Institutional & Systemic Issues that Undermine DFO’s Capacity to Fulfill their Mandate to Protect Marine Life, Habitat, and Oceans

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On February 22nd, we recieved a response to our January 3rd Open Letter, from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Hon. Dominic LeBlanc. It spoke to issues about the herring crisis that we asked almost two months ago. We already knew 95% of the information in his response. On the other hand, the Minister did not address any of the institutional and systemic issues we identified in our January 3rd letter. Below is our reply.

Council of Canadians – Kent County NB Chapter
coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com

February 28, 2017

The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard
200 Kent Street, Station 15N100
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E6

Dear Minister LeBlanc:

Thank you for your response. After November 22nd, it is evident that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) initiated a professional investigation of possible causes of the unprecedented herring die-off in the Bay of Fundy.

As you know from reading our file of correspondence and supporting documents, we are deeply concerned about the institutional and systemic issues highlighted by this crisis. Most of these matters were also emphasized in your November 2015 “Mandate Letter.” When you were appointed Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau stressed that “openness and transparency in government” is vital; and that “Government and its information should be open by default” because for “Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians.” In the following paragraphs, we explore related points.

The Value of Peoples’ Knowledges and DFO Communications Strategy

Our position was and is that the people closest to the situation must be regarded as very important stakeholders. These are the little people who do not have huge profit margins or access to public money. Consequently, their standard and quality of life is directly affected by an event like the herringcide. As taxpayers, they pay government salaries. As coastal dwellers, they know the water and the creatures living in the water. Their perspectives deserve full respect and due regard.

For democracy to thrive, government must be accountable, responsive, and transparent. In our view, with so much potentially at stake, it was essential to address valid community concerns about the extraordinarily synchronistic timing between the die-offs and the turbine installation. The actions we advocated were: immediate visual monitoring of Minas Passage herring activity, prompt necropsy of beached herring further down the Bay, and swift reportage on what was learned. Instead, DFO staff simply continued to assert that the turbine was not a factor in the herring die-offs. This set no one’s mind at ease. It caused rancour and distrust that continues to this day, and will challenge relationships between government and community into the future.

Here are three examples of how it appears DFO did not show respect for the opinions and concerns of grassroots community members:

  1. Invites to two DFO briefings held in the first week of January were not inclusive of pertinent organizations – for example, the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association (BFIFA) was not invited to either one of them.
  2. Our Kent County chapter did manage to phone-in to one such briefing on January 5th, as did one independent small-scale Minas Basin fisherman. Your moderator made several attempts to prevent our participation, finally telling us that we would have to wait to the end to ask any questions. She then tried to close the briefing without letting us speak. I had to remind her she had agreed to let us ask questions of the panel after all reporters were finished.
  3. Both the fisherman and I asked questions the expert panel could not answer at that moment. Promises were made to put that information on your website. I found out some time later that one of my requests was also raised by a staff person with an Environmental NGO invited to your January 6th briefing. Specifically, your staff agreed to provide data (ideally a map) of areas where die-offs happened, indicating what tests were done from there, complete with dates. The DFO “herring” webpage still does not have the promised details.

Why do we ask for this sort of information? As one example, its absence means the issue of anoxia is not satisfactorily addressed. Obviously, massive numbers of fish in small areas will reduce oxygen levels. Upstream conditions can exacerbate oxygen depletion, and the die-offs were at or near river mouths. Where were the oxygen samples taken? When will this online map be provided?

What Authority does DFO Have?

In April 2016, your Science Advisory panel published an extremely critical report about Cape Sharp’s environmental protection plan. Despite all the flaws noted by your experts, the province of Nova Scotia very quickly decided to let the turbine installation proceed. How does this fit with your department’s mandate to protect the creatures that live in the water and their habitat?

On January 5th we sent your office a supplementary email, via your Ministerial Correspondence staff Ms. Aileen Kenny (cc’d below). A 2013 National Energy Board (NEB) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DFO had just come to our attention. We asked that your response to our January 3rd letter also provide information about this. It gives the NEB override authority on decisions re: fisheries impacts and endangered species protection regarding NEB-regulated pipeline and power line energy development proposals. This totally undermines DFO’s mandate to protect marine animals and their habitats, so we specifically asked:

  1. Is this MOU still in place?
  2. Are there other similar MOU’s? 
  3. Or, is it now simply “standard practice” that DFO stands down on issues related to marine health where energy development projects are being implemented?

