Effort to save Mersey biodiversity centre fails

Nick Moase nmoase@theadvance.ca
Published on February 13, 2014

The fight to save the Mersey Biodiversity Centre in Milton is over.

The holding ponds used to raise salmon were filled in with gravel by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans earlier this month. The fish hatchery cannot run without them.

Before closing, The Mersey Biodiversity Centre was one of two federal fish hatcheries in the province involved in salmon and whitefish recovery efforts. The other is in Coldbrook, Nova Scotia, and is a smaller site.

This comes as a major disappointment to the Mersey Biodiversity Facility Supporters Society. The group had been trying since the beginning of 2013 to take over the site and operate it as a non-profit operation. The society was made up of groups with an interest in seeing the Atlantic salmon stocks return to their previous levels.

Mike Fralic, chair of the group, said this action ends efforts to save the site. Although he hadn't talked to the other members of the group as of press time, he did not believe there were any other actions they could take to save the facility.

"We would never be able to come up with the money to resurrect the facility with where they have taken it now," he says.

He also says it goes against what DFO has said publicly about working with community organizations.

"There was no need of it. They talk about partnering with volunteers, and here they had a facility that they were getting rid of (that volunteers were interested in running)."

Fralic says it would have cost less to partner up with them, since the group was offering to run it with grants and fundraising.

When asked by The Advance why attempts were not made to work with the group, Department of Fisheries and Oceans replied by email that it was Nova Scotia Power's option to lease the site. When asked the same question, Nova Scotia Power referred The Advance back to DFO.

Fralic received the same answer from both organizations.

In the end, he doesn't believe the society was dealt with in good faith by either DFO or Nova Scotia Power.

The group applied for licenses to operate the site in mid-2013, but was told their paperwork was incomplete. They applied again in December, but never received a response.

DFO decided in 2012 to close the facility, and was due to cuts in the budget. The land is owned by Nova Scotia Power, and will revert back to them once it has been decommissioned.

However Fralic says DFO could have explored a third option, which would have been just as viable in his opinion.

"It didn't say (DFO) had to destroy. It said they had to cut. It was their decision to destroy," he says.

The status of Atlantic Salmon is now under debate on whether to include it on the Endangered Species list. Though that decision isn't expected until later this year, the early indicators are it will receive status.

If it is, a facility that could have helped recover salmon stocks is now gone, says Fralic.