A path forward: Renewed coexistence in our waters

July 22, 2016

Oped by NDP Critic for Fisheries and Aquaculture Sterling Belliveau

Successive governments in Nova Scotia have placed an emphasis on developing the ocean sector. Our province has a natural competitive advantage in this dynamic sector. The ocean sector includes a fishing industry that has been the economic backbone of coastal communities in Nova Scotia for generations, modern industries such as offshore oil and gas, and emerging industries such as tidal and offshore wind energy. This growing mix of interests in our marine environment is challenging the idea of peaceful coexistence in our waters.

Recent events have led fishers to question how decisions that could have significant impacts on their livelihood are made. Last fall, the fishing industry expressed their concern with Shell’s proposed timeline for capping an offshore well and the use of chemical dispersants in the event of a blowout. Currently, there are fishers concerned about the unknown impact of tidal energy development. As a means of consultation, the offshore petroleum board and tidal energy proponents have created sub-committees that include fishery representatives. However, there seems to be a growing number of fishers in Nova Scotia who feel that other ocean industries view the fishing industry as stakeholders who need to be managed, rather than people who must be consulted and engaged in decision-making. If this issue is not addressed, there is potential for unrest amongst the fishing industry to grow alongside the expansion of marine activities.

A company is considering a proposal to harness wind energy offshore Yarmouth that would place up to 120 wind turbines in the heart of lucrative fishing grounds. There are also ongoing discussions at the federal level to increase the percentage of marine and coastal protected areas. What role, if any, would the fishing industry play in deciding the fate of these proposals?

At this critical juncture, we must look for a path forward.

Adding a few more fishery representatives to existing sub-committees, or committing to a few more meetings, is unlikely to adequately address the lack of trust fishers have in current processes. Improving the status quo will require thinking outside the box. For example, the government could resolve one point of contention for fishers with regards to tidal energy by making the environmental monitoring program subject to independent oversight by the Auditor General. Similarly, a representative of the fishing industry could sit directly on the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board to provide direct input about the impact of the oil and gas industry on fisheries.

We should also consider new options for stakeholder engagement. I would like to see consideration given to a new advisory structure: a Marine Resources Protection Committee. This committee could act as an overall watchdog, guided by a mandate to consider modern and emerging industries as they relate to the environment and the fishing industry. The committee could seek broad inclusion of ocean industries, as well as government, researchers and groups focused on environmental protection and conservation. It could provide a forum for combining traditional and scientific knowledge, so that we gain a better understanding of our marine environment, which is already experiencing the effects of climate change.

While it would be easy to criticize this suggestion as yet another bureaucratic structure, it would at least be one in which the fishing industry would have an equal place at the table.

The fishing industry continues to provide a viable way of life for coastal communities around Nova Scotia. It provides hundreds of millions of dollars to Nova Scotia’s GDP. I have said publicly many times that this is not my grandfather’s fishery. It’s also not my fishery. This is the fishery of the next generation. It is up to us to now choose a path forward that will allow for coexistence of the fishing industry with major projects developed by other industries in the ocean sector.