Harbour Marina
· Safe anchorage areas throughout Gorge Harbour
· Major transportation route for commercial, local and tourist vessels.
· A seaplane flight path has been identified in the south east portion of the Harbour (local knowledge).
· Primary recreation area (local knowledge)
· Unit lies within traditional territories of Klahoose, Sliammon, and Homalco First Nations.
Issues and Concerns:
· The BC Shellfish Growers Association would like the Province to give Gorge Harbour a priority as a shellfish aquaculture development area and recognize the industry there as environmentally sustainable.
· Upland residents state that existing operations cause noise, visual and smell disturbance from shellfish aquaculture farm equipment, and should be reduced.
· Some Island residents want no further industry expansion, whereas others are prepared to accept some limited expansion of existing operations provided they do not involve use of machinery and provided the facilities are locally owned and operated.
· A biological carrying capacity study conducted by scientists from Washington State and involving a MAFF scientist in 2002 indicates that, from a purely biological perspective, the area could support an additional 1151 rafts without impacting plankton production in the Harbour (i.e. reducing plankton production in the Harbour to levels equivalent to those outside the Harbour). Some Island residents have incorrectly interpreted the 1151 as a Plan target. This is a biological carrying capacity estimate made independently of this planning process.
· Residents have expressed concern that the carrying capacity study did not include measurements of dissolved oxygen, sediment redox potential and sedimentation and would like to see some additional attention placed on those parameters. (Note: Independently from this Planning process, Malaspina University College, Center for Shellfish Research, has received funding from the BC Aquaculture Research and Development Council to conduct research on shellfish culture and particulate matter production and cycling. One of the study sites will be in Gorge Harbour and will include redox and dissolved oxygen studies for one year until the summer of 2004).
· Some residents have indicated that there is a legal flight path, not indicated on the planning unit map, for float planes in Gorge Harbour south of Tan Island, which could be potentially impacted by new aquaculture development. However, there is no federal or provincial record of this as a legally sanctioned right of way or tenure, although there is no prohibition of such use in the area.
· Three resident shellfish growers have expressed interest in tenure expansion and one operator wishes to increase the number of rafts within the existing tenure. Two of the resident growers indicated that they have been held back from expanding for several years and this has represented a financial cost.
· Klahoose First Nation is interested in two new off-bottom sites in the Harbour, one in the southeast portion and one in the southwest portion.
· One non-First Nation group has expressed interest in one new off-bottom site in the Harbour.
· The Gorge Harbour Marina Resort, which is the major tourism operator in the Harbour, does not want further shellfish expansion on the concern that visual and noise impacts will increase which in turn will reduce tourism and related economic activity for the resort and the Island.
· A number of tenure holders have been operating out of compliance with their tenure and zoning requirements. Residents have for some time been advocating that provincial agencies and the Regional District should immediately address this issue along with noise visual and smell disturbance associated with one or two existing operations.
· Provincial and local government agencies are aware of widespread industry non-compliance in Gorge Harbour with tenure, Management Plan or zoning requirements, based on a number of provincial inspections, the most recent in July 2003, as well as an aerial photography and mapping exercise in 2001. An investigation by WLAP concerning one operation was also commenced in the spring 2003, but separate from the planning process. The agencies, including the Regional District, have been awaiting completion of the Plan before addressing these issues directly on the understanding that the Plan will provide guidance on appropriate areas for shellfish aquaculture. Unauthorized uses that are not consistent with the Plan will be managed by the appropriate agency. A number of property owners on the Gorge Harbour upland have expressed dissatisfaction at this approach.
· Upland residents oppose new off-bottom culture development in the south east portion of Gorge Harbour south of Tan Island. This includes the seaplane flight path.
· RDCS requested support for development of a sewage pump-out station. Some residents oppose this request, stating a station is not practicable, but advocate one for Squirrel Cove instead.
· Beaches available for expansion of beach culture are limited in this unit.
· Residents report litter accumulation on the beach at the west end of the harbour. Routine beach clean-ups organized by some shellfish growers have been successful.
· Area residents and some members of the advisory committee do not want any expansion or new development to interfere with safe anchorages which they indicate exist throughout the Harbour ..
· RDCS and the Friends of Cortes Island indicate that Gorge Harbour has high marine biodiversity and is a designated marine sensitive area ..
· A number of residents indicated that some existing docks are not depicted on tJ:1e planning unit maps. Only legally tenured private wharves and/or dock locations are depicted on the planning unit map as “PM” (for “Private Moorage”). Non legal private moorage owners risk enforcement action from L WBC if they do not apply for tenure.
· Some residents have expressed concern that there is a cumulative effect of shellfish aquaculture operations together on the Gorge Harbour ecosystem. Provincial agencies are currently discussing ways to conduct a comprehensive review of all the tenure applications for Gorge Harbour together.
Use Recommendations for Shellfish aquaculture (based on acceptability):
Tenure Recommendations
/ Shellfish Beach Aquaculture
0 Shellfish Off-bottom Aquaculture
/ Shellfish Sub-tidal Aquaculture
/ Acceptable. The use is considered acceptable and appropriate. Applications for this use should
be accepted for processing and evaluation. Acceptance of an application does not guarantee that
a tenure will be approved.
0 Conditionally Acceptable. The use is considered conditionally acceptable. New applications for
this use should be accepted for processing and evaluation only if they meet the terms of relevant
Management Conditions in the Plan.
X Not Acceptable. The use is considered inappropriate. Applications for this use should not be
accepted for processing and evaluation.
Management Conditions:
· Applications for expansion of existing or new off-bottom tenure are conditional on provision of measures that meet the enforceable provisions in the Provincial Code of Practice for Shellfish Aquaculture to minimize visual, noise and smell disturbance.
· The total number of rafts for existing off-bottom operations in Gorge Harbour (including expansions resulting from this Plan) is capped at 467 for all existing tenures combined. This means that applications could be accepted for an additional 146 new rafts within existing tenures or through expansions of existing tenures. These 146 rafts would be in addition to the 321 rafts already in the Harbour. The area of each tenure will reflect the individual requirement for rafts and anchoring systems, as well as related facilities.

