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Brown foam and oily scum from fish farm blanket Summerville Beach, says local group

A sickly, brownish foam and oily scum have recently appeared on the beach at Summerville Provincial Park since August, according to residents monitoring the situation.

In a news release Monday, the Friends of Port Mouton Bay say that the noxious material continues to accumulate, depending on the wind direction over the finfish farm in Port Mouton Bay and the rising tide.

Spectacle Island and the adjacent open pen finfish farm which presently holds thousands of trout lie opposite Carter’s Beach and close to Summerville Beach. People on shore can see a very large oily slick emanating from the fish farm and traveling over kilometre-scale distances in the down-wind direction.

In late June 2012 The Friends of Port Mouton Bay tested the oily slick, according to the release. It was found to contain levels of copper that are double the guidelines set for the protection of marine life. Since then, the slick has become even more pronounced than slicks observed during the previous salmon farming operation located off Spectacle Island.

The Federal Government has designated Carter’s Beach as an Anchorage area. Yachtsmen have complained strongly about a foul rotten eggs odour near the fish farm when salmon were in the cages, say FPMB. Now, with trout in the pens, the group claims that there is an even stronger rancid fishy smell, which, when the wind blows in that direction, drifts in towards the beach and residential neighbourhood.

The release asks, “Is our reputation as a tourist haven with ‘pristine’ waters and beautiful beaches being damaged?,” then answers, “If it isn’t already, it will be.”

The current problems in Port Mouton Bay, according to the group, are a result of the collection of waste deposited by intensive fish stock farming, due to its geography and topography making it “an extremely poor flushing area.”

The appearance of floating, foul, fishy smelling reddish-brown waste at the farm site and the oily slick downwind appear to be connected to feed pellets being vomited by the trout,” says oceanographer Ron Loucks.

It is commonly held in the industry and in the scientific literature that the regurgitation reaction by trout is common when seawater salinity and temperature are not suitable. In the journal “Aquaculture”, G Baeverfjord et al wrote in 2006 that “regurgitation (belching) of oil is a problem in sea farmed rainbow trout kept in water with fluctuating salinity.”

The Friends of Port Mouton Bay also believe that the presence of farmed trout which have died and not yet been removed by divers and the accumulation of uneaten feed pellets disintegrating in seawater may have contributed to the problem.

If the problem with the oily, smelly waste continues, it will also become an issue for the local tourism industry, says FPMB, citing comments made by Judith Cabrita, former executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of NS, in a recent Halifax Herald news story. “Our sustainable, natural product is a huge part of our tourism product,” Ms. Cabrita said. “We have to protect what we have.”

In the same article, tourism association president Darlene Grant Fiander commented, “A healthy natural environment is one of the principal star attractions for tourism.”

“Throughout our six-year experience with aquaculture in Port Mouton Bay,” said Ron Loucks, “we’ve noted a long list of side-effects.” Now that there is a trout farm in the bay, replacing the former salmon farm,” Loucks adds, “there are new side effects.”

“The aquaculture industry appears to be interested only in the side effects that affect them,” Loucks adds. “Damage to the ecosystem or to the tourism industry is left for the community to cope with.”

A damaged ecosystem is a threat to Nova Scotia’s $1.8 billion tourism industry, added FPMB. “It is a threat to our health, our environment, our economy,” the release added. “When will the Government listen?”

Note: Photographer Jan Pottie recently documented the beach blanketed in foam at high tide. An earlier photo taken on August 18th follows a slick “traveling from the fish farm”.