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Digby Municipality Urged to Fight Aquaculture Expansion

Municipality of Digby urged to stand in opposition with residents against salmon farming in St. Mary’s Bay

DIGBY, N.S. — Even though the Municipality of Digby is not the one that would make the decision, those against an expansion of open pen salmon farming in St. Mary’s Bay have made it clear they want the municipality to stand with them in their opposition.

Many people turned out for a Jan. 27 session of municipal council after Councillor David Tudor informed the public via social media that he intended to bring forth a motion that council opposes the expansion of the salmon cage industry in St. Mary’s Bay.

“If this motion is to have any chance to be successful we will need the largest turn out yet at the municipal building,” he posted on Facebook.

So many people came to the meeting that the room was filled to overcapacity. People sat in chairs and on the floor, or stood in the room, in doorways and the hallways. Many of those present are part of a grassroots group called St. Mary’s Bay Protectors.

The salmon-fish company Cermaq is exploring the possibility of expanding its operations on the east coast and is eyeing lease options for four locations in the province, including St. Mary’s Bay. Those who oppose this are worried about pollution and disease in the bay, the creation of dead zones on the bay’s bottom and the impact to commercial fisheries.

Tudor’s motion wasn’t the first to come to the floor. Deputy Warden Linda Gregory made a motion that council continue to make the province aware of concerns and opposition of local residents to open pen fishing farming in St. Mary’s Bay.

“Not good enough, too wishy washy,” shouted a person in the audience. The motion passed. Only Tudor voted against it.

“I’m not totally thrilled with the motion. I would prefer that council oppose, not just let the province know that people oppose,” he said. “I’d like something with a little more meat in the bones, and I want us to stand with the people.”

His comment drew resounding applause from the audience.

“I move that council opposes the expansion of the salmon cage industry in the St. Mary’s Bay,” he said. More applause erupted.

At a recent open house held in Digby, Cermaq said it is looking to have a capacity of 20,000 metric tonnes of salmon annually. Achieving this would require multiple farm sites in the province. Cermaq is also exploring lease options in Chedabucto Bay in the Guysborough area, Green Bay/Lunenburg Bay/Mahone Bay and St. Margaret’s Bay.

Cermaq envisions 15 to 20 farm sites in the province. Each farm site would have at least 10 pens that are 128 metres in circumference (52 metres across) with a depth of approximately 22 metres. Each pen would have a salmon population of around 85,000 to 90,000. Cermaq says there would be four farm sites in St. Mary’s Bay, with only two operational at any given time.

It says 250 to 300 direct jobs would be spread throughout the province, with other spinoff employment and business generated.

Council recently meet with the minister of fisheries and aquaculture and department staff on this issue. It was pointed out at council’s meeting that it is not the municipality that decides if farms go ahead. That responsibility falls to an independent review body and public hearings would be part of the decision phase.

During the meeting some councillors were drowned out when speaking, like when Councillor George Manzer referred to “the silent majority” concerned about job opportunities. Those in the room said those who oppose the proposal are the majority, not those who support it.

Manzer did vote in favour of Tudor’s motion but added, “I may not be in support of more cages in St. Mary’s Bay. What I am in support of is sustainable fish farms.”

Councillor Matthew Ross, who did not support Tudor’s motion, had a difficult time being heard as people shouted, “We’re your constituents,” “This is what democracy looks like,” and “You represent us.” Ross said he is concerned about population decline.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve seen the strains on local business to survive,” he said, adding that after meeting with the minister he is in favour of sustainable aquaculture in the municipality and is satisfied rules and regulations exist to ensure a properly-run and monitored industry would not cause harm.

“It’s very hard in this municipality to get ahead,” he said, saying there has been a population decline of about one per cent over each of the past 20 years. “We don’t have a lot of good work here to keep people,” he said. “From 1981 to 2016, we lost 2,389 people out of our municipality. In Clare, at the same time, they lost 1,580.

“I’m not saying that everybody support any type of industry that comes here,” MacAlpine said, but he also stressed employment is needed.

“This employment should not be detrimental to what we are already doing. We do want to sustain the quality of life we have here. We want to make sure we don’t have negative impacts on our lobster fishery, our scallop fishery, that’s what we talk about when we support a sustainable aquaculture,” he said. “I feel that if we’re not going to have this come into our community, I’d like to know what else is going to be knocking on our door going forward because this has an opportunity that if it’s done sustainably and if it’s done right, it would be good stewards for our community.”

Shouted a person from the floor, “That’s a lot of ifs!”