Online edition of Shunpiking
Thursday, Jan 01, 2004
Documents:

"The only co-existence we are interested in negotiating at this time is with First Nations"

 

By LEONARD LEBLANC

Brief of the Gulf NS Fleet Planning Board to the "Public Review Commission"

 

(WAGMATCOOK, Cape Breton, January 22, 2002) -- The Gulf NS Fleet Planning Board is an umbrella organization of seven multi-species inshore fishing organizations including: Inverness North Fishermen’s Association; Inverness South Fishermen’s Association; Cheticamp and Area Inshore Fishermen’s Association; Maritime Fishermen’s Union Local 4, Northumberland Fishermen’s Association, Gulf NS Bonafide Fishermen’s Organization and Cumberland North Fishermen’s Association. These seven multi-species inshore organizations represent over 75 per cent of Gulf NS’s licensed inshore captains. Through consensus, we deal with larger policy issues.

In accordance with the economic and social impacts of the terms of reference, we want to place on the public record of this Commission that the last ten years have been the most stressful and difficult times, economically and socially, that inshore fishers can ever recall facing in our lives. We have dealt with a groundfish collapse and the additional effort on other stocks as groundfishers transferred their efforts to herring, rockcrab and so forth; we have dealt with the restructuring, cutbacks and downsizing of DFO that created additional fishing costs for dockside monitoring and observer coverage; the cost of our licenses has increased by 1000 per cent.

The federal government is downloading the costs of maintenance and upkeep of our wharves to local harbour authorities and coastal communities; we are in the process of dealing with coast guard regulations that require additional safety courses that must be taken; we are trying to sort out what professionalization means to inshore fishermen; we are dealing with provincial legislation that wants to eliminate any lobster buyer that doesn‚t have a holding capacity of 25,000 lbs -- if this legislation is implemented it could have a devastating impact on lobster prices as competition among small buyers plays a huge role in keeping our prices up; these are just a few examples of increased costs and economic uncertainty.

Just this past spring Inverness Seafoods, Arisaig Fisheries; J&K Fisheries in Lismore; Pictou Seafoods and Cape John Seafoods and others were all bought out by out-of-province larger buyers. We have yet to get a grip on the loss of control, economic uncertainty and social impact these takeovers of local plants may have.

"The only co-existence we are interested in negotiating at this time is with First Nations"

Last but not least, in fact, most importantly, we have been dealing with the historic Marshall decision. We want to note on the public record of this commission that Mi‚kmaq, Acadian and Gaelic coastal communities have fished these inshore grounds for centuries. The only co-existence we are interested in negotiating at this time is with First Nations. Our first priority is that the Marshall decision be implemented in a fair, equal way that promotes peaceful co-existence with native fishers and First Nation allies.

We mention all this to give you a sense of the social and economic pressures inshore fishers and coastal communities are already under.

Perhaps you can understand then, our confusion, discontent and opposition to oil and gas exploration and drilling on inshore fishing grounds. The sense of betrayal we feel toward our provincial and federal governments for allowing these exploration leases to be issued without any identification of sensitive areas.

You have heard the Department of Fisheries and Oceans testify at this public review that our marine areas are even more sensitive than Georges Bank. As Georges Bank has been placed under moratorium, there is no doubt that if the petroleum licensing process were different, if sensitive areas were identified and placed out of bounds prior to the issuance of petroleum leases, we would not be sitting here today. Because this Parcel 1 lease, along the western shore of Cape Breton in one of the most productive and sensitive marine regions in this country, would never have been issued. Inshore fishers could have been spared this additional stress, economic cost and social pressure of fighting these improper leases in our historic fishing grounds for the last three years.

In order to discuss the ecological impacts of this exploration, we believe the source of the problem lay with the lack of proper process and the lack of consultation with the fishing industry and other groups. The root of the problem seems to be that the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board does not identify and protect areas containing important fishing grounds or ecologically sensitive areas prior to the issuance of petroleum leases. In spite of the millions of hectares of ocean bottom that have been leased off our shores, the petroleum board has yet to even define what a sensitive area is.

For example: The Strategic Environmental Assessment prepared by the Board regarding Call for bids NS00-1 stated:

"No particular areas within the parcels in Call for Bid NSOO-1 are known to be sensitive habitat. However, species of groundfish spawn on Sable Island Bank, fisheries are important in the parcels along the slope, deep sea corals are known to occur in nearby areas, whales and large pelagics use the slope as a migration corridor, and seabirds are found year-round in the slope environment."

Commissioner, if the areas just mentioned aren't sensitive, what is? What defines a sensitive area? How can our ocean bottom be leased out without sensitive areas first being defined, identified and protected?

