By Richard Bell
There’s a brand-new contender on the battlefield of grassroots groups fighting to prevent some of the biggest aquaculture companies in the world from going ahead with massive expansions of their controversial open-net finfish farm operations in Nova Scotia’s shallow coastal waters: the Healthy Bays Network (HBN). The new organization includes the Twin Bays Coalition (location), St. Mary’s Bay Protectors, Protect Liverpool Bay, and the Association for the Preservation of the Eastern Shore (APES), with additional support from the Ecology Action Centre, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and the Nova Scotia Salmon Association.
Geoff Le Boutillier of the Twin Bays Coalition told the Cooperator that the members of these organizations had decided to ban together after learning a very hard lesson in the long struggle that led to the creation and recommendations of the Doelle-Lahey Panel on aquaculture.
“When we forced Darrell Dexter to declare a moratorium and strike the Doelle-Lahey Panel, all the activists thought, ‘We won,’ Le Boutillier said. “We thought the Panel’s recommendations were pretty strong, not everything we wanted, but that it was going to be OK, in that good Canadian tradition of striking middle ground. Wisdom would prevail. That’s not what happened—just the opposite. There’s a complete lack of transparency, and the tight relationships between the government and industry, it’s really worse than it was.”
Opponents got a jolt when it became clear that the province was encouraging a massive increase in open net finfish farming, led by two huge aquaculture companies, Cermaq, a fully owned subsidiary of the Japanese multi-national Mitsubishi Corporation, and New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture.
The potential Cermaq/Cooke onslaught got members of opposition groups to start meeting to talk about what they needed to do differently. “People are tired of hearing about open-net finfish farms,” Le Boutillier said. “They’ve heard about the abusive use of antibiotics, the pollution from fish poor, the sea lice and other diseases, and risks to wild salmon populations. And they know that out in British Columbia, the Liberals got elected by promising to get all the pens out of the water by 2025. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is our own Bernadette Jordan Why is what’s good for BC not good enough for Nova Scotia?”
Le Boutillier said that HBN is “like a form, like a marketplace, a trading node, for people to get together and share information, to work on messaging, and to get youth involved in the fight. We’re going to be working on four levels: politics, the courts, the regulatory process, and community outreach and communications.” He placed special emphasis on reaching young people, pointing out the remarkable success of Greta Thunberg in getting global warming on the map.
“We’ve learned that fighting science with science is not enough,” Le Boutillier said. Back in the 2008-2013 period, we had stacks of irrefutable scientific papers. But the government’s final decisions had nothing to do with logic or truth, only on what they thought would sell: promises to fix the rural economy, to feed the world’s starving masses. What the Network will be looking for is to give people hope, to capture people’s imaginations. We can’t just whine and complain.
We’re pulling together a deep bench of senior communications people, including people new to this struggle.”
The Network is already working on producing a series of webinars, with the first one focused on youth outreach. And the organization will be exploring legal options. “You can’t sell real estate or invite tourists in to areas that are dominated by stinky open pens with generators running all night,” Le Boutillier said. “The Network is going to pull together all the natural enemies of open net finfish farming—tourism operators, real estate brokers, lobster fishers, homeowners, environmentalists, young people—in a new and better way.”