By Richard Bell
Opponents of the federal government’s potential Marine Protected Area off the eastern end of the Eastern Shore were out in force at a meeting of at least 120 people packed in to the Tangier Fire Hall on July 24. Tempers were running high.
The meeting was called by APES (Association for the Preservation of the Eastern Shore), the organization that most recently was successful in a years-long fight to keep salmon fish farms out of Eastern Shore waters.
The meeting was about the Department of Fisheries and Oceans announcement earlier this year naming of the Eastern Shore as an Area of Internet (AOI) that the department might eventually designate as a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
The AOI runs from Clam Harbour to Liscomb, reaching out about 24km offshore. Under federal law, DFO has the power to impose “No Take” rules that would ban all fishing in some or all of an MPA.
Wendy Watson Smith, the president of APES, told the crowd at the outset that the meeting was not an APES meeting, but only a community information meeting hosted by APES, a subtle distinction that was lost on most attendees.
There were three formal presenters, including Tanya Koropatnick, a senior biologist with DFO. In the understatement of the night, Koropatnick said, “This is a super engaged community. I don’t know if we’ve ever had this much interest in an MPA process before.”
The crowd was impatient throughout the presentations. There were a few people who said the community should look on the consultation process as an opportunity for the area to come up with fresh ideas about the economy and keeping young people at home.
But the discussion was dominated by speakers expressing their profound distrust of efforts by the federal government at any kind of “public consultation.” There were repeated references to the infamous 1972 federal plan to seize the entire Eastern Shore by eminent domain and covert the whole area to a national park.
The refusal of DFO to say whether there would or wouldn’t be No Take zones until after the public consultation process was over was infuriating for many fishermen, since a No Take zone could destroy their livelihoods. Or as one man said in the most poignant statement of the evening, “I feel this is going to take my life away.”
In a phone interview several days after the meeting, Smith noted that APES experience with “public consultation” with the province had been negative. “There was a sense that even though there is supposed to be consultation, things are already predetermined,” Smith said. “With lease applications for finfish farms, there was one public meeting. We asked if this was it for meetings. They said no, but then there were no more meetings.”
As for APES continued involvement with the MPA issue, Smith said the organization needed to meet. “Our mandate is very narrow,” Smith said. “We need to either broaden it, or people need to create something new. In the last few years, APES hasn’t had any sort of big meetings because we haven’t had things to organize around, other than keeping vigilant. The questions at the meeting showed us that many people there didn’t know what APES was about.”