Construction is nearing completion at a massive land-based shellfish hatchery and research facility near Saltery Bay on the Sunshine Coast.
The 34,000-square-metre facility is the first phase of a planned $40-million build-out south of Powell River that is expected to create 30 to 50 local jobs. Hummingbird Cove Lifestyles is a subsidiary of Linghai Shenziting Sea Cucumber Hatchery in China’s Liaoning province.
Although construction was delayed by several months due to a lengthy government licensing process and an ongoing legal conflict with a local building contractor, the facility is set to open in February, according to Dan Dyble, a business consultant and spokesman for the firm’s owners.
“Without the approvals in place, we had to slow down construction, but we are quite close to completion now,” Dyble said. “It took longer than expected, but we are moving forward nicely.”
Hummingbird Cove is licensed to produce 23 species of seafood, including urchins, geoduck, sea cucumbers, scallops, oysters, clams and mussels, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The firm intends to harvest wild scallops to use as brood stock to produce scallop spat (larvae) for their own use and for sale to other local aquaculture operations.
“There is a huge hole in the local spat market,” Dyble said. “Why are [local] growers bringing in spat from New Zealand?”
Owners Xi Ping Ding and Zhiyi Chen plan to add a second facility to grow and export mature shellfish by September 2020.
Once the second phase of investment is completed, Hummingbird Cove will be among the largest shellfish hatchery and farming operations in North America when operating at full capacity, according to the company website.
Ding and Chen have opened an office under the name Pacific Aquaculture International in Powell River to manage the company’s international interests, but the firm has been flagged as “not in good standing” after failing to file a mandatory annual report, according to B.C. Registry Services.
Fresh seawater drawn in to the facility and returned to the ocean is not degraded or altered, the owners say.
The facility’s DFO permits allow installation of two new intake pipes and allows the hatchery effluent to be discharged into Jervis Inlet, subject to review and approval of the utility tenure by the provincial Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
“DFO recommended mitigation measures during construction of the intake pipes, including an on-site qualified environmental monitor to supervise the intake pipe site preparation and installation, to assess for any species of concern, and to apply mitigation measures to ensure the protection of fish,” the department said in an email. “The proponent has agreed to these measures.”
Pacific Aquaculture has no plans to raise finfish on the site and has consulted with affected First Nations from the project’s inception.
“We were initially worried about waste going into the ocean, but that will be filtered,” said Clint Williams, elected chief of the Tla’amin First Nation.
“We have concerns about net-pen [salmon] farms, but this is a dry-land facility and we are eager to see that it is as green as they say it is.”
Members of the Tla’amin community worked on facility construction over the past two summers and Williams is optimistic that the second phase of the project will result in permanent jobs for his people.
Hummingbird has faced legal hitches during construction, one of which is yet to be resolved.
According to documents filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia, a $3-million lawsuit filed against Ding and Chen by Richmond businessman Morris Chen for unpaid loans was resolved on Nov. 30.
A $118,289 builder’s lien filed by Dick’s Lumber for building materials was resolved July 26.
However, another suit was filed this year by contractor Creative Property Developments, the firm brought in to assemble prefabricated buildings on the site. Work stopped after a conflict arose about the suitability of the foundations, according to documents filed with the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
Creative is seeking $157,000 for work completed, extra work requested by the defendants and loss of profits.
Hummingbird filed a counter claim against Creative in the amount of $464,000 for failing to complete the work as agreed.
Work resumed on the site after a third party engineer verified the suitability of the foundations, according to Dyble.
“I’ve never worked on a large construction project that doesn’t have setbacks,” he said. “When you look at the magnitude of what we are trying to do compared with what already existed before in Canada, that’s normal.”