Online edition of Shunpiking
Thursday, Jan 01, 2004
This is not co-existence, it is take-over: Brief to the "Public Review Co mmission"
"The petroleum industry likes to talk about co-existence. If you look at this map of the number of leases in the east coast of this country, this is not co-existence, it is takeover."
By MARY GORMAN and PERCY HAYNE*
Brief to the "Public Review Commission"
(WAGMATCOOK, Cape Breton, January 16, 2002) -- In accordance with the terms of reference of this public review, we are here today to discuss the ecological, social and economic impacts of oil and gas exploration and drilling in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Bight. These highly sensitive marine areas along the shorelines of both sides of Cape Breton Island are spawning, nursery and migratory areas for lobster, herring, snowcrab, mackerel, tuna, groundfish, whales and dolphins. Fragile Atlantic salmon, Atlantic cod and Atlantic wolfish, fin whale, and humpback whale are listed of special concern. Right whale, piping plover, leatherback turtle and harlequin duck are endangered. We will discuss whether this exploration should proceed and whether it is possible to mitigate such risk.
To put this situation into context, we would like to give this commission a brief background on our inshore, small boat fishery in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. Multi-species inshore fishers hold more than one license. This is a licensing conservation measure enabling fishers to ease up on a stock under pressure. In other words, if the groundfish stock is down, which it has been since the collapse in 1993, we redirect our efforts to ease pressure on the stock in decline and prepare for other fisheries, be it mackerel, herring, tuna, rockcrab and so forth. Like any small business, some years we simply take our financial lumps.
After the government of Canada announced the 200-mile limit in the early 1980s, in their elation of finally claiming Canadian waters, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans(DFO) subsidized the expansion of mid and offshore corporate specialist groundfish fleets. Within the first couple of years after this groundfish fleet expansion, inshore multi species fishers who hold groundfish licenses could see there was too much pressure on groundfish stocks and that they were falling into decline. In the mid ‘80’s, inshore fishers warned the federal government that groundfish stocks were going down and could not handle the pressure of the corporate fleet expansion that DFO had subsidized. But warnings fell on deaf ears.
Instead, as we all know, groundfish stocks were fished to the point of collapse, displacing 36,000 workers, the single largest layoff in Canadian history; clear evidence of what happens when precaution and respect are not extended to marine life and the supporting ecosystem. One would hope that our governments might have learned a lesson from this preventable tragedy. But as we sit here today, it seems not.
In spite of the approximate $400 million dollars spent by the Canadian government since the groundfish collapse to downsize the mid and offshore fleets in order to create a fishery that could sustain itself, it seems that certain elected officials who can’t grow beyond their industrialized mentality, are all too willing to place in jeopardy the Canadian tax payers 400 million dollar investment in our future, to create a sustainable fishery.
As a member of an inshore fishing family, when the groundfishery collapsed, it was difficult to listen to media reports that blamed ‘too many fishermen, too few fish’. The truth of the matter was that the groundfishery collapsed because of ‘too few fishermen catching too many fish’. The distribution of groundfish quota in the Gulf of St. Lawrence at the time of the collapse was: approximately 10 per cent of fishers had 90 per cent of the quota and 90 per cent of fishers, i.e., the small multi-species inshore boats, had approximately 10 per cent of the quota.
We mention this because it is important to note that Gulf of St. Lawrence multi-species inshore fishers not only suffered economically, we suffered the humiliation of being blamed for a collapse we did not create. Since the groundfish moratorium, inshore fishers sacrificed quietly. Without TAGS compensation (along our Gulf NS shores very few either qualified or applied for tags), groundfish boats were tied to the wharves and for almost ten years now, we have been managed by DFO within a precautionary principle -- closed fisheries, test fisheries, limited quotas and microscopic scrutiny by the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council (FRCC) and DFO over mesh sizes, gear types, what we are allowed to fish, where we are allowed to fish, when we are allowed to fish and how we are allowed to fish. In good faith, we have worked steadily with DFO under this precautionary approach to attempt to bring back our groundfish stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Gulf NS inshore multi-species fishers have a history of being leaders in conservation and, I might add, receive little respect for it. We do it because we are sincere in our commitment to long term sustainability of our stocks. We practice what DFO preaches. We implement conservation requirements for lobster, herring, tuna, snow crab, mackerel and groundfish species. Our fishing practices for every single species are scrutinized relentlessly by each division of DFO to make sure conservation comes first. We, the inshore fisher people, pay for the dockside monitoring and observer coverage of our stocks to make sure conservation comes first.