We strongly oppose petroleum exploration and drilling taking place prior to the identification of sensitive marine areas.

The Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, whose mandate is to regulate the offshore petroleum industry, seems to function more as a promotional agency for the offshore petroleum industry. They rely upon the oil and gas companies to monitor their own environmental requirements and defend the position that identification of sensitive areas or public consultation can occur after the issuance of an exploration license.

This reasoning and approach is wrong:

• First, following the issuance of exploration licenses, the opportunities for public consultation are limited. There is no defined process for consultation and there are no requirements for independent review unless citizens protest long and loud.

• Secondly, their process of environmental review for exploration licenses is superficial. (For example, In the case of Parcel 1, off the western coast of Cape Breton, according to the CNSOPB , they completed their assessment in one afternoon and of all things, forgot to mention fragile Atlantic salmon.)

• Thirdly, consulting with the public and conducting superficial assessments after the licenses have been issued, is too late because the board has already offered up the area for petroleum activities; the companies have developed bids based on access to the entire area and the momentum is with the oil companies.

The oil and gas industry and some elected government representatives, both federally and provincially, have stated they believe there can be co-existence between the fishing industry and the oil and gas industry, as in other parts of the world such as Norway. Those who are citing such examples should be at least interested in the process that is in place in other countries and look at the systems where they cite co-existence as existing. They should sit down and talk to fishermen about how co-existence might work instead of dictating an undemocratic process. Terms of co- existence cannot be dictated.

In several jurisdictions, most notably Norway, before an area of the ocean is opened to oil and gas bidding, an environmental assessment is conducted. This assessment examines the ecological sensitivity of the area, the use of the area by other industries and whether the environment and other users would be adversely affected by oil and gas activities. Only if the assessment determines that there will be no negative implications, is any area opened up to oil and gas bidding. Under the Norwegian licensing process, an area is closed until it is open by an act of Parliament. In Canada, it is the reverse -- the entire waters of Atlantic Canada are up for bid because no areas have been deemed sensitive. DFO’s Oceans Branch needs to identify and protect sensitive marine regions, in accordance with the Fisheries Act and Oceans Act and place them out of bounds to petroleum development. Instead, oil companies nominate a parcel and the petroleum board puts up for bid any ocean area in Atlantic Canada. In other words, Canada’s process is backwards.

Commissioner, we are not going to go into detail about DFO’s Regional Habitat Status report, which identifies enormous sensitivities as well as serious gaps in knowledge throughout Parcel 1 and Sydney Bight. We know much of this has already been placed on the public record of this commission. We also know much has been said about the precautionary approach.

We prefer to discuss with you today the Ecosystem approach which is also law under Canada’s Oceans Act. Just as inshore fishers have been functioning under a precautionary approach for almost ten years, we have also been functioning through DFO conservation management and licensing measures under an ecosystem approach for over twenty years.

Ecosystem approach

With the formation of DFO’s Regional Area Management Approach, the Southern Gulf Region, Scotia Fundy region, Laurentien region and Newfoundland region were all placed under an ecosystem approach of area management. For conservation measures to be effective, the petroleum industry must also be placed under an ecosystem approach. To accomplish this, the Oceans Branch of DFO must be brought under the jurisdiction of a regional area management approach. We understand that very recently, the Gulf region of DFO announced its own oceans branch but this was not the case when the Parcel 1 lease was issued three years ago.

The problem with the regulatory structure of petroleum boards on Canada’s east coast is that the present system is set up based on provincial boundaries extended over Canada’s territorial waters; and each province bordering on that given ecosystem, forms its own petroleum boards with no consideration given to the whole ecosystem.

In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, as in other regions, one fishery advisory committee should be constructed that is representative of all fisheries and fishers, aboriginals, inshore, midshore and offshore fishers in the Gulf’s whole ecosystem. Petroleum promotion and regulatory agencies bordering this ecosystem, such as the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, PEI, New Brunswick and Newfoundland boards should recognize this committee as the official Fisheries Advisory Board, in any memorandum signed by the government of Canada. This has not taken place. As a result, there is a threat of harm to our ecosystems not only in the southern Gulf but in the whole Gulf of St. Lawrence because of different jurisdictions. NS, PEI, New Brunswick, Quebec and Newfoundland petroleum boards all have jurisdiction within the Gulf of St. Lawrence that ignore the overall ecosystem of the Gulf’s vibrant diversity and fragile balance, its circulation pattern and its semi enclosed nature. This makes the current method of setting up provincial petroleum boards unacceptable and dangerous to marine ecosystems.

