Shellfish producers caught off-guard by harvest ban

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BY CHRIS HAYES

Transcontinental Media/The Cape Breton Post

SYDNEY — The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada caught some Cape Breton mussel and oyster producers by surprise Monday, Aug. 31 with a harvesting ban on those shellfish, as well as clams and quahogs, throughout the Maritimes.

Darrell MacLeod, of Cape North Mussels, who harvests up to 1,500 pounds a week of cultivated mussels in Aspy Bay for sale to restaurants and stores in Victoria County, said he heard about the ban in a telephone call and e-mail early Monday evening. “I wish we would have got a little more heads up on it,” MacLeod said. “I mean, it must have been in the works, but it was on the radio before I heard about it.”

MacLeod hopes for a quick end to the ban.

Cape North Mussels also sells spat from which mussels are raised to Cape Breton’s largest producers, the partnership of Bounty Bay Shellfish and 5M Aqua Farms Ltd., which is located in St. Anns Bay.

The ban extends to coastal waters in all of Nova Scotia and P.E.I., southwestern New Brunswick and the lower gulf shore of New Brunswick.

Environment Canada recommended the harvesting ban to DFO Monday morning.

The recommendation was based on concerns about heavy rainfall over the past two weekends due to Hurricane Bill and tropical storm Danny.

Chris Roberts, regional head of marine water quality for Environment Canada, said after many years of research and routine monitoring, the federal department has a lot of information about whether shellfish areas are susceptible to coliform bacteria or other contaminants after heavy rain. “When you get really heavy rainfall like this, you can have sewage treatment plants and collection systems that will overfow, you get high rainfall coming off of agricultural areas, you get storm water discharge from urban areas, you get a whole host of contaminants,” he said.

Environment Canada is sampling areas this week and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has started testing the shellfish, he added. “Based on those results, towards the end of the week, we should be able to make a decision as to when the area can be reopened.”

Biologist Robin Stuart, who works as a consultant for Bounty Bay Shellfish and 5M Aqua Farms Ltd. and sits on provincial aquaculture boards, said they don’t usually harvest many of the mussels until the fall and he is hopeful the ban will be over by then. “I’d say tops, two weeks,” said Stuart. “It usually takes about 48 hours for the coliform to vacate from the animal after they are exposed to clean water again. It’s a relatively short period of time. “And right now, the forecast is good from a rain perspective.”

He said he hopes to see the ban lifted by the end of the week.

Stuart wasn’t aware of any commercial clam or quahog producers in Cape Breton, although he noted local residents dig for all of the shellfish affected by the ban for their own use in different areas. “The ban would certainly be on that as well.”

Oyster grower Bill MacLean, of Alba Oyster Farms in the Bras d’Or Lake near Orangedale, was frustrated by the way the harvesting ban was handled, saying he didn’t hear about it until Tuesday morning. “I have a shipment of oysters that was to go out today and I didn’t have any prior notice,” he said. “Apparently they closed it yesterday but I didn’t know about it. I wasn’t informed about it, so now I have a cooler full of oysters that I can’t ship.” The oysters can be returned to the water until the ban is lifted but there will be some die-off, he said. “The worst part about that is it’s going to hurt my buyers more than it hurt me because they are depending on those. That’s their next week sales.”

The oyster industry in Cape Breton has been hit hard in recent years by Malepeque disease and MSX disease, he said. “There may be 100 leases but there is only maybe four or five people that are doing anything with them. The industry has just got to the point where between regulation and disease and stuff like that, a lot of people are just giving up on it.”

Fisheries and Oceans said the ban notification was issued in the usual manner between 12 noon and 12:30 p.m. Monday. “We advise by e-mail all the shellfish producers, the shellfish processors, provinces, the municipalities — everyone involved with the shellfish industry gets notification as soon as it is enacted,” said spokesman David Jennings.

Jennings said anyone who is working in the field may not see the e-mail until they get home.

Organizations: Environment Canada, Aqua Farms, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada Canadian Food Inspection Agency Alba Oyster Farms

Geographic location: Cape Breton, SYDNEY, New Brunswick Aspy Bay Victoria County Anns Bay Nova Scotia Orangedale

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