By Sean Fraser, Member of Parliament for Central Nova
Protecting nature should be a major priority for any government. However, it is important that any efforts to protect our environment are done in collaboration with local communities. The proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) along the Eastern Shore provides a perfect example of the need to listen to the voices of local residents who have been effective environmental stewards of the area for generations.
In my conversations with members of the community I have heard that there are real concerns around the potential impact of an MPA on the commercial lobster fishery, which is helping keep our rural communities alive. The inshore lobster fishery poses no risk to our natural environment and should not be impacted by any conservation measures. As such, if the MPA proposes further restrictions on the local lobster fishery, it will not have my support.
I have made it a priority to grow the lobster industry in Nova Scotia over the past three years. Our government has invested almost $16 Million to repair or replace nine Small Craft Harbours in the area I represent, many of which are along the Eastern Shore. These projects help create jobs in the short term and provide local fishermen with safe places to land their catch. We have contributed $18 Million to expand cold cargo storage facilities at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport so our seafood can reach global markets, and we have negotiated trade deals that have eliminated tariffs of up to 20% on our local seafood products. These measures have helped increase the price local fishermen receive for their product. We have also legislated protection for the inshore owner-operator model to ensure that large corporations don’t buy out licences and move the economic benefits of the fishery from rural communities to large urban financial centres.
Conservation measures should protect the ocean for the fishery, not from it. In fact, we can rely on the fishery to help inform our conservation efforts given their experience and unique insights. For many years now, our lobster fishermen have worked with DFO on several initiatives including V-notching egg-bearing female lobsters, measuring fish stocks, and preventing illegal poaching. No one knows the coastal waters better than the men and women who have fished them since time immemorial.
In addition to local fishermen, I have also heard from other residents that have serious interest in pursuing marine conservation on the Eastern Shore, because they see a need to protect the environment and believe that an MPA has the potential to enhance tourism initiatives that are well underway. Those who are interested in pursuing conservation measures have asked for clarity around the proposal to ensure their neighbours are not adversely affected.
Those who support conservation measures on the Eastern Shore have pointed out that it represents an opportunity to prevent activities such as open-pen salmon farming, oil and gas exploration, or other industrial activities that pose a detrimental risk to our marine environment. Not only would the prohibition of such activities ensure that the natural beauty and health of the local ecosystem remain intact, but would ensure that no irreparable damage comes to the fishing grounds of which so many families are dependent on.
As a local representative, I believe that both marine and land-based conservation measures are important to protect our local species and their habitat. I am not personally attached to any particular kind of conservation initiative, such as an MPA or other environmental conservations measures, but am hopeful the community will remain engaged in finding the right path forward for itself.
I see real value in conservation, but I do not believe it is appropriate to put any further restrictions on the local lobster fishery. Provided such restrictions are taken off the table, I believe it will provide an opportunity for the community to reset the conversation around what conservation measures are appropriate to protect the environment for the Eastern Shore. If the community remains interested in pursuing conservation that doesn’t negatively impact the local economy, I would be happy to work with them to implement the kind of measures they believe best suit their local needs.