The present process directed by provincial governments and the government of Canada and its agencies in legislation and Memorandum of Understanding have given oil companies exploration rights including exclusion zones. This process has allowed the issuance of seismic blasting exploration permits in spawning, nursery and migratory routes prior to any proper environmental, social and economic assessments or negotiation with the fishing industry, First Nations and coastal communities. This process is conducted in this way to protect the secret bidding process of oil and gas companies. The bidding process of oil and gas companies cannot take precedence over the Precautionary and Ecosystem principles of the Oceans Act and the Habitat Protection clauses of the Fisheries Act. This present process favors the oil and gas industry’s agenda whose mandate is to determine how and when they can proceed; not IF they should proceed. This is not acceptable.

Proper steps in a precautionary, ecosystem process must be:

1) To identify the ecosystem.

2) An independent, strategic environmental assessment of the potential environmental impact of any proposed offshore oil and gas activity -- including exploration, production, transport and decommissioning on all species, including the food chain on the ecosystem in the areas of the leases in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Bight regions, conducted by scientific experts with no vested interest in the petroleum industry.

3) A social-impact study on all communities dependent on the ecosystem.

4) The undertaking of DFO Regional Habitat Status Reports on the Gulf of St. Lawrence’s ecosystem and adjacent waters;

5) Sensitive areas such as spawning, nursery and migratory routes must be defined, identified and protected within the ecosystem before any licenses are given out anywhere.

6) Gaps in scientific knowledge must be identified and addressed .

7) The uncertainty of short and long term studies of the effects of seismic blasting on species, food chains and their ecosystems must be addressed.

In a submission to this public review, Dr. Robert Abbott, an American expert in the bioaccustics of fish and the assessment of impacts from underwater sound states:

"Loud underwater sounds can result in injury or death to most species of fish including rockfish, salmon and herring ... the main cause of injury or death is bariotrauma. The underwater pressure wave first compresses the gas bladder and then the following underpressure wave results in the rapid expansion of the gas bladder pushing it against the kidneys and internal organs. Internal examination of fish exposed to powerful underwater sound pressure waves from explosions show internal bleeding and severe damage to the kidneys. The injuries can also be seen in the inner ear where the hair cells on the inner ear membranes are damaged. Virtually any damage to the kidney, or inner ear will result in the near term mortality of the fish due to its inability to swim normally and avoid predators.. . even up to 50 metres away, fish were affected. The fish that are some distance away from the acoustic source, may not be killed, but they swim abnormally due to the injuries to the inner ear. . . fish with abnormal swimming behavior become targets for predators. The full extent of the zone of impact is very poorly understood. The best available evidence suggest that the radius of delayed mortalities, especially for small fish, may be many times greater than the radius of immediate mortalities and for powerful sound sources such as seismic air guns, may extend for a great distance."

Commissioner, comments such as this make us worry deeply about what will become of our abundant, diverse inshore fishery in the southern Gulf and Sydney Bight that has sustained our coastal communities for centuries. What legacy are we leaving our children? We know there is practically no information globally on the effects of seismic blasting on female lobster bearing eggs and larvae.

While we realize that this public review is only to consider the effects of potential oil and gas exploration within the permits, we ask that you acknowledge in your decision that to only examine these impacts based on fictional lines drawn on water is a complete reversal of the ecosystem approach and of the way DFO has managed multi-species inshore stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for twenty years now.

For conservation to work effectively, the ecosystem and precautionary approaches must also apply to the petroleum industry and other industrial developments. As long as politicians and bureaucrats refuse to deal with this problem in a democratic manner and continue to dictate and manipulate every move, there will not be co-existence.

Our Atlantic ocean is a moving, living world in itself that never stays still, whose inhabitants are constantly moving because of tide, prevailing current and migrations. The ocean cannot be managed in small, independent blocks. The risks associated with attempting to manage ocean marine resources without precaution and an ecosystem approach are unknown and could be devastating. You can’t mitigate what you don’t know. As the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence represents only one percent of the fishing areas of Canada and yields 15 per cent of landed catches, we hope you will seriously weigh these unknown risk factors and the short and long term implications of these dangerous precedents. Respectfully, we are requesting that you recommend:

* that these permits on both sides of Cape Breton Island be revoked; and

* that the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and Sydney Bight regions, due to their extreme sensitivity, as defined in DFO’s regional habitat status report, be placed out of bounds for petroleum exploration and drilling.

We also request you recommend that a fair, clear, well defined, impartial process, in accordance with habitat protection in Canada’s Fisheries Act and the ecosystem and precautionary clauses of Canada’s Oceans Act, be put in place for the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Sincerely,

Leonard LeBlanc, President

Gulf NS Fleet Planning Board

Box 312, Chéticamp, NS BOE 1HO

phone (fax) (902)224-2004