A new waste water treatment plant in Pictou, N.S. could be detrimental to lobsters and other wildlife in the Northumberland Strait, says the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association.

Northern Pulp hasn't made a formal proposal to replace its current treatment facility at Boat Harbour, but the company has been told by the Nova Scotia government to have another plant up and running by 2020.

Representatives from three local P.E.I. fishermen's associations, as well as the PEIFA and fishermen's associations from Nova Scotia, attended a meeting on Nov. 5 to hear from government officials about the plans for Northern Pulp's new facility.

Melanie Giffin, quality and industry program planner for PEIFA, was at the closed meeting and said there were about 75 concerned fishermen there.

"I definitely feel like the vibe of the meeting was quite a bit of frustration over the proposed changes," she said.

"At this point we don't know all the risks … we don't have all of the information."

New facility

According to Kathy Cloutier, director of communications at Paper Excellence, the company that runs Northern Pulp, the new facility would use an activated sludge treatment system.

This process would involve aerating the waste water then treating it, before sending it into the Northumberland Strait.

"The new outfall is designed to meet the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment guidelines for effluent discharges," she said in an email to CBC.

'I don't know exactly how much of an effect it will have but any lobster larvae in the area with that freshwater floating will not survive.' - Melanie Giffin

Cloutier also said the new system will be less harmful to the environment than the current one.

"Treated effluent has been flowing through Boat Harbour and into the Northumberland Strait for over 50 years. The new treatment facility … will reduce the impact on the Strait."

Giffin said the current system may have allowed treated effluent into the Strait, but now that it will be pumped out further into the waterway it "just brings up more concern, more possibility for it to flow, instead of along the coastline, but out into the Strait itself."

'They can't survive'

Giffin raised concerns that introducing freshwater into the Strait could be a danger to lobsters.

She said when lobsters release their eggs, they float for upwards of a month mostly on the surface of the water.

Melanie Giffin

Melanie Giffin, quality and industry program planner for the PEIFA, says the organization is worried about detrimental effects a wastewater treatment plant in Nova Scotia could have on the Northumberland Strait. (Malcolm Campbell/CBC)

"That's the same place the fresh water will be, so it basically replaces the saltwater in that area with just fresh water on the top and the lobsters need salt. They're a saltwater species. They can't survive in fresh water," Giffin said.

"I don't know exactly how much of an effect it will have but any lobster larvae in the area with that freshwater floating will not survive."

Cloutier said the company has not yet entered the design phase for the new plant so it doesn't know the volume of the water that would enter the Strait.

'Ongoing concern'

The PEIFA is hoping the new treatment plant will be built inland.

"There are other waste water treatment facilities that are done 100 per cent on land where the effluent isn't released into water," Giffin said.

The organization has also been in contact with the Northumberland Fishermen's Association, the Maritime Fishermen's Union and Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board to figure out their best course of action.

"It's an ongoing concern that the PEIFA is going to be paying close attention to," Giffin said.