‘Friends’ of bay taking aquaculture campaign to Province House in Halifax

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Members allege large farm has been approved

By Mark Roberts

Friends of Port Mouton Bay members are certain a federal Transport Canada environmental assessment has already been approved and are, therefore, bringing their campaign against a proposed 70-acre aquaculture farm to Province House today (Feb. 25) at 11 a.m.

Transport Canada stated in response to an inquiry the date of the decision would be the date of its release.

Friends are hosting a press conference in the form of a “Presentation Panel” to ”demonstrate the" (alleged) "unsuitability of Port Mouton Bay for fish farming." The headline in their press release reads "Fishermen predict disaster!" Immediate moratorium demanded."

Darlene Norman, who will be moderating the panel, said on Monday, Feb. 23, "We’re basically saying we’ve been quiet, we've been patiently doing our homework, we haven't shaken our fingers at the provincial government or the industry but it’s our understanding that the environmental assessment is, at this point in time, being written as a draft for approval as a site."

She said the source close to the process would remain anonymous. Friends is expecting a March release.

As a result, Norman said, members are obviously unhappy. "We've been gathering evidence and reasons why it should be denied but it's our opinion we're being overlooked, that the ultimate motive is to have large fish operations in southwestern Nova Scotia. And we've demonstrated Port Mouton Bay is not suitable for a large fish farm. We’ve been as nice as we can and now we’re going to say enough is enough. It is our hope someone, hopefully (federal Fisheries) Minister Gail Shea will look at that whole Environmental Assessment process and see the flaws in it."

The assessment officially started in 2002 although there appeared to be a delay that lasted until 2005. If approved, the Aqua Fish Farms Ltd. development would cover about 28 hectares or 70 acres. It would be the largest salmon site in Nova Scotia.

Friends of Port Mouton Bay have attracted a wide variety of people ranging from scientists to people from well-known environmental groups to fishermen, academics and area residents in general. In fact, anti-fish farm signs have sprung up all over Queens Co. and politicians at every level of government, including South Shore-St. Margaret's MP Gerald Keddy, a Conservative representative, have publicly stated their opposition to the proposal. The Region of Queens Municipality has passed a motion to that effect.

In the meantime, Friends of Port Mouton Bay has accessed its talent pool to conduct a variety of studies and tests ranging from lobster harvests surrounding the current smaller site to currents, debris (such as feces) dispersal coverage areas, and the Bay's flush rate, to name just three of many scientific examples. Divers have also studied the area on behalf of the group and members have, without any doubt, proven the vast majority of residents are opposed to the development. Friends has also alleged a big portion of the lobster fishery will be displaced.

Norman said, “They clearly had reasons to deny the application."

The company, on the other hand, states neither the current nor proposed fish farm is damaging or will damage the ecology of the area. A company spokesperson has also stated jobs and economic spin-offs (employees, trucking, purchases at local businesses) could be at risk for no logical reason and that the area is regularly tested for environmental degradation. The company has also stated it plans to use a fallow system.

The Presentation Panel will include Darlene Norman as Moderator, Dr. Ron Loucks, oceanographer, Ruth Smith, researcher, Captain Robert Swim, port representative, and Gloria Gilbert, environmental assessment researcher.

Norman said group members do not believe the provincial government will, or can, do anything to stop the development once it is federally approved. She said some of this is due to legal reasons.

In summation, she said the area's sizeable lobster fleet and the families that depend on it should not be hurt. "They’ve lived and worked in that bay for decades and all of that has apparently been overlooked."

In addition, she continued, the huge amount of scientific work should be considered in, at the very least, a stakeholders' forum. She says this would include the area's growing tourism industry, housing construction related to the area's beauty and recreational opportunities, and the area's protected national and provincial properties. "We really want our say and we deserve to be heard." She added she expects MP Keddy to start working on their behalf as well. "Fishfarming can be good if done in the right place but it can't be done in Port Mouton, which is a basin. Things simply won't be flushed out. And, once again, the big point is the fishermen have been using that exact area for decades and decades."

Organizations: Province House, Transport Canada, Aqua Fish Farms Queens Co. Region of Queens Municipality

Geographic location: Port Mouton Bay, Halifax, Nova Scotia South Shore

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