Ecological Importance of Baynes Sound and the Aquaculture Industry

Baynes Sound is ranked second only to the Fraser River Estuary for it’s ecological importance along BC’s west coast and “the most important wetland complex on Vancouver Island.” by two of the foremost conservation agencies, the Pacific Estuary Conservation Program (PECP) and the Pacific Coast Joint Venture (PCJV). It is internationally recognized as important for migratory water birds as well as providing habitat for at least 6 salmonid species (Jamieson et al. 2001 ).

Baynes Sound is a critical feeding and overwintering area for migratory birds and is internationally recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA)1. (Axys et al. 2000). Birds that occur within this region in numbers that are of global significance include; the Pacific Loon, the Western Grebe, Brant ( Branta bernicla ssp. nigricans), Black Turnstone (Arenaria melanocephala), Surf and White-winged Scoter, Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus), Mew Gull (Larus canus), Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) and Thayer’s Gull (Larus thayeri) (Booth 2001 ).”

Bendell (2010 ) notes “. . . . In addition to habitat loss from urbanization is direct loss of the foreshore due to intertidal shellfish aquaculture. Use of the foreshore exclusively for aquaculture purposes precludes the use of this region for ecologically important roles such as providing key habitat for spawning activities e.g., the Pacific sand lance (Ammodytes hexapterus), foraging by wildlife and as nurseries.”

Baynes Sound, Lambert Channel and Comox Bar are significant herring spawning areas. (Emmet, B. 2002, Activities and Potential Environmental Effects Associated With Shellfish Aquaculture in Baynes Sound: A Discussion Document)

There are 15 salmon bearing streams (14 on Vancouver Island, one on Denman Island) draining to Baynes Sound. Coho, chum and cutthroat trout are the most widely distributed species. The estuaries of Baynes Sound are considered significant rearing habitats for juvenile salmon, in particular chinook and chum salmon. (Emmet, B. 2002, Activities and Potential Environmental Effects Associated With Shellfish Aquaculture in Baynes Sound: A Discussion Document)

“None of these biophysical features are unique to Baynes Sound, however the combination of these features within the sound is regionally significant and an ecosystem approach to the environmental management of Baynes Sound should recognize this significance and attempt to manage human activities in a manner which sustains ecological function.” (Emmet, B. 2002, Activities and Potential Environmental Effects Associated With Shellfish Aquaculture in Baynes Sound: A Discussion Document)

1 An Important Bird Area (IBA) is a site providing essential habitat for one or more species of breeding or non-breeding birds. These sites may contain threatened species, endemic species, species representative of a biome, or highly exceptional concentrations of birds.

Aquaculture Industry in Baynes Sound

Map of Baynes Sound Tenures

Baynes Sound Produces 50% of all B.C. Shellfish

A major push to expand the shellfish industry began in 1998 when the government of British Columbia decided to double, by 2008, the amount of crown land foreshore and offshore allocated to shellfish farming. Since that time, with the support of the current government, many shellfish operations have ballooned into multi-acres of mechanized, industrial-scale, high density beach, raft, and longline operations that are having negative impacts on other economic interests, the environment, and residents.

The Islands Trust website under Marine Stewardship overviews the importance of the Islands Trust waters as “critical feeding, rearing & migratory habitat to a wide range of marine species” and identifies that “these waters are the most intensely used marine area in B.C. & the exceptional biological richness of this region is at risk from numerous pressures.”

Over 90 % of the coastline of Baynes Sound is under shellfish tenures and 50% of all shellfish produced in BC is cultivated in Baynes Sound. Both the intensity and harmful shellfish industry practices have negatively impacted the marine environment.

Click here for a  Research Bibliography on the impacts of the aquaculture industry in Baynes Sound.