'Concern and confusion': Premier slams logic behind marine protected area choices

Premier Stephen McNeil personally warned a federal panel on marine area protection Friday its decisions could have dire consequences for Nova Scotians who make their living from the North Atlantic Ocean.

'To date, we are not seeing decisions based on science, research or fact,' Stephen McNeil tells panel

The waters around the Eastern Shore Islands of Nova Scotia have been announced by Fisheries and Oceans Canada as an 'area of interest' for a marine protected area. (Peter Green/Canadian Press)

Premier Stephen McNeil personally warned a federal panel on marine protected areas on Friday its decisions could have dire consequences for Nova Scotians who make their living from the North Atlantic Ocean.

Banning fishing and other activities in protected areas has a huge impact on communities, particularly those along the province's Eastern Shore, he told the National Advisory Panel on Marine Protected Area Standards in Moncton.

"If somehow our lobster fishery is affected — which has been done in a sustainable, environmental way for a very long time — if it is affected, it would absolutely have a devastating impact."

The seven-member advisory body is charged with coming up with advice on the rules for new marine protected areas. One of the areas under consideration is a 2,000-square-kilometre section of the eastern coastal region called the Eastern Shore Islands.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil chastises a federal panel Friday in Moncton for causing 'concern and confusion' in its choices of marine protected areas and permissible activities. (CBC)

McNeil told panel members the discussion and speculation surrounding their work is creating "concern and confusion."

He also used the occasion to chastise the federal Fisheries Department for not consulting first with the province before designating areas as possible protected areas.

"I can tell you I was not part of that conversation," he told the committee. "We could have been an ally. I could be an ally for them, for this panel and for the government."

McNeil is at odds with the federal Liberals over this attempt to protect more of Canada's coasts.

Had he been consulted on the creation of that protected area along the Eastern Shore, McNeil said his first reaction would have been negative.

"You're taking away the only livelihood that those people have, potentially."

The lobster fishery is one area that could be harmed if fishing is restricted in a marine protected area along Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore, McNeil says. (CBC)

McNeil also brought forward the concerns of the oil and gas sector after a recent visit to Houston, which hosted a massive offshore technology conference.

"Whether it's in the fishery or the oil and gas industry, the churn that has been created can make investors think twice about doing business off our shores," he told the group. "That's bad for our province and bad for the country."

McNeil also called into question the Trudeau government's reasons for wanting to create more marine protected areas.

"To date, we are not seeing decisions based on science, research or fact," he told the group during his eight-minute prepared speech. "If the decisions are not going to be based on science, it begs the question, 'On what will they be based?'"  

He said Nova Scotians know the importance of taking care of the ocean.

"It's why we're a leader in ocean protection," the premier said.

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.