We spent the day touring Grand Manan with Allan Green, who has been a fisherman since he was a boy. Got his own boat when he was 17. The island is so incredibly beautiful! We saw wide sweeping ocean views, gorgeous little towns, and fish boats at every dock. “When I was a boy all you had to do was get up in the morning to get a job.”
While many fishermen are afraid to speak about the impact salmon farming has had on them, this was not the case with Allan. Allan has done work for the salmon farming industry and so he knows a lot about how it got started on his beautiful island home. Why am I not surprised to hear that the Norwegians were involved at the start up? A Norwegian chemical tanker corporation called Stolt, arrived in the mid 1990s and began buying up the family salmon farms that were failing to make money.
This was when Stolt came to British Columbia also and set up salmon feedlots around my home. I always wondered about a chemical tanker company getting leases to the BC coast.
There were rumors right at the start of ISA virus and Bacterial Kidney Disease (BKD). When the virus went epidemic, we heard that Stolt abandoned Grand Manan and Cooke Aquaculture began buying up the farms from Stolt.
As we looked out over ocean a feedlot was anchored off his island home, Al said, “one old guy used to always fish there, that was a prime lobster ground, but they don’t come there anymore.”
When the farms fallow, the people from that site lose their job. A fish farmer I met on the Grand Manan ferry said, “those fishermen could have a job on the farms, but they don’t want work, they just want to fish a few months and collect unemployment the rest of the year.”
We met a fisherman painting the floats on his traps a brilliant orange and heard a terrible story. “Two weeks into the season about 5 years ago the lobster were exceptionally high, I was getting 12 “counters” to a trap.” A “counter” is a legal-sized lobster. “On top of that there were a lot of “bobs,” the immature lobster they throw back. It takes 7 years for a lobster to grow to “counter” size.
“The fish farm well-boat showed up on that farm there,” pointing out past the harbor, “they was treating the farm for lice. Next day, when I pulled my traps half the lobster were curled up and stiff, their tails and claws were tucked in tight, if you pulled on them, they just snapped back into that position. Next day, I learned this was the stage just before they died because the next day all my traps were all empty. Never seen or heard of anything like that.” Although he had lost his season legally fishing for his livelihood, he said, “you can’t take my picture, things happen to people who speak up about what goes on near salmon farms.”
Well boats are used in New Brunswick to suck farm salmon into the hold, bath them in delousing drugs and pump them back out into the pens. The lice have become too drug resistant to be treated in any other way. Everyone knows the bath is then pumped out into the ocean. The fish farmers say the drug is used up and weak when released, but Environment Canada found an illegal drugs had been used that killed lobster. I don’t think this fisherman even thought to approach the industry for money to cover his losses. Too much fear. And the tons of fish farm food move across the island in trucks and out to the farms and poured into the water to pass through the farm fish and out to sea. Fish farmers never shovel their manure.
We heard that the tiny sea fleas, a small crustacean, used to crawl into the traps and eat all the bait were gone.
“Sand fleas used to empty the bait in 6 hours, now I can leave a trap for days and there ain’t nothing alive down there to eat the bait.”
“Another thing,” said Allan, “where have all the Eider ducks gone.” Looking out over yet another breath-taking view we scanned empty waves. “there ought to be rafts of them, you should be able to hear them.” All we see is gulls. I ask him if the Eider eat the growth off the farm equipment, he says, “yes they clean off the anchor lines and tag lines.”
I was invited to give a talk at the museum. When I arrived it was pitch black. No lights, no sign, the people we had talked to during the day had not heard about the talk. A few fishermen turned up, no one would introduce me, I just got up and told them what had happened in BC.
Afterwards I learned there were several fish farmers from the small companies there. They were understandably defensive, they said they had paid for studies and there were still lobster around their farms. But they only had a 100,000 fish. The farm I looked over in St Mary’s Bay had two million, the other sites around Grand Manan were also huge. No one from Cooke Aquaculture came to the meeting to present their side. If the industry had stayed small, the problems would never have become obvious.
Leaving the island and later crossing the Bay of Fundy on another ferry, I thought of the scope of DFO’s betrayal of the people of Canada. They have run one important fishery after the next into oblivion. They have robbed future generations. The towns face extinction and will grab onto anything they can even if it makes things worse. They told me they hope their children will leave the island, but Allan says “I don’t want to go to Alberta.” I cannot understand how we can let the government we continue this rampage, destroying the economics of every coastal village on both coasts.
He is right.