You are here

Eastern Shore MPA may keep fish farms at bay

by former HRM Councillor Jackie Barkhouse

I think about the proposed Eastern Shore Islands Marine Protected Area (ESI-MPA) from two very different sets of life experiences. On the one hand, I spent many years as a grassroots organizer, fighting those bottom-up fights. But I also was elected twice to the HRM City Council, where I got a top-down insider’s perspective on “how the sausage gets made.”

Having retired from my stint in the political arena back to the Eastern Shore where my deepest roots ever were, I want to share my perspectives on the MPA struggle. I have a grassroots understanding of why people are generally suspicious of government in all of its manifestations, from HRM to Ottawa. The communities along the Eastern Shore have far more concrete reasons than some for this distrust. There was the federal government’s infamous proposal in 1972 to seize hundreds of homes and businesses on the shore to create a new national park. But people got together and prevented the far-away bureaucrats from destroying this special place.

And when the provincial government was going to green light some big aquaculture companies to pollute our prime lobster fishing grounds with fish farms, the community again came together and forced the province to back away (notwithstanding the enthusiasm of both the NDP’s former Premier Darrell Dexter and the Liberal’s Premier Stephen McNeil to infect the entire coast with fish farms.)

After watching the Eastern Shore win these two David v Goliath contests, it’s easy for me to understand why people feel that we don’t need whatever additional protections a Marine Protected Area (MPA) might bring. The people of the Eastern Shore have faced big challenges in the past, and they’ve fought back and won.

But as a former insider, I’m worried about relying on the lessons of the past to deal with the challenges of a provincial government so totally in the pocket of an industry the province is supposed to be regulating. Down in Liverpool, Cooke Aquaculture is proposing to go from 14 pens with 400,000 fish to 60 pens with 1.8 million fish. And closer to home, the province has given a Japanese-owned company options to look at three areas for up to 20 fish farms at a cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including Chedabucto Bay in Guysborough County.

With that much money in play, and a completely supine provincial government doing nothing more than bleating that “Nova Scotia is open for business” for fish farms, we should think again about negotiating an MPA that could in fact offer more protection against fish farms, and any future insults that may arise.

On his untimely but not entirely unwelcome visit to East Ship Harbour recently, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Jonathan Wilkinson opened a door to negotiate such an agreement. Wilkinson admitted that DFO was sailing in uncharted waters with the proposed Eastern Shore Islands MPA. He said that he understood that without strong community support, DFO would not go ahead with the proposal. But then he said that he was open to changing the normal top-down approach to managing the ESI-MPA, the approach where DFO has absolute control. Instead, he said he was open to considering setting up some form of co-management, where DFO would share the responsibility for managing the MPA with representatives of the affected communities.

I see this co-management idea as a potential breakthrough. Why couldn’t we negotiate a long-term co-management agreement that would make it very difficult for any future government to do anything that the communities of the shore were unwilling to accept?

The federal government has an international treaty commitment to protect more of Canada’s coastline. MPAs are an important tool in meeting that commitment. The Eastern Shore has long been one of the more neglected areas of our country. Perhaps this is our opportunity to lead the country in developing MPAs the right way.

Copyright APES 2012 Website by Ionsign Online