Nova Scotia used its first meeting with Canada's new fisheries minister to express caution over the Trudeau government's plan to greatly expand marine protected areas, a move that could close designated ocean and coastal areas to economic activities like offshore energy development and fishing.
The province's energy minister, Michel Samson, delivered the message Tuesday during a Halifax stop by federal Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo.
The first item in the mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instructs Tootoo to work to increase the proportion of Canada's marine and coastal areas that are protected to five per cent by 2017 and 10 per cent by 2020.
"Nova Scotia wants to do its part," Samson told CBC News after the meeting. "We want to be part of the success of this exciting initiative, but at the same time let's make sure any sort of economic potential or economic development that could take part in these areas is properly explored prior to any final decision being made."
This week, Tootoo is on an introductory tour of Atlantic Canada where the fisheries remain an economic mainstay. He is meeting with dozens of provincial government and industry officials along with environmental groups.
Tootoo was in St. John's on Monday and will also visit Sydney, N.S., before moving on to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island later in the week.
The minister made no commitments during his stop Tuesday at the department's scientific research centre at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.
"I'm not going to say one way or another whether any decisions are being made on that," he told reporters when asked about the marine protected mandate.
"It's an ambitious goal to meet those targets and I am confident we will be able to do it," he said, promising consultation first.
Nova Scotia's Department of Energy took the lead in the inter-governmental meeting with Tootoo, which also included the province's minister of fisheries, Keith Colwell.
Demonstration turbines to be installed
Samson noted Nova Scotia already has a designated marine protected area — the vast underwater canyon near Sable Island called the Gully — and seismic and oil and gas development is banned on the rich fishing grounds of Georges Bank, off the province's southern coast.
In 2011, the federal government selected St. Anns Bank off Cape Breton as a potential marine protected area, but has yet to make it official with a designation.
St. Anns Bank is home to a diverse variety of species and habitat. Federal fisheries officials admitted another reason it was identified was the relatively low commercial fishing effort in the area.
Nova Scotia delivered another message Tuesday to Tootoo — the importance of its pursuit of electricity generation through tidal power in the Bay of Fundy. Demonstration turbines will be installed this spring.
"We have a good sense of exactly what are the potential impacts, what monitoring will take place and future review in order to determine any adverse effects," Samson said.
"We wanted to share that with him today as to what we're doing and the responsible way we are going about doing so."
'Looking at different options'
Tootoo repeatedly explained he was visiting the region to learn about the issues and meet players.
He declined to take a position on the adequacy of federal oversight of finfish aquaculture, the proposed mandatory levy from lobster fishermen to promote marketing, or whether the new Liberal government will restore the Department of Fisheries and Oceans habitat branch axed by the previous government.
"We're looking at different options as a way to do it. I'm not saying we are going to go back and put back exactly what was in place. There may be better ways to do things," Tootoo said.
The Liberals promised to put $40 million back into DFO science operations. Tootoo said the department is still working on how to do that.
"It's something that's been stripped over the last decade out of the department."
Tootoo said DFO wants to "partner up" with other agencies that also carry out scientific research.