By Richard BellThere was a marked increase in November in the intensity of the already contentious debate over the federal government’s proposal to establish a Marine Protected Area (MPA) along the Eastern Shore. That increase is on display in the stories and letters in this issue of the Cooperator. (Go to the Cooperator's MPA information page for MPA articles from all the players.)
The struggle thus far is a classic fight for the proverbial “hearts and minds” of the fishing communities in the affected area, which runs from Clam Bay to Liscomb Point. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) designated this area as an official “area of interest” last spring, and began the lengthy “public consultation” process, complete with a 30-plus member AOI Advisory Committee. But DFO’s announcement quickly led opponents to found a new, NO-MPA society, the Association of Eastern Shore Communities Protecting Environment and Historical Access (AESC-PEHA).
In the most damaging blow to DFO’s plans to date, the Eastern Shore Fisherman’s Protective Association has formally come out against the MPA proposal, informing DFO Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, “our members now unanimously oppose the implementation of an MPA.” And ESFPA has issued a strongly worded one-page public statement emphatically titled, “The ESFPA Does NotSupport an MPA on the Eastern Shore.” [emphasis in original]
Stephen Richardson has been dueling away online and in the Chronicle Herald with people who argue that the Eastern Shore Islands MPA could be beneficial. In an opinion piece in the Chronicle Herald titled “ DFO alienates Eastern Shore with MPA bid,” he criticized DFO for not consulting with the community before declaring the area an AOI, and faulted DFO representatives for being “unprepared to answer questions” about what the potential impact of an MPA would be on the lobster fishery, or whether heavy industrial development would be automatically banned. DFO should “halt this MPA implementation and go back to the drawing board.”
Richardson’s piece drew a strong rebuttal from Gordon Hammond, “Let’s calm the waters over Eastern Shore MPA bid.” Hammond played a critical role in the fight against establishing a national park in 1972 in the very same area as the proposed MPA, a fight whose reverberations underlie the overall mistrust of the federal government.
In his piece, Hammond touches on his experience in the 1972 fight with a proposal where the government had “all of the answers decided beforehand!” In his view, DFO has engaged in plenty of public consultation on the MPA. But he also agreed with the lobster fishers’ concerns about the inability of DFO to provide a definitive answer to the potential impact on lobster fishing without going through its “risk assessment” process.
Hammond concluded that protecting the lobster fishery was his paramount concern. “Personally, I have yet to decide whether or not I favour an Eastern Shore Islands MPA. If the legitimate concerns of the lobster fishers are not satisfactorily addressed, then I am opposed to the MPA. On the other hand, I believe we are at the start of a consultation process about an MPA that might have benefits for the Eastern Shore as a whole. This has yet to be determined, and, until these details are determined, I’m prepared to keep an open mind and make an informed decision at the end of the consultation process.”
Meanwhile, after spending the last several months on the defensive, DFO dropped a one-page flyer and a 12-page glossy “seasonal community newsletter for the Eastern Shore Islands Areas of Interest.” The newsletter provides a basic overview of the purpose of MPAs, and the process for setting one up. In an FAQ, DFO takes on several of the thornier questions like whether an MPA would shut down fishing, and whether No Take Zones are required. DFO’s short answer to both these questions is “No,” followed by the kind of non-absolute language (DFO is confident that lobster….will be allowed to continue….”) that has bedevilled DFO’s efforts thus far.