Pioneering Sustainable Beneficial Change

Our company, Manatee Holdings Ltd. helped to pioneer the dive fisheries into place in British Columbia, Canada in the late ‘70’s. These dive fisheries specialize in using commercial divers to harvest gourmet foods from the sea, such as geoduck, urchin, and sea cucumber.

There is a scientific paper, soon to be in print, that examines 140 fisheries around the world that have either collapsed or are on the brink of doing so. One reason why this is happening to our fisheries is because it is not humanly possible to realistically determine the natural recruitment rate of each species being fished. The ocean is just too vast, complex, and dynamic to be that easily understood by mere human beings.

Instead of accepting this, however, the biological managers of each fishery tend to create methodologies for determining natural recruitment that are really nothing more than studies in jumping to conclusions based on insufficient information, then camouflaging that fact with self-serving, self-deluding, esoteric mathematics.

In 1988 we became concerned that the dive fisheries in B.C. were collapsing the natural stocks. So we decided to do something about it. We focused on creating solutions that did away with the necessity to “guesstimate” natural recruitment. And we also looked for ways to address natural problems causing excessive mortality.

Urchins, for example, tend to feed on the hold-fast (root) of seaweed. The rest of the weed then breaks free, never to return. The reef becomes barren, and the urchin dies. This compounds the damage being done to the natural urchin stocks by a fishery operating under an unsustainable management plan.

There’s a simple way around this: First, plant a series of poles along the reef. Then string a rope along the top of the poles, and plant into the rope the seed of the species of weed the urchins love to eat. If we allow the sea weed to grow down to the reef to be fed on by urchin seed we culture in the shellfish hatchery that we built, then our system of production becomes sustainable. We call this management model a “Feed Line Urchin Ranch.” These urchins will spawn back into the “Common Resource” before harvest, which will help to rebuild the wild fishery.

Often found just below the urchin reefs are geoduck clams growing in areas of sandy substrate. The wild geoduck fishery has mined out many of these natural geoduck beds. We are replanting these mined out beds back up to their natural densities with cultured geoduck seed grown in our hatchery. Unlike traditional land based food production systems that destroy the natural ecology of a forest in order to intensively culture plants and animals for profit, our geoduck and urchin production models fit into the surrounding natural ecology.

Then there are sea cucumbers, often referred to as “the earthworms of the sea.” Like earthworms, sea cucumbers feed on rotting organic material, helping to maintain a healthy ocean’s ecology. They also like to feed on the pseudofaeces produced by both urchins and geoducks.

A healthy adult sea cucumber can move faster than its natural predator, the sunstar, just as a healthy caribou can outrun a wolf. The problem is that juvenile sea cucumbers can’t outrun the star, and they get eaten by the millions. We have created nurseries for cultured sea cucumber seed that are made up of recycled bags of oyster shells placed on the bottom of the ocean where the sandy substrate meets the edge of the rocky reef. When the cucumber seed grows to a size where it has to leave the safety of our nursery refuge, they hide out under the weed growing down from our weed planted line along the top of the reef. They then get to feed, not only on the rotting bits of weed dropping down from their protective canopy, but also on the pseudofaeces of the urchins.

Once the sea cucumbers are large enough to venture out onto the sandy substrate they also get to feed on the pseudofaeces of the geoducks. Allowing the sea cucumbers to free range is our way of determining what the best density should be in each area that we develop. This approach also allows us to fit our sea cucumber production model into the natural ecology of the surrounding area.

There are other ways in which this production model is beneficial to the ocean’s ecology. If one assumes that global warming is taking place, that excessive human production of carbon dioxide is a major factor in that warming, and that the surface of the ocean is the largest membrane in the world for absorbing excessive carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, then one can see that this absorbed carbon dioxide is being precipitated out in a benign solid form as calcium carbonate in the shells of the geoduck and urchin with the process releasing oxygen back into the system. In short, these animals are acting as organic heat sinks, helping to offset global warming.

Geoducks feed on algae. Algae are being overproduced along many in shore areas because of excessive nutrient run off from the septic systems of human occupation. Aquaculturing millions of geoduck clams in these areas helps to bring the ocean’s algae production back into balance. Sea cucumbers, feeding on rotting organic matter produced from human overpopulation, help our oceans just as earthworms help our gardens.

All of this is why we say that, to the best of our knowledge, we are the most environmentally beneficial, organic, food production operation, on land or sea, anywhere in the world.

From a business standpoint, the profit potential is massive. Geoducks have gone from 25 cents a pound to over $20 a pound to the grower, and can sell for several hundred dollars apiece in the Far East. Shanghai alone could probably absorb the entire world’s production of geoduck and not see the price drop 10%. Yet our geoduck fishery here in B.C. has shrunk to less than a quarter of what it once was in 1988. Dried sea cucumber can sell for thousands of dollars a kilogram. It is expected that there will be a 30,000 tonne shortfall in world sea cucumber demand over the next five years. But our entire sea cucumber fishery here in B.C. produces less than 100 tonnes of finished product each year. Urchin Uni is highly prized in the sushi market as one of the finest tasting, most complete, and most easily digested proteins in the world. Seaweeds are becoming increasingly valuable in a multitude of ways.

Over the past twenty five years we have encountered great resistance from people unwilling to adapt to beneficial change. They have caused a massive amount of financial and ecological damage over the years. Certain individuals within government, for example, want to believe that their job of guesstimating natural recruitment is “scientific”. They see what we are doing as a threat to their future because our production model makes their role incidental to the governmental system rather than fundamental. Some environmental groups have become publicity junkies more interested in their next fix than in the truth. Some of the fishermen don’t want to believe that fishing is fast becoming obsolete; and, they want to maintain their monopolistic control over the food supply. All these, and others, want their old ways to continue. But, like so many facets of our modern economy, the status quo of our dive fisheries here in B.C. is simply not sustainable.

Our mandate is to be profitable ecological caretakers of the sea creating sustainable biological gold mines. We need like-minded individuals and organizations willing to help us, both politically and financially, to build upon the foundational groundwork that we have laid into place over the past twenty five years.

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