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By GORDON HAMMOND
I am writing to thank The Chronicle Herald for publishing the commentary by Stephen Richardson on Oct. 30 (“DFO alienates Eastern Shore with MPA bid”) and to thank Richardson for outlining his legitimate concerns with the potential marine protected area (MPA).
In doing so, he is allowing other residents of the Eastern Shore, of which I am one, to better understand his concerns. He is also providing an opportunity for those with differing opinions to respond in a reasonable manner without being subjected to hostility and name-calling.
Unfortunately, this has been the case at most of the recent series of Eastern Shore town hall meetings about the potential MPA, which seem to have generated more heat than light. His commentary also allows us to move beyond the“No MPA Here” identical signage campaign, with its “no debate, no discussion, no way” message, to one of an open, respectful and democratic discussion.
In reviewing Richardson’s commentary, it seems to me he is making two major points.
First, DFO did not engage in appropriate pre-announcement consultation with the community, the current community consultation process is nothing more than a sales pitch, and DFO should halt the MPA process and go back to the drawing board.
Second, DFO has not provided answers to crucial questions about the future of the area’s lucrative lobster fishing industry.
With respect to the stakeholder consultation process, it is hard to see how this process could have been significantly improved. Between July 2017 and the announcement of the Area of Interest (AOI) on March 22, there were more than 20 meetings with stakeholders groups, including five with the Eastern Shore Fisherman’s Protective Association. Following the announcement, a 36-member advisory committee (not including DFO members) was established with very extensive community organization representation, with each organization having one member while the Eastern Shore Fisherman’s Protective Association has seven members.
While some have argued that the consultation process should have been handled differently, the fact is that there is now in place an advisory committee that has a high proportion of local representatives, has already held its inaugural meeting and is now actively engaged in seeking accurate information that will help guide the committee in its future deliberations.
It is also important to recognize that virtually all local organizations participating in the advisory committee have done so on the basis that they are neither for nor against an MPA until all questions are answered and details determined satisfactorily -- so that they can make an informed decision.
With respect to the potential impact of an MPA on the lobster fishing industry, the concerns of the fishers are fully understandable and legitimate. After all, this is their livelihood. In the absence of clear, concise and authoritative answers from DFO, uncertainty remains. DFO has so far only provided a soft commitment, stating that it is “confident that lobster and other traditional fixed-gear fishing, dive fishing, recreational fishing, and food, social and ceremonial fisheries will be able to continue.”
This is not the same as a 100 per cent statement that these fisheries will be able to continue uninterrupted. As I understand it, DFO is aware of this and at the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee, officials agreed that the formal risk assessment of the traditional lobster fishing industry should be undertaken immediately. Results of this assessment will be known shortly.
Until the scientific risk assessment is completed, DFO cannot make a clear and unambiguous statement. As one of the 200 or so countries that have committed to increasing the protection of their coastal and ocean waters to 10 per cent by 2020, they need to scientifically determine that their risk assessment is based on solid evidence.
So where does this leave the residents of the area?
From my perspective, there will be very little, if any, possibility of an MPA becoming a reality unless the key question relating to the lobster fishing industry (will the fishery be able to continue to be carried out as it is nowand without a “no take zone”?) is settled.
If the lobster fishers receive the legitimate assurances they are seeking, then the consultation can continue and we will see where it leads. Should the results of the risk assessment hurt
the lobster fishing industry in any way, then I am reasonably confident that every local organization, and almost every single resident, including myself, will be fully united in opposition to an MPA.
In closing, I would like to commend DFO for undertaking a community consultation process that has to draw a fine line between providing no answers and providing all the answers. In the early 1970s, the residents of the Eastern Shore were faced with the possibility that a Ship Harbour national park would be established. The park would have eliminated whole communities and the private ownership of woodland – essentially a proposal with all of the answers decided beforehand! The result was an opposition campaign that was eventually successful in stopping the national park. Now, one of the criticisms of DFO is that they have not provided all of the answers upfront! Genuine community consultation has to be somewhere in between and there has to be a willingness to engage in discussion by both parties, in this case the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Eastern Shore Fisherman’s Protective Association and the residents of the Eastern Shore residing within the potential MPA.
Personally, I have yet to decide whether or not I favour an Eastern Shore Islands MPA. If the legitimate concerns of the lobster fishers are not satisfactorily addressed, then I am opposed to the MPA. On the other hand, I believe we are at the start of a consultation process about an MPA that might have benefits for the Eastern Shore as a whole. This has yet to be determined, and, until these details are determined, I’m prepared to keep an open mind and make an informed decision at the end of the consultation process.
For those looking for more in-depth information I would suggest they visit the DFO website.
Gordon Hammond has been a resident of Clam Harbour since 1971.