Two weeks ago, returning from the press conference held by the Nova Scotia Coalition for Aquaculture on the Implementation of the Doelle-Lahey Report, I was struck by the absence of reporters from the South Shore. The people of Shelburne County need to hear from all stakeholders in aquaculture.
They should know that on Thursday Jan. 8, 400 people, and then some; from across the province attended the province-wide press conference in support of the final report of the Independent Aquaculture Regulatory Review. The crowd filled a banquet room to overflowing. And judging from the presence of the many environmental and coastal group advocates, along with the Ecology Action Centre spokesperson, Ray Plourde, the message to government is to legislate strict rules in the Wild West Show of finfish aquaculture so that we can protect the ecologically rich bays of Nova Scotia.
The Coast Guard has reported that Shelburne Municipal Warden Roger Taylor sent a letter to the Premier “urging the provincial government to get moving on new fish farming regulations so Cooke Aquaculture and other companies can continue expanding the industry in Nova Scotia,”
Cooke Aquaculture spokesperson Nell Halse stated that Cooke is “waiting on new fish farming regulations” without specific reference to the actual report by Doelle-Lahey Report, tabled in the Fall after extensive hearings throughout the province. Taylor and Halse speak of waiting on “regulations” as if these are merely standing in the way of progress towards the creation of jobs. Everyone agrees jobs are vital. More on that later.
I want to suggest that it’s worth having a time-out in the aquaculture business in order to get the regulations the industry needs. It was recognized by the previous provincial government that there had been complete policy failure in aquaculture in Nova Scotia. Good regulations will help to protect Shelburne County from having irreversible damage done to coastal communities. The Doelle-Lahey Report validated the legitimate concerns of already-affected communities around Shelburne Harbour and Jordan Bay. Cooke’s fallow open pens in Shelburne Harbour have left fecal and mineral elements behind them. Scientist Inka Milewski has held public meetings in Shelburne over the past year documenting the accumulation of chemicals left beneath fallowed feeding pens.
We have a viable and currently very profitable lobster industry in Shelburne County, and we need to protect it. There is a real need for carefully set regulations that will protect human and natural communities from harm and also a need to protect the health of all marine life in our harbours. Setting strict and legally binding regulations in place in this industry is a vital next step. Our harbours currently stand to attract new residents from other places who arrive seeking coastal beauty; these folks stand to enrich our communities, contributing in all sorts of ways, they will also buy groceries and newspapers, supporting electricians and contractors, and buy arts and crafts, and tickets for The Osprey. If the bays are polluted by illegal chemicals, if firm regulations are not set in place and rigorously enforced, then all residents will suffer and both tourists and new residents will stay away.
The issue of aquaculture has been a highly divisive one in Shelburne County. I was present at meetings when Cooke Aquaculture first came to town. Anxious to create jobs for coastal residents, the previous provincial government gave them $26 million in loans to start up, and a separate federal government agency paid for their sick fish. How many jobs have we in Shelburne County actually seen created so far? And how good are the (comparatively few) jobs that aquaculture has generated in this county so far? I remember being photographed at a meeting by a muscle man in black at a public meeting. A lot of money was at stake for a big company. I felt intimidated but I spoke out anyway.
It isn’t just Shelburne councillors and wardens who are affected by this industry. Roger Taylor, perhaps, needs to be reminded that this isn’t a one-sided issue: he is a community representative and as Warden doesn’t he have some responsibility to represent not only industry but also constituents who fear further pollution of coastal bays? Councillors, wardens, and this paper itself, all stand to represent residents, recognizing the interests of optimizing “low environmental impact and high economic value.” (called for in the Doelle-Lahey report)
In conclusion, I return to jobs. Why not call for a province-wide task force on job creation for those living in coastal communities? We need new ideas for how to move forward. We don’t need to be led by a big corporation a number of whom have already entered the field. Locating more fish feedlots in our bays is not the only route to prosperity. Many of us would welcome more support for small business enterprises of all kinds. Nova Scotians have always been known for ingenuity and creativity. If government truly wants to help coastal communities why not begin with a Task Force on creating and sustaining existing small businesses in Coastal Communities with an emphasis on keeping our young people here and helping them as they get started.
It is certainly true that people are anxious to apply for the work that both Aquaculture and government have promised. As a citizen and taxpayer of Shelburne County, I urge policy makers translating Doelle–Lahey’s recommendations to make strong and binding regulations and, in addition, to demand fairness and safety for those men and women they employ in the industry, in boats, and also as drivers, transporting farmed fish. If jobs are really the central reason people in Shelburne County are pushing for action on aquaculture, then lets be sure the jobs this perilous industry creates, do actually offer decent wages, hours, and job security. From what I’ve heard so far, the pay isn’t that good. I don’t want to see one more loonie spent assuring the fortune of a government-supported corporation and then leaving the people of the South Shore with few jobs and a polluted coast.
Laura McLauchlan has a Journalism degree from King’s College and interned with The Coast Guard” in 2001. She taught as a sessional Professor at the English Department of York University, Toronto from 2003-2010. And she currently lives in Little Harbour, with Raymond Rogers a former lobster fisherman.