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Eastern Shore in ‘MPA Limbo’

Eastern Shore in ‘MPA Limbo’

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘limbo’ as “an uncertain situation that you cannot control and in which there is no progress or improvement”. This seems to describe the current situation in that part of the Eastern Shore identified by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) as an ‘Area of Interest” (AOI) for the establishment of an Eastern Shore Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Uncertainty quite naturally creates anxiety and fear if there are not clear and convincing answers to simple questions of critical importance. In the case of the potential Eastern Shore MPA, the main questions are, will the creation of an MPA negatively impact the area’s lucrative lobster fishery, property values, recreational fishing, the overall economy, and the ‘way of life’ of the area? The lack of clear, timely and authoritative answers to these and related questions have helped to spark what might be best described as a ‘negative reaction’ by concerned members of the community.

So how did we arrive at this situation? Suggestions range from plots by DFO, the United Nations, big business and environmentalists, to political machinations by the federal government and an distrust of government. I believe the actual answer is far simpler and more likely.

The Government of Canada, along with nearly 200 other countries, has signed an international commitment to increase the protection of each country’s coastal and ocean waters to 10% by 2020. This commitment was signed by the previous federal Conservative government and has been endorsed by the current Liberal government.

The question then becomes how should the federal government proceed? One way is to simply use the power of the national government to decide what should be done and just do it. After all, constitutionally, the Government of Canada has sole jurisdiction over the ocean waters of Canada, that is the waters above the mean low-tide line.

Another way to proceed, which I believe is happening in this case, is to directly engage the various stakeholders in a process of information sharing, identification of concerns, the provision of accurate answers and then, ideally, a consensus about what should happen.

With respect to the stakeholder consultation process now in progress it is hard to see how this could have been significantly improved. Between July 2017 and prior to the announcement of the (AOI) on March 22, 2018, there were more than twenty meetings with stakeholders groups, including five with the Eastern Shore Fisherman’s Protective Association. Following the announcement, a thirty-six member Advisory Committee (not including DFO members) was established that has very extensive community-organization representation, with each organization having one member, while the Eastern Shore Fisherman’s Protective Association has seven members. In addition, since the AOI announcement, approximately twenty additional meetings have been held, most with community groups.

Personally, I have yet to decide whether or not I favour an Eastern Shore Islands MPA. If the legitimate concerns of the lobster fishers are not satisfactorily addressed then I am opposed to the MPA. On the other hand, I believe we are at the start of a consultation process about an MPA that might have long-term benefits for the Eastern Shore as a whole for generations to come. This has yet to be determined, and, until these details are determined, I’m prepared to keep an open mind and make an informed decision at the end of the consultation process.

Gordon Hammond, Clam Harbour

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