By Richard Bell
In a surprise visit to the Eastern Shore on Wednesday, May 8, Jonathan Wilkinson, the current Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, indicated that he was seriously considering a radical change in DFO’s entire approach to the hotly contested Eastern Shore Islands Marine Protected Area (ESI-MPA): co-management with communities. He noted several times during the course of the 90-minute meeting that the entire ESI-MPA proposal might never happen.
And in an interview after the meeting, Wilkinson said DFO might very well end up including fish farms on the list of industrial activities that would be banned in marine protected areas (MPAs).
More than one hundred people showed up at the East Ship Harbour Legion for the hastily scheduled meeting between Wilkinson and the ESI-MPA’s Advisory Group. Invitations went out so late that lobster fishers were already on the water when news of the meeting started crackling over the radio. In a demonstration of the intensity of concern, many fishers returned early in order to attend the meeting.
The Cooperator first raised the question of community-managed MPAs at a meeting of the Advisory Committee this winter, and followed up with an article in late February 2019 (“DFO Ottawa on Co-Managing MPAs”) about DFO’s experiences with negotiating with several indigenous groups to create community-managed MPAs consistent with existing treaties.
Wilkinson said that he was “absolutely more than open on a go-forward basis” to considering a community-managed MPA on the Eastern Shore. “Perhaps one way to think about greater certainty for the community is to think about a different kind of model of management, where we actually look at community-based involvement in the management an MPA on a go-forward basis, where the community itself is invested in all of the discussions about any changes going forward.”
In his opening remarks, Wilkinson said, “I want to emphasize that the marine protected area is a proposed marine protected area only at this time.”
Wilkinson came back to the possibility of DFO walking away from the proposal in his closing remarks, where he promised to come back after the end of the lobster season “to spend more time, and better time…. This is an if, not a when…We will need to engage in a conversation going forward about how, or if, we move this forward in a manner than can address many of the concerns that were raised here today.”
The addition of fish farms to the list of banned activities could make the MPA proposal more attractive. The giant Cooke Aquaculture wants to expand its operations in Liverpool Bay from 14 pens and 400,000 fish to 60 pens and 1.8 million fish. And in the nearby waters of Chedabucto Bay in Guysborough County, the Japanese-owned company Cermaq is considering spending hundreds of millions on enough pens to supply a large processing plant.
Wilkinson said that DFO was in the middle of what Wilkinson called “a science assessment…as to whether or not they [fish farms] would be consistent with being allowed in a marine protected area. We haven’t finished those, but I will tell you the emerging view is that finfish aquaculture would probably not. [Cooperator’s emphasis.]
Wilkinson pointed out that adding fish farms to the list of banned MPA activities could be considered a benefit. “If we come to the conclusion that it wouldn’t be allowed in a marine protected area, it’s one of the benefits for folks in this area, one way to prevent that fight from having to be re-fought.”
[For complete coverage of the MPA debate, check out the Cooperator's special MPA page, "Debating the Eastern Shore Islands Marine Protected Area," with all of the Cooperator's coverage, plus links to info from DFO, the province, NGOs, and community groups.]