The story of Port Mouton was even more disturbing than Sheet Harbour. We left Sheet Harbour early in the morning and drove down to Port Mouton through beautiful scenery of ocean, rivers and trees in fall foliage. We met Bob Swim, his wife Norma, Brian, Ron and Ruth Loucks and Gloria Gilbert and headed out on Bob and Norma’s boat Lydia Belle, named after his grandmother.
In the stiff offshore breeze and brilliant sunlight we headed out to the salmon feedlot. Spectacle Island, owned by Cook Aquaculture and now Ocean Trout. Strangely they are raising steelhead in this ocean pen. These Friends of Port Mouton have a long history of trying to protect their community from salmon farming. In exchange for removing this sign from locations around their town, Cooke Aquaculture agreed to fallow the farm for three years, but now it was stocked again.
The farm had the distinctive smell, and a sheen of oil smoothed the tops of the waves. As we sat in lee of the wind Bob explained.
“The farm went in in 1996, by 2000 we were noticing changes. Before the farm went in there were about 15 boats running 150 traps per boat, getting 7-10 lobsters per trap, per day. A few years later there were only 5 boats able to run 100 traps, getting 4-5 lobsters per trap. Twelve years later only one boat and skiff can make a living in the inner bay of Port Mouton, there just is not enough to go around anymore. Lobster fishing is good where there are no salmon farms.”
Gloria who has worked to stop this destruction every day since 2006 said, “There used to be an Irish Moss and muscle harvest here, but that stopped when the farm went in. During the three-year fallow these started to come back, the eel grass came back too, but now the farm is back and things are disappearing again. ”
Ron Loucks and Ruth Smith are scientists and without anyone paying them, they decided to measure the copper levels in the microlayer (the very surface of the water). The salmon feedlot nets are often soaked in copper paint to slow down the growth of seaweed and muscles and this toxin flakes off as the nets billow and flex. Ruth and Ron found the copper levels near the farm exceeded government guidelines for 27 months after the farm was emptied. It appeared the copper was being pushed to the surface by the gas being emitted by the waste on the seafloor. The levels exceeded the guidelines for lobster survival by 6-7 times. They wrote a paper on it.
Copper in the sediment and sea surface microlayer near a fallowed open-net fish farm.
This is important because after hatching lobsters swim on the surface for 6 months where the copper can kill them.
Gloria told us, “The premier-to-be, Darrell Dexter stood on the beach over there and criticized the Conservative Government about salmon farming saying The government of the day showed a lack of leadership by not listening to the community. Now that he is premier he supports the industry!” Then on June 20, 2012, Dexter’s government gave $25 million to Cooke Aquaculture to develop an even bigger industry.
Everyone on the boat shook their heads saying this gift to Cooke came at the same time as public services such as hospital beds and schools are being cut. No one could understand why.
They pointed to a piece of open water saying that is where the next farm is supposed to go, right in front of the white sand dunes of Carter Beach. Bob guided his boat back into the harbour and tied it up amongst the fleet of well-kept boats. Each boat representing a benefit to the local economy.
We came off the sea and warmed up with a bowl of corn chowder. The small gathering asked a familiar question, “How do you think we can stop this.” This is what people on both coast are asking. What do you do when politicians turn in circles? When nothing makes sense? When local people seem to no longer count?
Next we met Marian and Herschel Specter. Herschel is a retired engineer. They live on the edge of the Inner Shelbourne Harbour. The Specter’s took Belliveau, Minster of Fisheries and Aquaculture and he is Minister of Environment to Supreme Court because Cooke Aquaculture (Kelly Cove Salmon) were running farms that were not on their leases. In a one-day hearing, the judge ruled the Minister had the right to decide where the farms despite the lease boundaries. So while the company had leases, Belliveau could override the siting rules and permit the farm to exist outside the lease. Why have rules?
The Specters lost a large part of the their retirement funds as they look out at three salmon feedlot sites from their front porch. They continue to research the industry and found records that a salmon feedlot was exceeding sulfide limits on the seafloor up by to five times the recommended levels year after year.
Herschel said: “They appear to be complying, but they are just horsing around – you can’t fool me.”
Inka Milewski, an independent scientist, continues to track the sulfide levels in Shelbourne Harbour around these farms.
Herschel cannot understand why the government would allow this coast to be used as a dumping site for the salmon feedlot industry, when the 5,000 miles of Nova Scotia coastline have a far greater value as an incredibly lovely place to live. The industry is owned by an ambitious, wealthy New Brunswick family and the profits leave Nova Scotia. The salmon grown in Nova Scotia are trucked to New Brunswick for processing. Cooke promised Shelbourne over 300 jobs, in a processing plant by December 2015. But as several people pointed out if they built a processing plant that big, every bay on the coast of southwest Nova Scotia would have to be plugged with salmon farms to produce 3 million farm salmon/year!
Next we met Francis and Ricky and David Hallett commercial lobster fishermen, born and raised in Green Harbour.
In David’s cozy little home, woodstove so hot you could “melt an anchor” as Francis pointed out I heard the story of Ricky’s three year battle to protect his livelihood from the salmon farming industry. Ricky assisted the DFO biologists who came to the bay where he fishes to count the number of egg-bearing female lobsters. He was so interested in their work, they gave him a vial of the preserved larval lobsters. As he held this up he explained the outer Shelbourne Harbour is a nursery area for the lobsters. During their fishery, the fishermen release these females so as not to damage their fishery.
But now DFO was of the opinion that the bay was not important as a lobster reproduction area. Ricky was in disbelief. DFO has over 1,500 pages of fishermen’s log books recording the high number of egg-bearing females that come into the bay to drop their eggs.
They had made a decent living all their lives, but now Ricky felt so uncertain about his future as a fisherman that he was not replacing his old traps. His life was on hold as he fought to bring some sense to government’s pending decision to site salmon farms in a bay so shallow the depth under the pens, would be less than the depth of the nets!
In the schematic below you can see that the depth under this farm would be 3.7m. The depth of the nets holding the fish was 8m, the predator nets 9m.
“They are going to shit themselves an island,” said Ricky, “the waste is going to build up under that farm, until it’s dry land. Then they will be in closed-containment!”
David and Francis both nodded as Ricky described the winter storms. The farm was planned for water so shallow the 30’ waves that roar in from the open Atlantic will be cresting over the farm. Given the length of the farm, the ends will be up on top of two different waves, while the middle of the farm will be hitting bottom in the wave trough.
“Those fish will be smashed, that’s inhumane,” said Ricky in his strong local accent.
They described how the government pays compensation for fish lost, and how if the company does actually grow fish to harvest-size in that incredibly stressful environment, that the revenue and processing will go to New Brunswick, not Shelbourne county. The men clearly did not believe that a processing plant would be built locally, because the plant in New Brunswick was not operating at capacity. They felt it was being dangled as bait to lure their community into a bad deal.
“I have put my business on hold, being compromised by a multi-millionaire from New Brunswick, the fishermen take all the risk, it is not a fair game.”