We drove from Shelbourne County to Freeport, including a short ride on the coolest ferry I have ever seen, the Petit Princess. Due to the huge tides, there on the edge of the Bay of Fundy, you drive down through the low tide zone onto a landing barge. During the winter Petit Princess runs only when a car shows up.
Many were part of the St. Mary’s Coastal Alliance and deep in a battle to protect their community from salmon feedlots. Despite their fight, several Cooke Aquaculture farms had been anchored in their waters right on top of prime lobster fishing grounds.
The two pen sets in St. Mary Bay holding a million farm salmon each are spaced only about 1,200m apart. I watched the 2 million farm salmon riding the Atlantic swells right in front of Sandy’s home. Sandy worked for years to build a home looking out to sea and now she is staring at two industrial feedlots.
Kathaleen has a farm so close she and her husband are looking right into the pens. She has posted videos on You Tube of the daily operations there.
I hear stories of how the people of Brier Island can’t open their windows due the farm salmon waste on the beach. The value of their homes have fallen.
St. Mary Bay lobster are the highest valued lobster in Canada. Merchants around the world specifically seek out these lobster due to their high protein content which means they survive shipping better than any others.
People like Karen Crocker and others submitted over 1,000 documents to the Environmental Assessment process for these farms and did not receive a single response from the government! “The Environmental Impact Assessment, report is an assessment of how the environment could impact the farms, not how the farms will impact the environment,” says Sandy who seems to know everything about the thick report.
When the fishermen of Freeport refused to give the salmon farmers a place at the dock, government threatened them saying if they didn’t give the fish farmers space, they would not fix the dock. The fishermen said they would fix the dock themselves.
“Feels like we are playing a game with a bunch of cheaters,” said one resident over our dinner - unbelievably delicious lobster chowder.
I was told about a study in West Bay. Before the salmon farms moved in DFO found 12 – 14 lobster per square meter, after one production cycle there were no lobsters. “No one will eat a lobster from West Bay.” They tell me Harper pulled funding for the Lobster Lab, so government research on the most lucrative local fishery has been shut down. I tell they are going to have to do it themselves. The wealth of first hand knowledge in the room is impressive. They know their fish.
While Cooke Aquaculture tries to appease residents by saying they will be using less than 1% of the bay, the fishermen point out that only 10% of the bay is fishable and so 1/10th of their fishing grounds will be lost, under salmon farms. This reminds me of what happened to my prawn fishermen neighbours back in Echo Bay. The farms sat down on some of their best fishing grounds in Sir Edmund Bay, Misty Pass, Burdwood, Simoom Sound etc….
“We pay $2,000 a year to fish lobster,” says Sheldon. “Government doesn’t reduce that cost as they take away the places we can fish.”
But they all know that the problem is not just the area under the farms. The problem pours out of the farms as their bay is used as a dump. Cooke never cleans up after their fish, they never shovel their manure.
“Lobsters are real fussy about spawning habitat,” says Frank. The lobster spawn on cobble bottom in sheltered bays – the same place the fish farmers are muscling their way into. DFO tells them the lobster will find another place. That may well be, but what about the community fishery?
We lost the cod, scallops, herring and now DFO is killing our Lobster. “The Environmental Assessment never even mentioned Lobster landings for Digby County,” says Sandy. They tell me that Cooke Aquaculture is now taking the bulk of the herring to make into farm salmon food and “we are getting the scraps.”
The guys tell me every community that has a salmon farm wants to get rid of it. I hear the New Brunswick fishermen were too scared to tell everyone what happened to them. The families that could afford it went offshore.
The local First Nation’s worked to restore the Bear River salmon. For 4 years they limed the river and cleared out old dams and debris. The salmon liked what they did and began returning! Success! Then the next year a whole lot of salmon appeared, but they “did not look right.” DFO came to the village and told residents they were escaped farm salmon and that they should not eat them, but some had already been eaten. The hungry farm salmon bred to eat, attacked and ate the young wild salmon restored to the river. Thirteen chiefs of Nova Scotia signed a statement opposing Cooke Aquaculture sites in St. Mary Bay due to impact on the wild Atlantic salmon of the Inner Bay of Fundy. But similar to the First Nations in BC, they have been ignored there are fewer than 300 wild salmon left.
In closing I want to say Nova Scotia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The wide open Atlantic, the beautiful homes and gardens, the rivers and trees in fall foliage are absolutely lovely. The people have fire in their eyes. They are deeply attached to their communities and the communities are banding together. Everyone knows the people we talked to in the last community. Nova Scotia is an incredible part of Canada.