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Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture minister Sterling Belliveau before Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans


Where is the science? Senator wants to know

Sterling Belliveau got a bit of a rough ride at the most recent Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on Tuesday, where he made a pitch for federal funding for research on establishing commercial fisheries for new species, including stone crab. Belliveau told the Committee that he was there representing the lobster fishermen in Nova Scotia, where he says more than 70% of all Canadian lobster is caught.

Fishermen unaware of testimony
When asked by a reporter later if Belliveau had conferred with his members, LFA 34 West Pubnico lobster fisherman Jeff d’Entremont, who chairs the lobster fishing Area 34 management board, said that, even though the pair had a conversation last week, Belliveau did not mention anything about opening undeveloped species to commercial fishing.

“It’s all news to me,” d’Entremont said.

What has department done?
“What has Nova Scotia government done in research on these species?”, Nova Scotia senator Donald Oliver asked Belliveau. If he were minister, Oliver said, he would have already have made efforts in research.  “What have you done to help fishermen to diversify and is any money committed to date.” Belliveau said that snow crab was an obvious species, but his department had not committed any money.

“I’m here to get your attention,” Belliveau said. Oliver told him that he thought the Nova Scotia government had the responsibility to make the initial funding commitment for its fisheries.

Lobster Council says aquaculture threatens lobsters
The most difficult questions came from conservative Nova Scotia senator Tom McInnis, who reminded Belliveau that in recent Lobster Council of Canada testimony before the Committee, they said that the most singular threat to the lobster fisher was aquaculture. Chemical treatments for sea lice are known to have caused the sudden deaths of thousands of lobsters in New Brunswick several years ago and Cooke Aquaculture CEO and senior executives are currently facing federal charges for dispersing an illegal chemical, cypermethrin, near lobster pounds in the Bay of Fundy, resulting in the premature deaths of thousands or more lobsters.

McInnis said he did not want to get into the details regarding Sobeys – alluding to the recent furor over the possible sales to consumers of farmed salmon infected with a salmon virus, ISA – and “all kinds of other disputes”, saying only “I am sure you have heard about” the incidents. 

No science from Belliveau
“It is interesting tonight that you talk about wanting more science,” said McInnis, “Yet associations in Nova Scotia, for one of which I was a former president, have asked for science from the provincial government and have not gotten it.”

Belliveau and his staff have repeatedly refused to supply fishermen and community organizations with scientific data supporting the placement of industrial salmon pens in bays and harbours throughout the province.   

“There was little or no public engagement,” added the senator,  “ Yet now we are on the verge of probably another announcement of setting pins on the eastern shore, which will bring about a real problem.”

McInnis pointed out that the government was “in partnership with an organization [Snow Island /Loch Duart] that is setting the pens”, going so far as to make the announcement “just before Christmas Eve that the [salmon]pens are being dropped.”

More than 100 groups opposed
McInnis mused that when there were “…such a multitude of individuals and groups, over 100, that are opposed to this[open pen net industrial aquaculture], do you not think most reasonable people would sit down and say, “Look.  It is time for a time out.  Let us sit down as reasonable people.  Let us take a year or two years.  Let us analyze this.  Let us bring the science out so that we can question it, and so on.” 

“What is the hurry?”  asked McInnis. “There is no doubt that around the globe, and you have alluded to this, that there is a need for protein and there will be a greater need all the time.  However, can it not be done properly in consultation with the people?  That is what the Lobster Council of Canada spoke directly about here in an emotional way.”

McInnis told Belliveau that he had a hard time understanding the minister’s talk about consultation with the federal government, and wanting the federal government to talk to the industry, but why the reverse is not true to Belliveau with citizens in his own province.

Belliveau says no hurry on fish farm expansion
Belliveau went on to say that there was “no hurry” by his government to install more fish farms, then described how little a footprint aquaculture made in the “vast ocean” surrounding Nova Scotia. He repeated his adage that all of the net pens in Nova Scotia could fill the Bedford Basin ten times over. He pointed out to McInnis that the province had a 13,000 kilometer coastline.

“I have to make this point just to show how fallacious this statement is about the coastline, “ senator McInnis responded.  I have heard you say that before.  Minister, let me tell you something.  It is less than a kilometre on Pope’s Harbour where an 18-hectare pen will be dropped.  That is not 13,000 kilometres.  That is less than a kilometre, and that is where it is being dropped.  The same situation is involved in Spry Harbour.  It is not 13,000, it is not 1,000, but it is less than a kilometre, right in front of where the people live.  You have not been able and willing to show us the science.”

Why no open dialogue?
McInnis said it was important for the committee come to understand “why it is that there is not an open dialogue here.”

“That is all that has ever been asked for, whether you are right or wrong or whatever,” he added. If it is truly 13,000 kilometers as Belliveau suggests, “…put it out in the ocean, but do not do it in an inlet where you have not been able to show or no one has been able to show that it would not be a pollutant.”

The Committee Chair ended that discussion saying, “There is a great possibility that our next study may be aquaculture, so we look forward to our hearings in Nova Scotia.”