Viewpoint: Harvesting shellfish in the Powell River area

Lately there has been a lot of talk about “Asians” harvesting or “poaching” shellfish in the Powell River area. As a park operator who interacts daily with recent immigrants, I need to weigh in on this issue.

In reality the vast majority of people from Asia have purchased fishing licences and harvest within legal limits. On one long weekend at Okeover, I watched the ranger check more than 50 people for licences and limits. Every single one of them was harvesting legally.

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While it is true that some very new immigrants from mainland China have been caught poaching, it is probable that language and adjusting to a new culture is a major factor. Unfortunately, however, the term “Asians” sweeps up Filipinos, Thai, Japanese and other ethnicities in its scope. This is both inaccurate and unfair, while exposing local ignorance.

Japanese oysters and Manila clams are introduced and invasive species. Why Fisheries and Oceans Canada puts a harvesting limit on them at all is a mystery to me.

The Desolation Sound region is teeming with Japanese oysters. They consume tonnes of plankton, and make the shoreline razor-sharp and dangerous. Save your concerns for native clam and oyster species that are being displaced.

We are missing a huge economic opportunity. Families from the Lower Mainland of all ethnicities come here to enjoy nature, and this includes consuming clams, oysters and other seafood. They spend thousands of dollars on hotels, restaurants, excursions, ferries, fuel, and of course, fishing licences.

Rather than whining and complaining we should be stocking beaches and encouraging harvesting. This could be “the place” for fresh and wild seafood. We could increase tourism in this area tenfold and draw people here year-round.

My concern is that racism and xenophobia (fear of other cultures) will kill any opportunity for this economic “pearl” to grow. Racism is a vestige of our colonialist past, and suggests we think “our” culture is better than "theirs."

First Nations people who have witnessed 150 years of environmental pillaging by settlers must be sickened by the hypocrisy. The reality is that removing a few thousand oysters a year (there are millions) will make no difference at all to the oyster population. However, the well-being of our community could be jeopardized if we let racism and xenophobia define it.

Let’s get over our fear of change and become a prosperous town that welcomes everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, age and gender.

Mike Robinson is a Lund resident.

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