On October 11, I flew into the beautiful city of Halifax. At daybreak, Anissa Reed and I headed up the Eastern Shore. The leaves were red and orange, a soft wind blowing out to sea. We passed dozens of signs “STOP FISH FARMS,” “OPEN NET SALMON FARMS ARE NOT WELCOME!” Clearly there is a battle going on here.
After and hour and a half, we pulled into Murphy’s Campground near Sheet Harbour. Brian and Marilyn Murphy welcomed us with steaming coffee, warm cookies and muffins. We climbed down the wharf into the saucy little RYAN, a distinctly east coast wood boat.
His family used to fish lobsters, but for the last 50 years Brian takes people out to enjoy the wild beauty of the bay that he and Marilyn call home. Ecotourism is a big economic resource to this regions. The bay is shallow, only about 13 meters average depth and Brian explained how there is very little current to flush this bay. As he throttled back RYAN, Brian spoke over the wind, “and this is where they are planning to put the fish farm. There’s going to be 36 pens, 750,000 farm salmon.” The depth sounder read 35 feet, only 10 meters! Brian explained that during the winter storms the waste from this industrial feedlot would be smeared across the beaches of his home.
Tangier Lobsters nearby stands to lose their lobsters here when the salmon farms start using drugs to kill the sea lice. There is a lawsuit before the courts in New Brunswick for lobsters killed by drugs used on salmon farms to kill sea lice.
Snow Island and Loch Duart of Scotland have united to put 4 over-sized salmon feedlots in the area around Sheet Harbour. This region was once safe from salmon farms, but Loch Duart has developed a salmon that can survive the frigid waters of Nova Scotia. The town, the town council, the fishermen, nearly everyone seemed against their home waters being used to flush salmon feedlot waste. With a population of 2,000, each of the salmon farms would produce untreated waste equal to a town of 40,000! This community has a sustainable lobster industry that fuels the local economy. They cannot move their fishery off shore as other fishermen have done after the salmon feedlots moved in. The signs made it clear this community is not willing to give their way of life easily. They are standing ground.
Next we headed to the Sheet Harbour High School. The children looked worried. They asked what would happen to the lobsters. Two boys with T-shirts they had made, came and asked me what would happen to the local sea trout that they loved to fish. These were hard questions for me. The natural urge is to protect children from bad news. I could only tell them wild salmon and sea trout have gone into steep decline wherever there are salmon farms. It was clear they were part of this fight.
Bill ties world famous flies.
Bill showed us a stack of boxes a meter and half high containing documents collected and read since the beginning the year when this industry first began to threaten his way of life. Bill has risen to the challenge, doing things he never dreamed he would have to do becoming investigative reporter, spokesperson, defender of a place and a way of life he loves. We trained Bill to sample for the viruses that will be threatening the wild salmon and sea trout of his home.
We were joined by Marike Finaly and Karin Cope of APES, Association for Preservation of the Eastern Shore. Through the meal a disturbing tale of millions of government dollars given to the salmon farming industry in eastern Canada, an MLA that threatens to sue people who disagree with him. People feel betrayed by the NDP leadership in Nova Scotia, abandoned in favour of the salmon farming moguls. Deals offered to preserve one bay if people will shut up about the feedlots going into other bays. Huge private dollars went into liming the West River and 11,600 wild Atlantic salmon have returned, but the proposed salmon feedlots with profits shared by a Scottish company would be placed near the mouth of this river. No one felt the salmon of the West River would survive this.
At 7pm I gave a talk to over 100 people of Sheet Harbour. I told them about the denial and coverup exposed by the Cohen Commission. I told them how the federal and provincial governments and industry testified under oath that no exotic viruses have been brought into British Columbia by the salmon farming industry and how we are now tracking three European fish virus everyone denies are here.
Nova Scotia was a place of natural wealth; abundant cod, logging, deep-sea shipping ports, tourism and lobsters. But every generation is being forced to make do with less. Now the people of the eastern shore are expected to let go of their lobster fishery, tourism and way of life that includes clean water and gorgeous views in service to an industry that has sparked anger and regret around the world.