In Gulf NS, some inshore fishers have even taken a step further and gone into debt, putting our boats on the line to buy back groundfish quota from the midshore specialist fleet for the inshore fleet to ensure the long term sustainability of our groundfishery in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. In addition, rock roller mobile groundfish gear, a very destructive gear type, has been voluntarily banned by inshore fishers in Gulf NS, because DFO has yet to implement this important measure to protect marine habitat. The Ecology Action Centre, which has launched a lawsuit against the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for its failure to protect marine habitat along the Scotian Shelf, cite the Gulf NS inshore multi-species groundfishers for exemplary groundfish recovery efforts.
We have done all this because of our gratitude and respect for God-given living renewable resources and because we know that if we protect our fish, we will continue to have a long term multi-species inshore fishery sustaining hundreds of coastal communities and over twenty thousand jobs in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Bight regions. Unless, of course, it is destroyed by others.
So how do you think we feel after all these years of working with DFO to preserve healthy stocks and rebuild groundfish stocks, when we find out petroleum permits have been approved along our shoreline in the middle of vital spawning, nursery and migratory areas?
How do you think we feel when we find out that when it comes to the petrochemical industry, DFO and EC’s legislated mandates to protect marine habitat and our environment have been deferred by the signing of Memorandums of Understanding with the Canada/Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, a so-called independent regulator which is under attack for allowing the petroleum companies to monitor their own safety and environmental requirements? How did the protection of marine habitat get placed in the hands of the petroleum industry?
The regulatory processes for approval of seismic blasting are so slack in this country, they are basically a green light for the petroleum industry regardless of the lack of knowledge of species and the ecosystem. Look at this map of the number of leases on Canada’s east coast. All these leases have been approved without any areas being identified as being too sensitive for petroleum development with the exception of Georges Bank and the Gully, where citizens and volunteers like Percy and I and so many others had to abandon our lives to fill the vacuum left by DFO and Environment Canada who are allowing the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act to supercede the Fisheries Act, the Oceans Act and the Environment Act.
According to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the east coast fishery exports $3billion dollar a year. Does anyone honestly believe that renewable marine resources and their supporting ecosystems that generate $3billion dollars annually would need no sensitive areas to be identified and placed out of bounds to petroleum development?
In 1973, Dr. Loutfi, of McGill University, assisted by a multi-disciplinary team prepared a study for Environment Canada. According to Loutfi, "the Gulf of St. Lawrence is far too valuable to place in harm’s way. He called for a ban on petrochemical development in the Gulf describing it as "biologically the most productive Canadian marine region" and stated that large scale pollution in any part of the Gulf would result in the eventual contamination of these important areas because of the semi enclosed nature of the circulation pattern of the Gulf."
EC’s submission to this review is over 40 pages long. They describe the amazing biodiversity of bird and marine species in the southern Gulf and Sydney Bight areas including endangered harlequin ducks and piping plovers. They intersperse this substantive document with limp mitigation measures.
Who gave publicly funded bureaucracies the right to compromise their legislated mandates to protect precious marine ecosystems? Without adequate study of the impacts of seismic blasting, exploratory drilling and gas flaring on vital species within the areas leased, they have betrayed the public interest to accommodate the petroleum industry at the taxpayer’s expense.
Current science and knowledge gaps of the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Bight regions
According to DFO scientists, in their Regional Habitat Status Report, "Since the early 1990s an increased proportion of the biomass of many important groundfish species occurs in the eastern southern Gulf...average groundfish densities in the SGSL are among the highest in Atlantic Canada. Many of these stocks are currently at depressed levels but even at these low levels, the estimated spawning stock of cod, in the SGSL exceeds 85,000 tons.... the west coast of Cape Breton and Sydney Bight is the main migration pathway between over-wintering grounds outside the Gulf and feeding grounds in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence for many important commercial fish stocks cod, plaice, white hake, witch flounder,( all being strictly managed under the precautionary approach), herring, mackerel and tuna). Over one million tons of mature marine fish may funnel through this narrow corridor each spring and fall", which is when Corridor wants to blast and drill.
Based on this knowledge, common sense dictates that the only hope groundfish stocks have of recovering in the areas of the proposed leases is if our governments apply the same precaution to the petroleum industry as they have with inshore fishers for the past nine years, to protect these threatened stocks that are showing the highest signs of recovery in Atlantic Canada in the eastern southern Gulf. Where Corridor Resources wants to blast and drill.
