By Gina Forsyth
At one point in his life, Jason Saunders, site manager of both Bell Island and Duncan Island near Port Hardy, believed his future was headed towards post-secondary education to become a conservation officer. He took a detour, deciding to work first, and since 1997, aquaculture has been his career with nothing but positive results.
For the native of Newfoundland’s Little Catalina, “word got around town that aquaculture in BC was worth a try for work so I left one coast for the other and came west to Port Hardy. I applied for site work with Omega (Salmon Group) and also for the processing plant on the same day. I had my choice and went to the sites because I wanted to be on the water,” said Jason.
Jason was introduced to aquaculture in the Quatsino region, where he worked on the grading crew and then transferred to the Port Hardy region’s grading crew. Soon after, he started at the Hardy Bay site, eventually settling at Bell Island in 2005/2006. Two years later, Jason began managing both Bell Island and Doyle Island, which closed last fall. However, plans are underway for him to return to managing dual sites.
“We’re rebuilding Duncan Island from scratch and transitioning from steel to circular cages. There isn’t crew quarters right now but come May, work will begin. The site will be stocked by late summer,” Jason explained.
Although Bell and Duncan Island are just 20 minutes by boat from Port Hardy and 10 minutes from each other in Goletas Channel, they experience severe currents and sustained winds, often topping out at 14 knots. “You better love the water,” Jason said, because the winds are predominantly south-east and with the wide open water and big waves, intense conditions are never a surprise.
In fact, two former commercial lobster vessels are currently being converted to heavy duty feed barges to service both sites. “Five metre or larger waves aren’t unusual for either site and combined with the powerful currents, regular barges are simply unable to safely deliver feed,” said Jason, adding that it’s not unusual for conditions to be so unsafe that even venturing onto the pen systems isn’t possible.
Jason credits his reliable and proficient staff in ensuring his management duties are successfully shared between sites. He supervises 8-11 staff, depending on time of year.
Along with his two kids, a 10 year old son and a 7 year old daughter, Jason revels in the outdoor life the North Island provides, particularly camping. “We don’t have to go very far to find great spots and where we go is where we end up,” adding that he loves showing his kids nature up close and personal. Both Jason’s kids are keen hockey players and also participate in judo.
As for Jason, he loves how ‘free range’ Port Hardy is – there’s something for everyone in the wide open space. And for Jason, this means hunting, quadding, golf and hockey.