By Richard Bell
Opponents of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans proposal to creation of an Eastern Shore Islands Marine Protected Area have gained serious momentum over the last month, raising doubt over how DFO will gain the necessary level of community support that all MPAs are supposed to have. (See the Cooperator's MPA information webpage for complete coverage of the MPA issue.)
According to David Butler, one of the organizers with the Association of Eastern Shore Communities Protecting Environment and Historical Access (AESC-PEHA), the organization has already given out more than 300 yard signs opposing the MPA, and 36 big signs like the one in the accompanying photo.
In the world of social media, lobster fisherman Stephen Richardson posted a petition on Change.org on October 17 asking people to “reject an MPA in its entirety if there is a ‘NO TAKE ZONE’ and reserve the right to further reject the proposed MPA if our concerns are not addressed satisfactorily.” The petition had more than 1,150 signatures on October 25.
And on October 23, the Eastern Shore Fisherman’s Protective Association, after maintaining a position of open-mindedness and participating in meetings with DFO over the last two years, officially notified DFO that it opposes the creation of an MPA unless DFO starts the entire process over again.
DFO’s proposal is foundering because of residents’ concerns about the uncertainty of the outcomes of its “process.” As a general rule, at least some part, if not all, of an MPA is designated as a “No Take Zone” in which no commercial fishing is allowed. In areas where overfishing has been a problem, such No Take Zones create a safe haven that in theory allows fishing stocks to recover.
However, Nova Scotia lobster fishers have been engaged for decades in developing rules and regulations to prevent overfishing lobsters, starting with the province’s rotating lobster seasons.
But instead of accepting the success of the industry’s management of what almost everyone agrees is a low-impact fishery, DFO officials said that lobster fishing, although highly likely to be allowed, was nevertheless one of many activities that they would put through a “risk assessment” process; only when all of the risk assessments were complete would they be able to make a definitive statement about the future of lobstering in the MPA.
More recently, DFO attempted to address this frustration by agreeing to accelerate the risk assessment of the lobster industry, a change that came too late to head off ESFPA’s decision to come out in opposition to the MPA.
Getting the ESFPA onboard has been one of DFO’s highest priorities. DFO began meeting with ESFPA about the MPA proposal more than a year ago. DFO granted ESFPA 7 seats out of a total of roughly 35 on DFO’s newly established Advisory Group. And if there were any remaining doubt about the importance of ESFPA to the success of establishing this MPA, DFO created a separate “working group” consisting of ESFPA members.
In an interview after this meeting, ESFPA president Peter Connors explained the organization’s new position: “We decided to oppose an MPA for our traditional territorial waters at this time in its present state. We need to go back to the beginning, and start over with answers to the questions DFO has never answered. We rejected the notion of a No Take zone from the very beginning; we’re not prepared to accept diminishing what we have. We want to hear the Minister begin a new negotiation by telling us how he’s going to protect small scale fishers.”
Connors said that when DFO announced the MPA proposal, “I thought our fishing here would be considered a model for managing, and that might be the reason for picking our area. It could have been so much easier. But DFO’s been sleepwalking us with this process that’s going on without our knowing where we’re going to end up.”
[Note: DFO’s next “public information session” will take place at the Moser River Community Hall on Wednesday, November 7 from 10:30 AM to 6:30 PM.]