Yet Corridor says "The critical habitats for the survival of marine life in coastal waters, particularly in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, have not been identified and protected and therefore may not be at risk for exploration activity."
This legalese double talk is not only untrue, it makes us seriously question whether Corridor has done its homework or has any grasp of the very real danger this exploration could have on threatened groundfish stocks. Corridor says the precautionary principle doesn’t apply because there is no threat. If there is no threat to groundfish in the southern Gulf of St Lawrence and Sydney Bight regions, why was our groundfishery placed under moratorium? This denial of the truth is all too typical of the smoke and mirror twisting of facts that have been perpetrated on us for three years by the oil and gas proponents of these dangerous leases. You may be deluding yourselves, Corridor and Hunt and Total Fina Elf, and you can fool some of the people some of the time. You certainly have fooled the Municipality of Inverness County and publicly-funded regional development agencies (RDA), but you haven’t fooled the Municipality of Pictou County, the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council or the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and you won’t fool most of us.
Consider that Hunt Oil didn’t even know about the munitions dump in the Sydney Bight parcel before this public review began. Because of the lack of effective regulations and environmental assessments governing seismic, if we as citizens had not protested this seismic blasting and exploratory drilling and given up our lives for three years trying to stop this invasion of our fishing grounds and if Myles Kehoe hadn’t made us all aware of the munitions dump, Hunt Oil might have already conducted seismic blasting over mustard and nerve gas Second World War canisters and unexploded bombs on one of the most sensitive and vulnerable marine regions in this country. What other unknown risks exist? We have no idea. Neither does DFO! And neither do the oil companies!
DFO scientists, who know more about the species and supporting ecosystems of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Bight regions than any other scientists in the world state
"that in addition to the specific gaps in knowledge that have already been noted, there are general knowledge gaps that impact our ability to adequately describe marine ecosystems and thereby make comprehensive assessments of impacts of human activities."
Let’s go through some of the scientific facts that are known and put them in the context of the terms of reference of this review:
1) The Gulf waters are virtually land-locked and covered in ice every winter. The limited back and forth tidal action of the Southern Gulf makes it more vulnerable to accidents than the Scotian Shelf or Grand Banks. According to DFO scientists, "any impacts from oil and gas exploration activities will be amplified due to the small, shallow, semi-enclosed nature of the environment and the high biomass and diversity year round."
2) Parcel 1 lies along the migratory routes of most of the Southern Gulf’s migrating species.
3) The ecosystem on which the Parcel 1 permit has been staked provides spawning habitat for most species that live in the Southern Gulf.
4) The strongest component of the Southern Gulf’s recovering American plaice stock is in Corridor’s lease. According to DFO scientists,
"Survey catch rates of American plaice in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence are the highest in the Atlantic Zone and there has been a notable shift of the distribution of this recovering species with a greater proportion of this stock occurring off the Cape Breton coast... Juveniles overwinter in the SGSL and there is a strong concentration of plaice in the east of the SGSL between PEI and Cape Breton."
Which is where Corridor wants to blast and drill. As this stock has been under the precautionary approach for ten years, for this reason alone, this exploration and drilling should not proceed.
5) According to DFO scientists, white hake started moving to the east SGSL as the population declined in the early nineties. Hake migrates into the Gulf in May and June and out in November and December. Spawning occurs between June and September when Corridor wants to blast and drill even though the distribution of eggs and larvae are unknown. The only areas of high local densities of hake are in St. Georges Bay, east of PEI and the Cape Breton trough. These high local densities of this vulnerable stock appear in summer and fall when Corridor wants to blast.
As this stock is so fragile, it has been under moratorium since 1995, for this reason alone, this exploration should not proceed.
6) Mackerel migrate into the SGSL through Sydney Bight and along the western coast of Cape Breton where Corridor wants to blast and drill, between late May and early July and out in September and October, when Corridor wants to blast and drill. According to DFO scientists, the SGSL is the main spawning area for the northern stock component of mackerel in the western Atlantic. For this reason, this exploration should not proceed.
7) According to DFO, 43 per cent of all the tuna caught in Canada was in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence in the year 2000. Tuna occur off the northeast coast of PEI from July through October where and when Corridor wants to blast and drill. For this reason, this exploration should not proceed.
8) Adult herring spawn and feed in the SGSL and the juveniles over winter in coastal areas of the SGSL. Some spawning occurs in beds distributed all along the west coast of Cape Breton in both the spring and fall which is when Corridor wants to blast and drill. In fall, the larval period lasts about 4-5 months. For this reason, this exploration should not proceed.
