NANAIMO — A popular Nanaimo tourist destination was under siege by ecological thieves.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says roughly 700 pounds of illegally harvested shellfish were seized from Pipers Lagoon from June 13 to 17, when tides were especially low.
Elysha Gordon, the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program Coordinator with the DFO, told NanaimoNewsNOW the shellfish pose a serious health risk since they were taken from an area closed for red tide, which is a harmful algae bloom.
“It’s alarming and frustrating. Things like paralytic shellfish poisoning is not something you want to mess around with. It’s not something where you’ll have an upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. This…is something that could eventually cause death in extreme cases,” she said.
Gordon said many tourists were drawn to the area due to the low tides and might not have known to look for signs saying shellfish harvesting was prohibited in the area.
“However, when you start to see larger numbers being harvested like this, it’s not necessarily just tourists. These are people who are potentially used to harvesting commercially.”
In total, nearly 3,000 pounds of shellfish were illegally harvested from Nanaimo, Salt Spring Island, Thetis Island and Ruxton Island. Thousands of dollars were also issued in tickets for over-harvesting.
Gordan said DFO staff are out in full force patrolling off-limits areas.
Given the recent heatwave, she said farmers both professional and amateur should take extra precautions to make sure no one gets sick.
“It’s very important you harvest from an open area and make sure you’re harvesting at the waters’ edge, so the shellfish are still cool and not baking in the sun all day. And make sure you get them on ice right away.”
Anyone curious about harvesting shellfish can always check the DFO website to see which areas are open and ready.