Skeptical fishermen briefed on proposed Eastern Shore marine protected area

The Eastern Shore Islands, as it’s being called, has been declared an area of interest for conservation by the Trudeau government.

Eastern Shore Islands could include a no-take zone that 'could take us out of our livelihood,' fisherman says

Fishermen listen at the Sheet Harbour Legion during Thursday's meeting. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's lobster season opens on the Eastern Shore in days, but dozens of fishermen stopped prepping for it Thursday to learn about a massive marine protected area proposed for their fishing grounds.

The Eastern Shore Islands, as it's being called, has been declared an area of interest for conservation by the Trudeau government.

It would be the first marine protected area along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia and includes inshore and coastal waters. It would protect hundreds of islands that create an archipelago running from Clam Harbour to Liscomb.

The DFO wants to protect the ecological area shown in this graphic. (CBC)

Many of the 170 fishermen who make their livelihood here are wary.

"The waters here are in natural condition after generations of doing what we're doing," said Peter Connors, a lobster fisherman and president of the Eastern Shore Fisherman's Protective Association.

He was at a consultation between fishermen and officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

"We're not getting any assurances, iron-clad assurances, that [we] won't be affected," Connors said.

DFO won't give details on no-take zones

Thursday's meeting with fishermen at the Sheet Harbour Legion is part of consultations between DFO and various stakeholders, including First Nations.

Marty King, a DFO biologist, offered mild assurances for the fishermen. "We don't anticipate there'll be any significant impact on lobster when we create a marine protected area in the Eastern Shore Islands," he told CBC News.

The question of no-take zones where commercial fishing would be forbidden will not be settled for at least six months, he said.

"We definitely can't tell you how big at this stage and we really can't say for sure there is going to be one," King said.

Randy Boutilier expects the marine protected area will include a no-take zone. 'It could take us out of our livelihood,' he said. (CBC)

Tangier lobster fisherman Randy Boutilier scoffs at that. He fully expects areas will be closed to commercial fishing whenever the marine protected area is declared.

"There is going to be a no-take zone because it's been in every other one so far. There will be one here. It could take us out of our livelihood," Boutilier said.

In some ways, the fishermen on the Eastern Shore are guinea pigs: The first to face an marine protected area that could impact an inshore fishery with a no-take zone.

The fleet is small compared to others in Nova Scotia. The fishing districts from Halifax to Digby are 10 times larger.

Canada has committed to protect 10 per cent of its oceans by 2020. DFO has not released its master map of planned marine protected areas.

The Trudeau government has rejected calls from Nova Scotia to stop creating any new ones off Nova Scotia.

The waters around the Eastern Shore Islands, shown in a handout photo, could become a marine protected area. (Peter Green/Canadian Press)

About the Author

Paul Withers

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Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.