There is a lack of scientific documentation on the spawning of many southern gulf stocks, their juveniles and the food chains for these species. According to DFO scientists,
"There are no fishery independent surveys for nearshore species such as lobster, rock crab and sea scallops. This means that little or no information is available on distributions and movements outside of the commercial fishing period. The production of lobster larvae in the SGSL is among the highest per unit of surface area of any region that has been sampled in North America and ... information is lacking on lobster ... larval distribution and settlement."
Consider that following FRCC recommendations to increase lobster egg production, fishermen have been releasing larger lobsters in the area. According to Dr. Andrew Popper in his preliminary report to this commission,
"the sensory receptors in fishes are very sensitive to strong signals. In mammals these cells die after short term exposure to very loud signals, or longer duration exposure to lower intensity signals. Once these hair cells are lost, deafness occurs. If this happens in fishes, and they loose their ability to hear and detect water motion, there could be a major impact on survival since sound and water motion are two of the most important channels by which fish learn about their environment. Additional concerns are related to increased levels of stress and associated changes in reproductive potential and general survivability with potentially compromised immune systems. Data is not available or is inadequate for making predictions for the license area..There are few or no data on the impacts of sounds or seismic activity on any invertebrates, including crabs and lobster."
Any fisher in this room can tell you that lobsters don’t like noise. After one or two claps of thunder, you can forget about hauling your traps the next day because there won’t be enough lobsters in them.
According to DFO scientists, "... for the southern Gulf, on a per unit area basis, the highest landings of lobster have come from the west coast of Cape Breton and the north coast of PEI," and Corridor wants to do seismic blasting right in the middle of these two areas.
DFO scientists say "Lobster movement is well studied but there are gaps regarding late-fall winter movements." Fall is when Corridor intends to blast and drill on this ocean bottom in the middle of the two areas of highest landings of lobster for the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Canada’s Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans states "the effects of seismic testing, is not sufficiently well documented to provide assurance that damage to important stocks will not occur as a result of oil and gas exploration." Corridor says that if they proceed with exploratory drilling, they will use water based muds. The Georges Bank Review Panel says that "water based muds from exploratory drilling, in addition to containing barite and bentonite, contain constituents such as inorganic salts, surfactants, corrosion inhibitors, lubricants such as diesel and mineral oil(pills), biocides and heavy metals -- mercury, chromium, zinc, cadmium, copper, lead and nickel."
Consider that according to DFO scientists, "the surface sediments along the west coast of Cape Breton are mostly muddy sands or gravel. The distribution of these sediments is modified by the oceanographic currents that transport sediment in a north easterly direction. The bottom currents are strong enough to erode the seafloor and, in some areas, to produce up to 11m high waves."
So, in spite of the fact that the production of lobster larvae in the SGSL is among the highest per unit of surface area of any region that has been sampled in North America and . . . information is lacking on lobster ... larval distribution and settlement" and lobster movements are unknown at this time of year and water based muds contain a litany of toxins and the bottom currents are strong enough to produce 11m high waves and little is scientifically known about the impact of sound on lobster, Corridor insists that seismic blasting and drilling on lobster ocean bottom in the middle of the two areas of the highest landings in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, "poses no significant risks . . . and there will be no cumulative effects from the activities."
Doesn’t this sound like an enormous risk to take? For this reason alone, this exploration should not proceed.
Corridor states that exploration and development activities can be carried out in a manner that poses no threat to the environment because they will do it after the snowcrab fishery and their first round of seismic and drilling will be more than 10 miles from shore (and now our provincial government is proposing the same inadequate 10 buffer zone). Environmental groups in the UK won a major court victory in November 1999 when their government tried to "Limit the application of the EU Habitats directive to only 12 miles from the coast rather than the 200 miles in which it licenses for petroleum. Mr Justice Kay ruled that whales and dolphins can be harmed by petroleum industry activity and ruled that all future offshore licensing within the 200 miles is illegal until the government properly applies the EU Habitats Directive. As a result of this decision the UK government has been ordered to put in place a strict system of protection for whales and dolphins and to identify all areas within 200 miles which contain habitats or species which require protection.
Corridor says they will cause no damage because 10 miles from shore is "beyond the area where species including lobster are commonly fished." For the record, tuna, groundfish, herring, mackerel, snowcrab and in come cases, lobster are all fished beyond ten miles. Does Corridor think that just because some seasons close in accordance with DFO management conservation measures, that the fish miraculously vanish? Do they think that lobster just lay on the ocean floor waiting for next years set of traps? If that is the case, why is it when River John has low lobster catches, Lismore has high catches?