Your February 22nd response did not address the above huge issues. We look forward to further information on these questions.

The Damage Done to DFO by the Previous Federal Government

As your Mandate Letter recognizes, there were massive budget and mandate cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans during Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. Personnel were moved and terminated. Scientists were muzzled. Apparently libraries of crucial scientific research were eliminated. You have a clear mandate from Prime Minister Trudeau to restore DFO staffing, mandate and regulations to the level necessary to truly protect marine life and habitat in Canada’s coastal and ocean environments. This is urgent. How fast are you moving on this?

The existence of the MOU mentioned above is evidence of the restructuring that happened during the Harper years. DFO’s full mandate for protection of marine animals and their habitat has not been restored if there exists a body of interdepartmental or intergovernmental formal or informal (“standard practice”) understandings that your Department’s scientists will routinely stand down to expedite energy development, or perhaps other resource industry, proposals. These operational policies must be rescinded. Has this been done?

Only very recently were DFO staff informed that they could now speak publicly on issues. Could the institutional culture of terror and silencing under the past government be the cause of the inadequate flow of information between the Department and the public-at-large during the herring crisis? Points made elsewhere in this letter demonstrate this lack and further examples can be provided. What was the cause of this shortcoming? Are frontline and research staff still worried whether they have executive support for speaking with the public and media? Is there a lack of capacity in DFO regions to engage with the public appropriately? Are staffing levels too low?

No Explanation Offered for the Herring Deaths

We want to make clear that Council of Canadians’ chapters never asserted the Cape Sharp turbine was the cause of the herringcide. In the December 14th backgrounder, ten possible causes are examined. We published this participatory social research because your Department was virtually mute on what it was doing about the herring die-offs during the first few weeks of the crisis. Our research was based on what was surmised or known at the time by those closest to the crisis, such as: fisherfolk, ecotourism operators, coastal residents, environmentalists, etc.

These coastal knowledge-holders could not find a basis to blame the “usual suspects” – as was proven by your department’s preliminary and subsequent conclusive testing. The major outstanding factor identified by our community allies and other coastal community members was the new turbine. The fact that its testing and commission period completely synchronized with the beginning of the herring die-off was evident to everyone.

As time went on, your Department staff continued to assert the turbine was not a factor because it was too far away. This did not alleviate concerns. The turbine as a major factor in the herringcide was a consistent theme in social media (including in comments in the petition I launched; now closed and signatures sent to the Prime Minister). The turbine as a possible cause was mentioned frequently in mainstream media reports throughout December 2016.  Further, as you know, on January 2, 2017 the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermens’ Association directly asked Cape Sharp Tidal Ventures to turn off the turbine “experiment,” to see if that could be a cause. (NOTE to the Reader: copies of this letter are available on request.)  The turbine issue was addressed further in our wrap-up document on the herringcide, but primarily in the context of your Department’s community relations deficits.

What we do know is that there was an extraordinary number of herring in the locations where the die-offs were seen. At the January 5th media briefing, this is the only fact on which the government staff expert panel confidently agreed. Some experts called this “densification” and others called it an excessive “aggregation.” Your staff offered no theory as to why this happened.

Where did these extra herring come from? The fishermen and other coastal residents have their theories related to the turbine. As you know some of these issues are before the courts. If there is no substantial Spring Herring Run in the Minas area of the Bay, we will know they were unfortunately correct. Our group sees another major unexamined factor, which we take up below.

What is DFO Doing Now?

It appears your staff have taken the position that after an event like this finishes, there is nothing more to be done. We disagree.

As an environmentalist who is not a fisherman or a scientist, I can reasonably surmise that climate change might have something to do with this extraordinary “densification.” The Gulf of Maine is perhaps the fastest warming portion of the world’s oceans. Ocean warming affects fish populations: for example, there is emerging research on the impact of warming waters on the New England cod fishery. As another example, considerable research is now emerging on marine species moving to cooler waters in response to chemical and temperature changes wrought by global warming of our oceans. It is noteworthy that this relevant and crucial research does not seem to originate in Canada. This feels wrong in this time of deepening ocean ecocrisis. As your Mandate Letter emphasizes, Canada has more coastal area to steward and protect than any other nation.

