By Richard Bell
The announcement in mid-September by the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs rejecting any limitation of indigenous fishing in Marine Protected Areas (MPA) has added another hurdle for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans proposal to create an MPA along the Eastern Shore. The Mi’Kmaq chiefs filed their objection in Ottawa with a federal hearing process designed to set national standards for MPAs.
Back on the Eastern Shore, opposition to an MPA continues to grow under the auspices of the newly-formed society, The Association of Eastern Shore Communities Practicing Environment and Historical Access (AESC-PEHA), which held a second well-attended meeting and is gathering hundreds of petition signatures calling for there to be no MPA at all.
But despite its opposition to the MPA, AESC-PEHA requested and received a seat on DFO’s Advisory Committee, which held its first meeting in late September with more than 30 people in attendance. The Cooperator requested the names of those attending. DFO said that for privacy reasons, it could not provide the names of individuals, but did provide a list of all of the organizations with seats on the committee.
The Eastern Shore Fisherman’s Protective Association, which has held more meetings with DFO than any other group, holds 7 seats. Dalhousie has 3 seats; there are seats for First Nations groups, HRM, the province, aquaculture companies, four environmental NGOs, the Chambers of Commerce in Musquodoboit Harbour and Sheet Harbour, the Wild Islands Tourism Advancement Partnership, the Nova Scotia Federation of Anglers and Hunters, the Association for the Preservation of the Eastern Shore, Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association, and AESC-PEHA.
At the first Advisory Committee meeting, DFO made a major concession, agreeing to advance its risk assessment work with regard to the lobster fishery. This change is a move towards getting the No Take issue off the table, assuming that the risk assessment finds that the lobster fishery will not pose a threat to realizing the MPA’s conservative goals. And DFO committed to improve the transparency of the consultation process with a dedicated webpage for sharing documents.
AESC-PEHA remains wary of any DFO pledge about No Take Zones. In an interview, AESC-PEHA’s Chris Jones explained the group’s distrust of any government promises under an MPA. Jones is a 38-year veteran of DFO, and has been involved with most of the major fisheries issues of the last four decades, starting as a young man with the creating the rules for Canada’s 200-mile zone.
“The problem is that once you have a regulation, then you can amend that regulation,” Jones said. “There are several ways you can make regulatory changes without going through any public consultation, and I’ve used them all in my day. You can claim that you need to do something quickly before something bad happens. Or you can claim that what you’re asking for is not really a big issue.”
“And then there’s the looming election rationale, that you’ve got to rush to get the change through before the government gets thrown out. In my experience, as long as you have the right rationale, you can usually change a regulation without any consulting.”
Jones questions what additional benefits more regulations would bring in an already highly regulated environment. “There’s enough governance already in play on the waters of the Eastern Shore,” he said. There are 14 federal acts that govern fisheries, each one of which can have up to hundreds of regulations. If you were to pile up the acts and the regulations, you’d have a heap 3 or 4 feet high. This coast is already one of the most protected coasts in the world.”
And regulations are only worth the enforcement backing them up. “It’s difficult for DFO to even monitor, much less enforce all the regulations that are already in play,” Jones said.