Apart from the knowledge gaps acknowledged by DFO scientists, the graph in DFO’s regional habitat status report shows that in the area of interest, when Corridor is proposing seismic in September/ October, lobster, scallop and shrimp are in the moulting and planktonic stage, white hake are spawning, cod are feeding and migrating with eggs and larvae possibly present and juvenile and adult mackerel are present.
And don’t forget the tuna fishery happening at this time. Or the risk to right whales and leatherback turtles listed as endangered. Or the fin whale, humpback whale, atlantic cod and atlantic wolfish, all listed as being of special concern. DFO’s graph clearly shows that every month of the year molting, spawning, egg hatching, larvae, feeding, migration, juveniles, adults, and planktonic stages are happening. In other words, there is no safe time for exploration and drilling to take place. Period.
Precautionary hypocrisy and seismic blasting and drilling uncertainties
Yet, while every single move inshore fishers make is scrutinized relentlessly by DFO before Mi’kmaq, acadian and gaelic fishing communities are allowed near ancestral fishing grounds, where is the same microscopic scrutiny of the potential impacts of petroleum exploration and exploratory drilling on every single commercial species and their food chains in the southern Gulf and Sydney Bight regions?
For instance, why was Corridor Resources allowed to do seismic blasting off the Magdalen Islands in 1998 in migratory areas of groundfish species under a precautionary approach? Who was asleep at the switch allowing that? Every fall, DFO sends a groundfish survey vessel, the Alfred Needler into the Gulf of St. Lawrence to survey the state of groundfish stocks before determining if anyone is allowed to fish in some limited capacity the next year. We would like to address Corridor Resources’ chronic repetition for the last three years, that seismic blasting done in the Gulf hasn’t hurt our stocks. DFO, unaware that this seismic had taken place in September, 1998, sent the Needler into the Gulf a week later for their annual groundfish survey; the Needler survey described the area of ocean bottom that had been blasted by Corridor a week earlier as being a desert.
Corridor refers to the extensive seismic blasting that took place in the Gulf in the seventies as having had no impact on fish but if you look at this graph, the 1970 year classes of species caught, were born (dependent on the species) five to seven years prior to 1970, and had already matured to be harvested as adults. On the other hand, fish year classes that would have been in the larval and juvenile stages during the peak seismic blasting of 1969/70 were not catchable five to seven years later showing a down turn on this graph from 1973 to 1978 on every species recorded. Similar patterns of downturns in stock are evident after the ‘79 seismic.
If you consider that the landed value of fish in the area of this graph exceeded $350 million dollars, according to 1999 statistics, a similar downturn now would represent the loss of over 100 million dollars fishing income annually. People who are involved in the fishing industry are well aware that many factors such as quota and market availability, prices offered and weather conditions can change a graph’s contours. But no, this graph does not prove seismic blasting does not harm fish.
Petroleum companies don’t like to talk about juveniles. They acknowledge larvae and eggs die and admit adults get scared and swim away but cite studies that say they’ll come back afterwards.
But according to Dr. Andrew Popper, "While some species are likely to move away if their normal behaviour is to escape frightful stimuli, what about species that respond to such stimuli by burrowing into the bottom or freezing in place? Such species could potentially be harmed much more." He says to his knowledge there have been no long term studies done on seismic blasting and exploratory drilling anywhere in the world.
Given the excessive petroleum exploration that has taken place all over the world for more than a century and in the past fifty years, the marine fossil fuel extractions that Corridor, Hunt and Total Fina Elf assure us has been absolutely harmless to fish and is proof of long term coexistence, doesn’t it seem strange that there has been virtually no long term studies done on the effects of seismic blasting proving their position? Given the enormous, some would say, obscene wealth of the petroleum industry, you would think they would feel a responsibility to do some long term studies of their impacts on our planet. The fact they haven’t after all these years raises doubt they ever will.
Dr. Popper says the problem with short term studies is
"What is lacking is any understanding whether the fish that were subsequently caught after the seismic were the same fish that had been in the area before the air gun use, whether they were permanently scared and the fish caught were new recruits, or whether the fish in the area were damaged and killed and the fish caught afterwards replaced those who had died. WITHOUT SUCH KNOWLEDGE, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT REALLY HAPPENS TO FISH OR TO INVESTIGATE WAYS TO MITIGATE."
