By Richard Bell
Residents of Three Fathom Harbour are taking their opposition to a proposed clam farm in their back yards to new levels. August 1, 2023, is the deadline for the provincial Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture to decide whether to renew the license for this "special experimental license" for 14.2 hectares for another year (Aquaculture License and lease AQ5001).
In their effort to persuade DFA to refuse this license renewal, members of the Causeway Road Beach Action Community (CRBAC) have gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition, raised $3,000 and retained an attorney, and researched a detailed analysis of social and scientific issues which they believe DFA failed to consider in granting the original license.
In a letter to DFA, the CRBAC has requested a moratorium on any further work on the site "until all coastal access, environmental and community impacts of the experimental/operational soft-shell clam aquaculture in Three Fathom Harbour are fully assessed and published." They emphasize that they are not opposed to aquaculture in principle but had strong objections to a "lack of transparency in the site selection process," especially with regard to "the assessment criteria that were being used in the site selection process."
Government regulation of clam aquaculture is fractured between many federal and provincial agencies, ranging from the obvious (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Nova Scotia Dept. of Fisheries and Aquaculture) to the not-so-obvious (Canadian Food Inspection Agency). To learn more about what assessments were done before the original granting of the license, CRBAC asked ten federal and provincial agencies for "Documentation of any agency review (e.g., technical reports, internal review process, correspondence, scientific studies, etc.) that has been conducted on the ecological, environmental, cultural and community impact."
Susan Cakmak, a CRBAC member whose small pier stands on the edge of the proposed "special experimental license," told the Cooperator in an interview that the group was especially concerned about whether NSDFA had considered the potential impact on the area's eelgrass areas.
In a news release, CRBAC reports that "two scientists in our action committee recently discovered that around four hectares (or 30% of the license area) is covered in dense or sparse eelgrass beds... eelgrass is an 'Ecologically Significant Species' (ESS) protected under federal legislation (Section 35 of the Fisheries Act) which prohibits a harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction (HADD) to eelgrass and other fish habitats." Given the presence of this eelgrass, "it's clear that the AQ5001 license should never have been approved.
CRBAC has also been conducting a parallel investigation to identify what it considers more suitable sites that "do not contain significant eelgrass cover,... are not in proximity to a public beach,... and are in lower population density." Cakmak said CRBAC was planning to submit the complete version of its report to NSDFA early in the week of July 17.