DFO tries to allay fishermen's fears that protected area would impact livelihood
So-called no-take zones not part of plan for N.S. Eastern Shore, says department
The two-lane highway along Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore is dotted with dozens of signs declaring "No Marine Protected Area Here!"
It's a sign, literally, of organized opposition to a proposed 2,000-square-kilometre marine protected area.
The Eastern Shore Islands area is the first coastal candidate in Canada with an active inshore commercial fishery, albeit a small one with just 150 lobster fishermen. Still, they are a mainstay of the local economy and leading the opposition.
The fishermen fear a marine protected area, or MPA, would automatically lead to so-called no-take zones, barring industrial activities like harvesting.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is moving to put those fears at rest.
"We will not be making a recommendation for there to be a zone of high protection within the MPA," said Wendy Williams, director of DFO Maritimes Oceans Management.
Last week, the department presented the results of a draft risk assessment to an advisory committee established to recommend what should or should not be allowed inside Eastern Shore Islands.
The committee was created after the department declared the unspoiled archipelago of hundreds of islands an area of interest. It is the first step on the road to designation as a marine protected area under the federal Oceans Act.
The risk assessment concluded the lobster fishery would not harm the kelp beds, eel grass and cod nursery the federal government wants to protect.
"The predominant activity that takes place there is the lobster fishery. It's a low-impact fishery. It only operates two months a year, so we feel it's not necessary to have a no-take," Williams said in an interview.
"We talked to the advisory committee about that and what we heard and unanimously around the table is that they felt the same way. So in our design going forward we will not be incorporating a no-take zone."
Fishermen seek assurances
But fisherman Peter Connors is not declaring victory.
"You have to remember this is deathbed conversion," he said.
As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen's Protective Association, Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area.
He does not trust DFO and is seeking some sort of legally binding commitment from federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson honouring Williams's promise.
"I want to know the mechanism that he's going to use and just how he intends to secure that for future generations," said Connors. "I don't want a trust me proposition and I don't want a temporary reprieve ... just because they are facing a lot of opposition now."
Connors acknowledged a marine protected area on the Eastern Shore could help "Canada's brand" from a marketing perspective. The country has committed to protecting 10 per cent of its ocean by 2020.
'Give and take'
Environmentalists have watched in frustration as opposition to Eastern Shore Islands galvanized over the prospect of no-take zones.
Susanna Fuller, senior projects manager for conservation organization Oceans North, urged DFO to eliminate no-take zones from the discussion last year.
"Since it has been such an issue of contention, we are hoping that this gives the community and the fishermen a sense that they are being heard," said Fuller.
"For this process to go forward there needs to be some give and take."
While DFO has decided to allow unrestricted lobster fishing inside Eastern Shore Islands, Williams said no precedent has been set.
"Every MPA is different. If people have their expectations raised in any particular way because of what we're looking at now for this MPA, they really shouldn't. Everything is unique and we need to look at it that way," she said.