The oil and gas companies say they will mitigate risks. But mitigation can only occur if enough science on each species exists to determine how to mitigate. According to DFO scientists, "there are knowledge gaps that impact our ability to adequately describe our marine ecosystems. With few exceptions, our knowledge of early life stages of marine organisms, their timing and duration and trophic linkages are poor. Little is known about the habitat requirements of all life stages."
How can petroleum companies effectively mitigate when they don’t have enough knowledge of the species within the southern Gulf and Sydney Bight to determine what needs to be mitigated?
You cannot mitigate the unknown. This is why the precautionary principle was implemented at the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity in 1992 and why it has been subsequently implemented into Canada’s Oceans Act. For situations such as this. The precautionary principle clearly states that where there is scientific uncertainty and the threat of harm, a precautionary approach must be applied. The precautionary principle also states that the burden of proof must be shifted away from those advocating protection toward those proposing an action that may be harmful.
Corridor’s suggestion that because these sensitive areas are not yet identified, protected and placed out of bounds to the petroleum industry means that the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Bight regions are therefore not at risk to petroleum exploration is like saying ‘because the cancer among us has not yet been identified and we have not been protected from it, that it’s not going to kill us.’
There is an absence of conclusive proof that short and long term effects of seismic blasting and exploratory drilling will be harmless to adult and juvenile fish and their food chains. It is irresponsible for oil companies to come before the public of Nova Scotia and tell us, as Corridor has, that "there will be no significant risk to any species and there will be no cumulative effects from these activities." It is impossible to establish this beyond any reasonable doubt because of the lack of science and knowledge gaps of the southern Gulf and Sydney Byte, because of insufficient baseline data on the normal movement patterns and behaviour of fish within the areas of these leases.
The petroleum industry’s list of studies saying seismic blasting and drilling is harmless carry little weight because the results are not relevant to the species and unique ecosystems in the areas of our leases. Popper states that data is not applicable and is inadequate for making predictions for our license areas. According to DFO scientists,
"Of the various species occurring around Cape Breton, data on avoidance are only available from a single experiment on cod off Norway. Those fish moved at least 30km from the airguns. The abundance and catch rates of cod did not return to levels observed prior to the seismic testing over the five days of observation following the testing. In other areas, fisheries catch rates have been depressed by 50 per cent within kilometers of seismic shooting in certain cases. Similar effects have been reported for the cod and snowcrab fisheries on St. Pierre Bank."
The petroleum industry states that in order for studies to be done in our areas, the exploration must be taking place. This is very misleading because our regulator, the CNSOPB informed us that the amount of monies spent on the board’s environmental assessments is determined by the value of the petroleum bid put forward. Considering the minimum bid of one million dollars for the southern Gulf lease, with only a one hundred thousand dollar down payment by Corridor, the board’s opinion was that a $50,000. environmental study would be adequate and they commissioned a literature search. We believe that the ecological and economic value of the fishery and other area related industries should be the appropriate benchmark to dictate the amount of money spent on independent studies by adequately funded government scientists to determine the sensitivity of an area before any exploration proceeds.
Commissioner, on Saturday night while preparing for this submission, amidst our boxes of documents and correspondence going back three years, we came across a letter written to the CNSOPB in 1999 by Rolph Davis of LGL consultants, Corridor’s seismic expert. The letter was a response to a Request for Proposal for a study on the Effects of Seismic Exploration on the East Coast fishery. In this letter Dr. Davis advises CNSOPB that "the budget assigned for the proposed studies is completely inadequate" He states,
"What is the value of short term response information? The important questions are what are the medium term and long term effects of seismic on fish schooling, distribution and behaviour? Do fish habituate to seismic? At what distances do fish respond to a seismic program that has been operating for a week? Or a month? Studies of short term responses to single events are not needed; rather studies require detailed baseline data on fish populations and fish behaviour. They also require careful acoustic measurements to determine the received levels that trigger responses. Studies of the effects of seismic must also account for natural variation in fish distributions and responses, propagation loss of seismic pulses and ambient noise...study techniques can bias the study results. All of these factors need to be addressed in properly designed studies that will provide information that will be useful to regulators. It is extremely difficult to design a study that is rigorous enough to demonstrate "no effects."
We would like to have had this letter when Dr. Davis testified and we hope that he and the petroleum board will respond to the many questions this letter raises.
But at this moment as we sit here before you in Wagmatcook Cape Breton in the year 2002, the reality of this situation is that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has applied a precautionary approach of fisheries management in the southern Gulf and Sydney Bight regions for the last nine years to protect threatened groundfish stocks so they can recover. Conservation measures don’t start and stop with excessive regulation of the inshore fishery. For the precautionary principle to work effectively, precaution must also apply to the petroleum industry. For this reason alone, this exploration cannot proceed.
