Nova Scotia

As word of fish kill spreads abroad, N.S. scallop exporter gets worried calls

The Digby company is assuring clients in the U.S. and across Canada that seafood from the Bay of Fundy has been tested and is safe to eat.

Digby company assures U.S. clients that seafood from Bay of Fundy has been tested and is safe

A Digby, N.S., scallop exporter says he has received calls from customers in the U.S. after the story of the Bay of Fundy fish kill was picked up internationally. (CBC News)

The final verdict on what's killing sea life in the Bay of Fundy still isn't in, but Alain d'Entremont is celebrating a little good news.

The most recent round of tests from fish kills in southwest Nova Scotia have found no viruses.

D'Entremont, chief operating officer of O'Neil Fisheries in Digby, said he's been fielding calls from customers around North America wondering if Digby scallops —  a big seller — are safe to eat.

"I tell them I'm still eating them, taking it home and feeding it to my kids," he said Tuesday.

Extensive testing

What's more reassuring to buyers, d'Entremont said, is when he explains the time and effort the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is putting into its investigation, along with the efforts of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

"The Nova Scotia economy relies heavily, especially rurally, on seafood and seafood exports," d'Entremont said.

"And I think it's important for people to know just how much testing is done .... just so they know that what we're exporting is safe."

When d'Entremont heard about the dead herring washing up near Digby, it sounded to him like it must be weather-related. "Something environmental," he guessed.

Scallop beds healthy

Then on Boxing Day, he saw pictures of starfish, lobster and other sea life washing ashore nearby — all dead.   

That's when he sent divers out to check on scallop beds.  

D'Entremont said he has never had divers inspect his beds before until this year.     

"Right now what we're fishing, catching and selling — everything seems to be fine."

More herring than ever

Other fishermen around this wharf in Digby are scratching their heads. They all know fishermen in their 70s who have fished the Bay of Fundy all their lives and have never seen anything like it.

Lobster fisherman Jason Denton is less concerned.  

He said he's never seen so much herring in the Bay of Fundy. He sailed over a school of herring on Monday that was so dense, the electronics on board his boat failed, he said.

Waters are warming rapidly 

An ocean scientist at Dalhousie University in Halifax said the lack of disease or viruses in tests from the fish kills, combined with herring being observed in areas they wouldn't normally be seen this time of year, suggests a larger environmental issue.

"What really is unusual about this area is that the Gulf of Maine, as a whole, has been warming more rapidly than almost about any other area on the planet," Boris Worm told CBC's Mainstreet.

"It's in the upper one percentile ... It's the outlier, if you will."

As temperatures warm and animal behaviour changes, Worm said it's a sign of "a larger story here about how the environment is changing."

It's good to see so many people concerned about the health of the oceans and reporting their findings, said Worm.

While DFO researchers have done a good job handling the issue, he said there is cause for investigating new ideas related to environmental changes.

"There's something here that we don't understand."

Questions about turbine

Chris Hudson of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman's Association said he wants more investigation put into the effects of the energy turbine that was recently installed in the Bay of Fundy.

He and other members of the association have written to Emera Inc., which owns Nova Scotia Power, and the provincial Environment Department asking that the turbine be shut down until the investigation is complete.

"The timelines cannot be ignored with the deployment of the turbine and the occurrence of the fish showing up a week later," Hudson said.

"Are we blaming them? No. But have they been ruled out through the testing of the fish and whatnot? No, it has not."

Scientists with DFO and other agencies investigating the kill said last week it is highly improbable the cause relates to tidal turbines, an earthquake or munitions dumps, given the concentrated locations of the finds and because the kill involves almost exclusively one species.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet