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Behind closed doors

New federal initiative will weaken aquaculture regulations, group fears

by Robert Devet

New regulations will allow fish feedlots to dump pesticides, drugs, fishfood and waste into local harbours without a license or environmental assessment, protesters fear. Photo Robert Devet
New regulations will allow fish feedlots to dump pesticides, drugs, fishfood and waste into local harbours without a license or environmental assessment, protesters fear. Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – Proposed changes in federal aquaculture pesticide regulations should be discussed in public, not behind closed doors.

That's the message about thirty angry residents of Nova Scotia's coastal communities delivered to federal Fisheries and Oceans bureaucrats who were meeting at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography yesterday.

"These new regulations may well allow a greater use of pesticides in open pen fish farms," Wendy Watson Smith told the Halifax Media Co-op. "In time this could have a negative impact on lobsters, which is a backbone industry in our communities."

Watson Smith is a member of Coastal Community Advocates and the President of the Association for the Preservation of the Eastern Shore.

The protesters are afraid that the proposed federal regulatory changes to the Fisheries Act will allow fish feedlots to dump pesticides, drugs, fishfood and waste into local harbours without a license or environmental assessment.

"It's a dirty industry, it pollutes and it doesn't create jobs," Watson Smith said. "We don't want to see our harbours turn into toilets."

The federal government and the province share jurisdiction when it comes to regulating open pen fish farms. How compliance with the various regulations is enforced is covered by a Memorandum of Understanding between the two jurisdictions.

"When it comes to putting pesticides in the marine environment the responsility lies with the feds," Karen Traversy, who traveled from Clam Bay to attend the rally, explained.

"My concern is that the federal government relies on the province to do the monitoring and enforcement. I don't have confidence that there are adequate resources to do that," Traversy said. "In the past the province has frequently decided to not do anything when non-compliance occurrred."

Here in Nova Scotia the so-called Doelle-Lahey panel recently released a draft report on aquaculture practices. The panel recommends more robust regulation of the industry, and a move away from the use of pesticides.

But whether those recommendations will ever become law remains to be seen, Watson Smith said. Her organization endorses the report's recommendations, but would have preferred a total ban of open pen finfish farms.

Among the protesters was Silver Donald Cameron, driving force behind of the green interview. He is also the writer and producer of Salmon Wars, a video documentary about the fight of Nova Scotia's coastal communities against the open pen salmon farms.

Cameron thinks that the federal pesticide regulations are another example of a fundamental problem that affects both levels of government.

"Both at the provincial and federal level the relevant departments are supposed to both regulate and promote the aquaculture industry," Cameron said  "The federal report sets out to weaken the regulations, to make it easier to use pesticides, and to pave the way for more irresponsibilty on the part of the industry."

"It's scandalous and deplorable that we have the two levels of regulatory agencies that are basically in the pocket of the industry," said Cameron.

And he doesn't believe the often-heard claim that open pen fish farms bring much needed jobs to rural Nova Scotia.

"I have come to think that any time a public figure talks about jobs there is a scam afoot, Cameron said. "Nobody ever looks at whether those jobs actually materialize, or at what kind of jobs they are, or at what jobs they are displacing."

"If you wind up knocking out half a dozen lobster boats in a small harbour like Port Mouton, in order to provide half a dozen terrible fish farm jobs, than what was that all about?"

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

 


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Topics: Environment
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