The petroleum industry likes to talk about co-existence. If you look at this map of the number of leases in the east coast of this country, this is not co-existence, it is takeover. The petrochemical industry has arrived, their greed has no limits and contrary to what Corridor alleges, we have no fear of them leaving if these three inshore permits are revoked. What is disturbing is that our provincial government is in such a rush to practically give away our non renewable resources for a whopping one per cent in royalties that they are willing to risk our renewable resources to do so. All of these permits were approved without consultation with Atlantic fishers and coastal communities. Or proper scientific study. This exploration, drilling and development poses long term risk to our east coast marine ecosystem, the depth of which is beyond what any one of us can even begin to grasp at this time.
Let’s talk about co-existence. We have been co-existing with industrial development for a long time. In the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Bight regions, the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, the PEIFA and the Gulf NS Fleet Planning Board have consistently fought industrial threats to our ecosystems. Pulp mill effluent, pesticides, pollution from the St. Lawrence river, rock quarries, the Tar Ponds, the Irving Whale are but a few examples. The reason our inshore fishery is as healthy as it is is not coincidental. For over thirty years, First Nations and inshore fishers have fought to protect our ecosystems and we have no intention of stopping now.
From all these battles we have learned that we have more co-existence in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Bight regions than we want, and we do not need any more.
The petroleum industry refers to inshore exploration in Port au Port, Nfld as being proof of co-existence. We are deeply concerned about the nature and outcome of this Port au Port development. We are also concerned that the extensive seismic that took place near Hibernia subsequent to the groundfish moratorium may have thrown migrating cod off course so that cod ended up spawning in areas not safe for egg maturity. This could explain why subsequent to the groundfish moratorium, year class supplies of cod turn up one year and not the next, leaving scientists scratching their heads. We don’t know this for sure but within the precautionary principle, where is the science to prove it isn’t true? DFO scientists in Newfoundland have begun to study the long term impacts of exploration and development on species but say it will take up to twenty years to conclude this science. This makes the effects of petroleum exploration and development on this inshore fishery no more than an experiment.
Newfoundland fishers are fishing down the food chain. They have record landings of shrimp, one of the lowest species on the food chain. Shrimp only flourish when there are few predators left.
This, in a province that fished groundfish, one of the top predators in the food chain for centuries and only in the last two decades, it’s been lost. Maybe forever, no one knows. The Port au Port exploration, which only began a few years ago is not proof of co-existence. It is another example of exploration proceeding without proper scientific study. Our hearts break to see the takeover of Newfoundland’s historic fishing grounds because the petroleum industry was thrust upon them while they were still reeling from the groundfish collapse and they didn’t have their wits about them to fight back.
Balancing Rights, sharing inshore waters and the bigger picture
The question remains, why have we sacrificed to conserve and rebuild vulnerable fish stocks if the petroleum industry is allowed to come in and take over our inshore seabeds? The Georges Bank Review Panel determined that petroleum exploration and development is not worth the risk to fishing grounds 100 miles offshore. So how can it be worth the risk along the most beautiful, pristine coastlines in the world in the midst of multi-species inshore fisheries that thousands depend on? How is this possible in a civilized, democratic nation in the twenty first century where our human and historic rights are supposed be protected? Corridor says they only want to balance the rights of fishers with the rights of the oil and gas industry to share our marine resources. Corridor’s former employer, Shell, has a shameful track record of balancing the rights of indigenous peoples in the Niger Delta. According to Where Vultures Feast, author Oronto Douglas speaks of flagrant human rights abuses, gas flaring, the laying of dangerous high pressure pipeline above the ground, the pollution of water sources, the degradation of land, leaving local people destitute. There are similar records of atrocities in Burma, Columbia, Total Fina Elf in the Congo and if you think it would never happen in this country, consider rural Alberta, where according to the National Post, 1 December 2001, farmers have been waiting thirty years for compensation for poisoned land
According to Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Saboteurs, Weibo Ludwig’s War against Big Oil, the province of Alberta has the highest rate of eco-terrorism in North America and some of Canada’s highest rates of respiratory and neurological disease.
"Your family and livestock breathe hydrocarbons that are known to be brain melters, lungwasters and sex changers. Your cattle die and your children pass out cold. Someone develops facial paralysis, multiple sclerosis or other neurological symptoms. The state tells you these emissions are harmless. You civilly and legally challenge the system and are told to go to hell in the public interest. Tensions remain so high in the countryside that pipelines and wells now have twenty four hour guards. You are reported by industry to the police for merely taking pictures of flaring gas. Each week a family in Alberta is exposed to poisons or displaced by energy development and industry and government refuse to compensate those people harmed, or even recognize the legitimacy of their claims. Rural Albertans deserve a separate agency that upholds their rights and that has the power to duly compensate them for damages. Oil companies should be fined for bad practices that affect the property rights of down winders. The government needs to learn to say no to industry." (Globe and Mail, 14 November, 2001)
Does this sound like rights are being balanced?
In the 1990’s natural catastrophes affected more than two billion people globally and caused in excess of $608 billion dollars in economic losses worldwide. According to Janet Abramovitz, author of Unnatural Disasters, "we have altered so many natural systems so dramatically, their ability to protect us from disturbances is greatly diminished. We are unraveling the strands of a complex ecological safety net."
Last week, the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation set up under NAFTA, said that the health of our North American environment that sustains 394 million people and an economy worth $9 trillion (US) is at risk. The commission likened the planet’s assets to a bank account. "By spending natural capital without replenishing it, or by damaging processes and living systems that cannot be fixed by technology, we are living off the capital rather than the interest."
On December 7, 2001, on the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize, 100 Nobel Laureates wrote to major newspapers in over 160 countries warning that our security hangs on environmental and social reform and that the two greatest threats to survival are global warming and arms dealing.
"It is time to turn our backs on the unilateral search for security, in which we seek to shelter behind walls. Instead, we must persist in the quest for united action to counter both global warming and a weaponized world. These twin goals will constitute vital components of stability as we move toward the wider degree of social justice that alone gives hope of peace. To survive in the world we have transformed, we must learn to think in a new way. As never before, the future of each depends on the good of all."
Corridor, Hunt and Total Fina Elf’s insistence that we share our historic inshore fishing grounds with them begs the bigger question, who has priority to the waters of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Byte areas? Our First Nations have treaties and we support the Union of Nova Scotia Indians position put forth by Bruce Wildsmith that this process of petroleum exploration permits being issued is illegal because First Nations have not been consulted. Traditional inshore fishers, Acadian and Gaelic fishing communities may not have treaties. But if you research the archives of this country you will find footage of traditional inshore fishers in coastal communities selectively harvesting species, going back centuries. My father once told me
"If there is such a thing as a natural moral law, each generation must pay to the future the debt it owes to the past."
While we haven’t yet gone to court, if there is such a thing as a natural, moral law, traditional inshore fishers have similar historic rights to our First Nations.
Deborah Walsh of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) testified at this public review that the petroleum industry also wants sensitive areas identified and placed out of bounds. Well, actions speak louder than words so let’s get on with it. A good start would be to place these three shoreline leases in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Bight regions out of bounds to petroleum development. The Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, in its year 2000 recommendations to the Fisheries Minister, asked for a halt on all petroleum exploration and development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence until proper study has taken place to determine the impacts on fish stocks and in its next report made a similar recommendation regarding the Sydney Bight region.
Canada’s Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans states in their report on Canada’s Oceans Act that "it may be prudent to consider placing this region under an oil and gas moratorium similar to that on the Georges Bank region".
DFO scientists says this is a "biologically diverse area where sensitive life stages or marine organisms are present throughout the year" and "any impacts of oil and gas exploration will be amplified due to the small, shallow enclosed nature of the environment and the high biomass and diversity year round." Dr. Rolph Davis, Corridor’s expert witness acknowledges there is little value to short term studies and advised our regulator, the CNSOPB that much more money needs to be spent to properly design studies that will provide information that will be useful to regulators.
Quite simply, if the oil and gas companies are wrong, in twenty years the fish will be gone and the oil and gas will be gone. If we’re wrong, in twenty years, the fish will still be there and the oil and gas will still be there.
Don’t be swayed by the petroleum companies assertion that there will be ample time to study the impacts of this exploration. It’s just another ploy to get their foot in our inshore waters. They’ve had fifty years to study their industry’s impacts on marine ecosystems and where are the long term studies?
We are asking you today to please recommend to the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, the Honourable Ralph Goodale and the Honourable Gordon Balser that in accordance with Canada’s Oceans Act, precaution must be taken immediately, these parcels revoked and oil and gas development placed out of bounds in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Bight regions.
Mary J. Gorman and Percy Hayne
RR#1 Merigomish, NS BOK 1GO
*Mary J. Gorman and Percy Hayne are fishers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence