Fisheries and Oceans Canada is closing three of its offices in Nova Scotia — in Port Hood, Baddeck and Wallace.
"Officers at small two-person offices such as Port Hood and Baddeck are often unable to perform required duties and will be consolidated in larger, better resourced offices," wrote Mélanie Carkner, a spokeswoman for the department.
"Consolidations will not result in fewer fishery officers."
Fisheries and Oceans Canada also confirmed Tuesday that a prominent Nova Scotia-based oil spill expert is one of the casualties of department cutbacks, but said only part of his research group is being eliminated.
Kenneth Lee — the executive director of the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research (COOGER) at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth — recently received a workforce adjustment notice informing him his position is being eliminated.
It's not yet clear whether Lee will relocate or be redeployed to another job within Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Carkner said in an email that the department is only phasing out the portion of the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research that focuses on biological effects of oil and gas.
"The remainder of COOGER is not impacted by these changes," she wrote.
Local fisheries offices are 'critical resource': fisherman
Merrill MacInnis, a commercial fisherman and a councillor for Victoria County, said he used to be served by the Fisheries and Oceans Canada office in Baddeck but it's been vacant since two fisheries officers retired last summer.
The entire northeastern shore of Cape Breton is now served by one fisheries officer out of Ingonish, he said.
"It's frustrating because it's such a critical resource to us. It's almost like announcing to us, 'Well, we're going to take all the RCMP officers off the roads,'" said MacInnis.
"That's a task that can't be accomplished by one individual. Just no way it can be done."
Trevor MacInnis, the president of the Inverness South Fishermen's Association, said the Fisheries and Oceans Canada office in Port Hood is only about four years old.
"The way the government is cutting back, it's not a big surprise. It's a surprise that there wasn't a little more foresight in this," MacInnis said Tuesday.
"To put up a new building and then just to leave it vacant, it doesn't seem like good sense to me."
'Nothing short of a disgrace'
Meanwhile, environmental activists in Nova Scotia say federal government cuts are degrading and gutting environmental protections in the country.
"It is nothing short of a disgrace," said Mary Gorman, a founding member of the Save Our Seas and Shores Coalition.
"It's as if they were on a witch hunt against anyone and any legislation and any individuals or scientists who have made it their life's mission to work on protecting our ecosystems."
Marie MacDonald, a fish harvester, said although fishermen have had a love-hate relationships with scientists, the world market now demands to know whether the fish they catch is done so in a sustainable manner.
"Sure, we growl when our quotas are cut," she said Tuesday.
"But without scientists, how can we prove that we are doing it, to make it a resource that is going to be there for the future?"