The Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture has renewed two open net-pen lease sites at Liverpool Bay and Port Mouton, rejecting the concerns of more than a dozen local residents who elected not to share phone numbers with the Province.
The lapsed open net-pen site at Port Mouton, one of two South Shore sites where 20-year lease renewals were recently approved by the Province. Photo by Nick Hawkins.
[Liverpool, NS] After soliciting public comment on open net-pen aquaculture lease renewals in Liverpool and Port Mouton earlier this year, the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA) has decided to omit the opposition of more than 15 residents, local organizations or concerned citizens on the basis of a procedural technicality.
Over the past several weeks, the Healthy Bays Network (HBN), an alliance of community stewardship groups and environmental organizations across Nova Scotia, has gathered a series of public letters that were omitted from the decision statement issued by DFA for the lease and licence renewals at the Port Mouton Bay and Liverpool Bay fish farms.
Both renewals were approved by the DFA this spring. The HBN found that most of the submissions were excluded from the Department’s decision process because respondents did not include their phone numbers, despite e-mail addresses and civic addresses attached.
This allowed DFA to disregard the concerns raised by the District 33 Lobster Advisory Board, representing more than 700 lobster fishermen in the area, the Harbour Authority of Moose Harbour, and at least one scientist with primary research experience in Port Mouton. To the knowledge of the HBN, there was no pre-decision follow-up or request for more information from the Province.
“The exclusion of public submissions in the decision documents calls into question the basis for the renewal of these leases and licences for lengthy terms,” says Dalhousie University biologist Inka Milewski, whose submission was omitted from the Port Mouton decision record. “By excluding our comments from the decision record, DFA is hiding local knowledge from the public and undermining their own commitment to transparency and meaningful public engagement.”
Milewski and her colleagues have published the most peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of fish farming in Port Mouton Bay including the industry’s localized impact on eelgrass habitat, nutrient loading and lobster counts, lobster catches and berried females in the area.
“It’s a bad process and it looks like a biased process,” adds Brian Muldoon of the Protect Liverpool Bay Association. “First, the DFA buries the request for public comment four or five clicks into their website, with no accompanying announcement, and then, over a missing phone number, chooses to exclude submissions from community members commenting on the site? That’s wrong. These are people who care about these bays and they deserve a say.”
“People have a right to comment on what happens in their own backyard,” says Geoff Le Boutillier of the Twin Bays Coalition, representing St. Margaret’s-Mahone Bay within the HBN. “That’s totally basic. I can’t believe we have to fight our own government on this. Folks on the South Shore won’t forget about this come election time next year.”
The HBN is now calling on the DFA to revoke the approved renewals for both sites, on the basis that approvals were granted with an incomplete suite of information. “We can’t make decisions about what happens in our public waterways like this,” says Simon Ryder-Burbidge of the Ecology Action Centre. “The DFA has committed to open and transparent engagement processes. This dismissal of legitimate public concern is definitely not okay. If they ever want to establish public trust, they should toss these decisions and do this again properly.”
Twin Bays Coalition
Protect Liverpool Bay Association
902-417-1700 (ext. 643)
Ecology Action Centre