NEW GLASGOW – The local fishing community has expressed alarm over an old solution to Northern Pulp’s effluent problem that has resurfaced.
Fishers and fishing group representatives met for more than an hour on Sunday at Central Nova MP Sean Fraser’s riding office in New Glasgow to learn more about the province’s plans regarding effluent from Northern Pulp. It’s not official, but the plan would include emptying effluent through the current treatment lagoon at the head of Boat Harbour and its replacement at the pulp mill into the Northumberland Strait.
Besides Fraser, elected members at the meeting included provincial Environment Minister Iain Rankin and Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane.
“Today was an opportunity for the fishermen to engage with the environment minister,” said Fraser, who added that both he and MacFarlane asked that Rankin be present. Fraser said the fishers wanted the meeting before another meeting being arranged between the department and the Pictou Landing First Nation.
“It was more the fishermen’s meeting with the minister,” Fraser said.
Rankin would not comment directly on the pipe option prior to the plan undergoing an environmental assessment. He said he did not have to meet with the fishers, but felt he should once Fraser and MacFarlane asked him.
“I can’t comment on what is in the project, but that is their concern,” he said, regarding the pipe option. “They want some assurance regarding the impact on marine life.”
Northumberland Fishermen’s Association president Ron Heighton didn’t attend the meeting, but David MacCarthy, who lives in Three Brooks and fishes out of Caribou, was among local fishers who did.
“There was a lot of information, but it’s already a done deal,” MacCarthy said. “The majority (of fishers) want a store system (for the effluent), but they (the province) want a pipe.”
He said the province is using the cheapest means of diverting the effluent from Boat Harbour and the future treatment facility.
The previous Liberal government abandoned its proposed pipe extension in the 1990s from Boat Harbour to several kilometres into the Northumberland Strait after it drew strong opposition from residents and members of the fishing community.
The concern has resurfaced over fears within the fishing community that all commercial and recreational fishing activity in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence will be impacted if the pipe plan proceeds.
Charlie McGeoghegan of Belfast, P.E.I. was among many Island fishers who crossed the Strait for the meeting on Sunday. He chairs the Lobster Marketing Board of P.E.I. and belongs to the Central Northumberland Strait Fishermen’s Association.
“I fish directly across the Strait from River John,” he said.
He said the province is sticking to its promise to the Pictou Landing First Nation to stop piping effluent from the pulp mill to Boat Harbour by 2020 by using the Strait pipe effluent option.
“We’re not going to let that happen,” he said.
He said there are 400 fishing licences in P.E.I. and 370 licences in Nova Scotia in the same area of the Strait.
“We’re not against the pulp plant, but there has to be a way for no discharge into the water,” he said. “(The pipe plan) is the cheaper option and the only option they gave us. It’s not right and they know it.”
The meeting on Sunday followed a similar one MacFarlane joined last Thursday in Toney River. More than 92 people jammed the community – some of them standing, she said.
While the pipe option lies in abeyance, MacFarlane said the fishery is too important to damage.
“This is a $3 billion fishery and… the number one export in Nova Scotia,” she said. “This is the beginning and we have to keep the dialogue going.”
Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane takes time to talk to some of the fishermen that were in attendance Sunday afternoon.