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‘Large’ aquaponics operation proposed for ALR land in Central Saanich

District of Central Saanich says it plays no role in approving uses of ALR land
A provincial government document indicates that these two large outdoor tanks are part of a proposed aquaponics operation on Wallace Drive in Central Saanich. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

A level of mystery continues to surround two large outdoor tanks off Wallace Road near Stelly’s Secondary School in Central Saanich.

A spokesperson for Pacific Aquaponics, the company said to be behind the tanks at 7210 Wallace Dr., declined comment when Black Press Media visited the site recently, but promised additional information at a later date, possibly by year’s end.

A document from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries obtained by a resident details elements of the proposed operation. The 8.6-hectare lot, which lies entirely within the Agricultural Land Reserve, is the subject of plans for development of a “large aquaponics operation” that would include greenhouses 0.8 hectares in size.

ALR rules permit the construction, maintenance and operation of an aquaculture facility on land under regulations “that may not be prohibited by local government,” the document reads.

Many local residents are said to have expressed concern to the ministry with the development, resulting in what the document calls “dozens of calls (or) emails” to District of Central Saanich and the submission of two compliance and enforcement violation report forms to the Agricultural Land Commission.

According to the document, following a July 29 site visit, the commission’s compliance and enforcement staff found the property owner has not contravened the Agricultural Land Commission Act and Regulations.

RELATED: B.C. scientists look at climate change impacts on aquaculture production

A District of Central Saanich spokesperson said in a statement the municipality’s role on ALR land relates only to building permits, not land use approval. “The District oversees building permit applications and construction information from the property owner,” it reads.

Since this is agricultural land, the commission dictates permitted farm uses on ALR land. “Farming practices must meet provincial standards,” it reads. “To date, the (municipality) has issued permits for water storage tanks, a grain silo, and a demolition permit for one of the barn structures, and has not received any other permit applications from the owner to review.”

Broadly speaking, aquaponics combines the cultivation of fish and plants in a recirculating environment, according to the background material from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a specialized agency of the United Nation. The phrase itself combines two words — aquaculture, the growing of fish in a closed environment — and hydroponics, the growing of plants usually in a soil-less environment.

According to the FAO’s background information, this method relies on fish waste as an organic nutrient solution to grow vegetables.

“In a system, water flows from the fish tank into a biofilter where bacteria break down the fish waste into an organic nutrient solution for the growing vegetables,” it reads. “The plants then absorb the nutrients from the water which essentially cleans it before being re-circulated back into the fish tanks.”

According to the FAO, aquaponics systems can provide healthy foods including fish, herbs and vegetables with high yields using minimal water in contributing to food and nutrition security. They can also be successful commercial ventures, appropriate to developing as well as developed countries, it reads.

The proposed aquaponics operation also involves a federal dimension because the aquaculture component of the project would require a license.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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