· Only one application should be accepted for a new First Nations off-bottom aquaculture tenure in the area of interest noted on the planning unit map (near mouth of large bay on south side of the Harbour, immediately west of the Gorge). This is one of the areas of interest indicated by the Klahoose First Nation.

· The total number of rafts for the new First Nations off-bottom operation in Gorge Harbour is capped at 90 rafts. The area of tenure will reflect the individual requirement for rafts and anchoring systems, as well as related facilities.

· The total number of existing and allowable new rafts in the Harbour (including 146 for expansions and 90 for one new tenure) is capped at 557.

Management Guidelines:

· Further placement of rafts at existing operations, whether on existing tenures or on expanded tenures should only occur after completion of provincial agency inspection and enforcement actions which satisfactorily address Crown land tenure non-compliance (i.e. unauthorized occupation of Crown foreshore) and Management Plan inconsistencies related to existing operations in the Harbour.

· Placement of rafts on the new off-bottom tenure should only occur after completion of provincial agency inspection and enforcement actions which satisfactorily address Crown land tenure non­compliance (i.e. unauthorized occupation of Crown foreshore) and Management Plan inconsistencies related to existing operations in the Harbour.

· Each tenure in the Gorge should be allowed a single barge from which growers can conduct their operations.

· LWBC should fairly determine how many out of the 146 available rafts to allocate for each expansion proponent.

· LWBC should provide one time window for existing operators to apply for tenure expansion.

· LWBC should consider the Klahoose First Nation as a priority applicant for development of the one new off-bottom site.

· LWBC should hold a public meeting on Cortes Island to review applications for proposed expansion and one new tenure.

· New tenures for sub-tidal culture should be located to minimize interference with wild sub-tidal shellfish fisheries.

· New tenures should avoid interference with navigation.

· New tenures should not impede access to safe anchorage.

· Information on locations of heritage and traditional resource use sites provided by First Nations will be considered in the review of any tenure applications.

· Beach culture operators should avoid stream channeling that could result in habitat impacts and federal Fisheries Act violations.

· Beach culture operators should avoid vehicular use of intertidal areas and manage operations where necessary to avoid negative impacts on beach spawning finfish such as sand lance and smelt. See section 5.1 for information on sand lance and smelt spawning impacts.

· Tenure operators should undertake measures to avoid negative impacts of predator netting where the results of ecological studies or monitoring of predator netting effects in Baynes Sound, Barkley Sound and Malaspina Inlet area demonstrate unacceptable impacts.

Reader comments

I am not in favour of increasing shell fish farming in Gorge Harbour. This is one of the best (most protected) anchorages in the area. When the weather gets stormy, boaters need protection from the wind and especially the waves. The marina is often full. As exerpted from the Plan, new tenures should not impeded safe navigation and new tenures should not impede access to safe anchorages. The expansion of shell fish farming in Gorge Harbour will impede access to safe anchorages!! There must be “other locations” where shell farming can occur where the impact on many other activities will be far less.
Posted by Tom Easterbrook on Feb 27 2010

Gorge Harbor/Cortes Island are part of our family’s annual spring/summer cruises through the islands north of Georgia Strait. Every year Gorge Harbor anchorage is more crowded, the marina usually sold out, with float planes and dinghies a constant buzz of activity. But it’s also one of my destinations during the fall and winter seasons when I can tear a few days out of my schedule to sneak in a quick cruise, and I’m never surprised to find even in the off seasons Gorge Harbor has a dozen or more boats on the hook, most of them clustered in the west end. I may be only a recreational user of the harbor, but it’s clear to me the region is an important tourism center. It is written up as a destination in every West Coast cruising magazine and guide. The restaurant at the Gorge Harbor Marina Resort has waiting lines and weekends are reservation-only; more popular than any eatery in nearby Campbell River. The artist communities on the island are thriving on the trade, and property values are more relevant to Vancouver than Vancouver Island in dollars per square foot. Industrial shellfish farming will not produce as much revenue as the tourism and real estate industries already do, Look at the bigger picture and it’s clear there should be no increase in shellfish, and probably it should be curtailed to increase the pace of tourism development.

Comments are closed.