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Gooseneck barnacles (Pollicipes polymerus), edible crustaceans found in intertidal zones along the Pacific coast, are now recommended as a sustainable seafood choice by the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise™ program. This science-based assessment, the first undertaken by Ocean Wise, evaluated the sustainability of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations gooseneck barnacle fishery in Clayoquot Sound, B.C.

This assessment is part of a new Ocean Wise initiative to focus on Canadian fisheries and to supplement the assessments conducted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, which form the basis of all Ocean Wise recommendations.

“This is a major milestone for Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. We have grown to more than 600 partners, including restaurants, retailers and seafood suppliers, across Canada. Conducting scientific assessments is an important addition to help us continue to grow this initiative,” said Dolf DeJong, vice-president of conservation and education at Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. “Small-scale, local operations such as the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations barnacle fishery can play a critical role in ensuring the sustainability of seafood we, and future generations, consume. We have seen in recent years that diners are increasingly open to consuming seafood found lower on the food chain. Gooseneck barnacles are a great example, and we anticipate these Ocean Wise crustaceans will appear on a growing number of restaurant menus across Canada.”

Gooseneck barnacles ocean wise

Harvesting barnacles sustainably. Photo Credit: Alex Gagne.

To make a recommendation for wild capture assessments, Ocean Wise uses four criteria: impacts of the fishery on the stock in question, impacts of the fishery on other species, effectiveness of management and impacts on habitat and ecosystem.

Ocean Wise evaluated the harvest sites in Clayoquot Sound within the T’aaq-wiihak Fishing Area, which consists of 48 designated harvest rocks where these filter-feeding crustaceans attach themselves. The quotas for fishing are set on a site-specific basis, and there are only four groups of two to three people that collected the barnacles.

“Barnacles have a high inherent vulnerability to fishing due to their immobility as well as their reproductive strategy, which typically requires individuals to be in close proximity to one another. Based on this knowledge, the harvest strategy is designed to prevent overfishing and stock depletion,” noted Laurenne Schiller, Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise research analyst who conducted the assessment. “They are all collected by hand and the tool used to pry adult barnacles from the rocks does not damage the site, while also allowing fishers to be highly selective so there is very little bycatch.”

In addition to harvest technique, the assessment also notes the current management plan is highly precautionary to ensure proper monitoring and long-term sustainability of the stock. Seventy per cent of the T’aaq-wiihak Fishing Area is located within BC Parks territory and is a no-fishing area, which helps preserve the multitude of natural terrestrial and marine ecosystems occurring along this coast.

Close-up of gooseneck banarcles as they are found in Tofino, B.C. Photo credit: Charlene Chiang.

Close-up of gooseneck banarcles as they are found in Tofino, B.C. Photo credit: Charlene Chiang.

Sustainability is especially important for the gooseneck barnacle population off Vancouver Island; a previous fishery existed in the region in the 1980s and 1990s, but was shut down in 1999 due to concerns of overcapacity and uncertainty around the impacts of fishing. This current limited-entry commercial gooseneck barnacle fishery re-opened in September 2013 and, through co-management by the Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, appears to have taken a proactive approach to ensure history does not repeat itself.

Keep an eye out for these crustaceans popping up on menus across the province in the coming months. Looking for an Ocean Wise restaurant near you? Visit our complete partner list online.

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