A consultant's report for the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs is recommending further study of striped bass in the Shubenacadie River.

The chiefs are demanding the province extend a work stoppage on the stalled, $100 million Alton Natural Gas Storage Project that started last October.

The bass have recently returned in strong numbers and the Mi'kmaq want to hold the project until environmental concerns have been met about flushing salt wastewater into the river.

The Mi'kmaq have traditional treaty rights to fish the Shubenacadie River near the site, where brine will be piped 12 kilometres from the proposed hollowed-out underground caverns in Brentwood.

The review was commissioned by the Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO) and conducted by Conestoga-Rovers & Associates (CRA).

Study makes five recommendations

Conestoga-Rovers & Associates made five recommendations, including testing striped bass eggs, to see if different concentrations of brine will affect the development of the fish.

It also wants "peak spawning events" clearly defined in the project's monitoring plan so that salt does not enter the river during those periods.

The Conestoga study says the reasons why the striped bass population has rebounded are not well understood.

So far, too few Atlantic salmon and sturgeon have showed up in the river to merit a baseline for followup, according to the study.

Another recommendation says the potential for sedimentation is unknown and modeling should be carried out prior to construction.

"There are a number of recommendations to be implemented before any decisions are made on this project," wrote Chief Paul Prosper, the Assembly's lead chief on energy, in a statement. 

"We are still concerned about the potential impacts to the fish and to the environment."

The Mi'kmaq continue to fish the Shubenacadie River between Halifax and Truro as part of their traditional treaty rights.

Seven years of DFO data

The Alton natural gas storage project — valued at over $100 million — is being developed by AltaGas, the parent company of Heritage Gas, which distributes natural gas to homes and businesses in Nova Scotia.

It hopes to buy and store natural gas in the summer so customers can avoid price spikes during the cold winters.

"We believe we can address the recommendations in the report and look forward to continuing to work with the government and the First Nations to resolve them," said Jess Nieukerk, communications director for AltaGas in Calgary.

The Conestoga-Rovers study commissioned by the Mi'kmaq Chiefs didn't find any issues with the previous environmental assessment done by AltaGas, which included seven years of DFO data from the Shubenacadie River.

The Nova Scotia Energy Department received the Conestoga study on July 24 and is reviewing it.

A department spokesperson says the province will not issue work permits for the Alton Natural Gas Storage project until the consultation process is complete and the Conestoga study is part of that process without a fixed timeline.

AltaGas says its work sites remain quiet.