Something was responsible for the extraordinary densification of herring in the Bay of Fundy die-off locations. Perhaps it is neither the environmental disturbance caused by the turbine nor the warming temperature in the Gulf. We do know there are many recent instances of similar sudden, large, unexplained herring die-offs around the world. This suggests considerable probability mass herring die-offs will continue. Something must be done to help the stressed herring.

In Canada, DFO is responsible for protecting marine animals and habitats. In the face of the global ocean warming and acidification crisis, this means proactive engagement, not just reactive response. Has DFO initiated contact with other global marine scientists to collaborate on an international body of knowledge re: what might be done in the way of mitigation to assist herring? If not, is this due to a lack of resources, perhaps related to the gutting of all environmental programs by the Harper government? If there is a lack of resources, what is being done to rectify it?

One final point: on January 5th I confirmed to Ms. Aileen Kenny the email addresses for the final count of seven Council of Canadians’ chapter who support our Open Letter of January 3rd. In regards to your correspondence of February 22, 2017, I noted that not all had received your reply. I have forwarded your letter to Jean Louis Deveau of our Fredericton chapter (he is named but was not emailed on February 22nd), as well as Leo Broderick of our PEI Chapter, and Leticia Adair of our Saint John NB chapter. All are also cc’d in this reply. We look forward to your response.
Respectfully,

Ann Pohl

Council of Canadians – Kent County NB Chapter

Copies:

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • Premier Brian Gallant
  • Premier Stephen McNeil
  • Ms. Aileen Kenny, Ministerial Correspondence, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Council of Canadians signatories to the Jan. 3, 2017 “Open Letter to Political Leaders”
  • Supporters of the Council of Canadians – Kent County NB Chapter

For other news about what we are up to, please read this blog by Brent Patterson. Exciting news that it is now *30 chapters* of Council of Canadians seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister on better protection of coastal life, marine health, and our oceans. We have received confirmation that our communication has been passed to the PMO section that responds to requests for meetings. You will hear more on this…

 

A Call Out to Mobilize for Coastal Life and Ocean Protection

Prepared for circulation to all Water Protectors:
Our Allies, in and around the Council of Canadians

Near Saglek Bay in Nunatsiavut, the homeland of the Labrador Inuit. ©Ossie Michelin

All waters—fresh and salt—are connected

For more than 30 years the Council of Canadians has been a leader on fresh water protection in Canada. In 1999, we published a comprehensive National Water Policy advocacy brief regarding how to protect watersheds and implementation of the human right to water.

Fresh water flows into the sea. Contaminants that flow into rivers and streams from industrial pollution, such as fracking and burst tailing pond dams, drain into estuaries, bays, seas, and oceans. These contaminants compound the abuse and neglect already poisoning the salt-watery majority of our planet. Survival of marine life, already stressed by acidification and warming waters, is further compromised.

The Council of Canadians is not loosening our efforts on freshwater issues. This is a “both/and,” because the planet’s waters are all connected. We are calling out across our organization, and to allies, to develop a coordinated, unified, strategic campaign on protecting coastal life and ocean waters. In a separate communication sent today, 24 chapters of the Council of Canadians ask the Prime Minister of Canada to meet with us to discuss the issues raised in this call to action.

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The magic of life in coastal waters, Gaburus, Cape Breton Island, NS. ©George Griffen

Our coasts are being neglected

Canada has a huge global stewardship responsibility. We have more oceanfront than any other nation. Gaining protective legislative and regulatory measures will not be easy. The plethora of issues is compounded by official lethargy and avoidance.

Every day, volunteers in the Council of Canadians‘ community chapters work with people from local networks and environmental NGO’s across Canada to advocate for marine life and salt water protection. We are united in alarm about the contamination that will certainly result from hundreds of oil and gas export tankers, each day, crossing the fragile and stressed waters of the Georgia Strait, Salish Sea, other western coastal waters, Bay of Fundy, Gulf of Maine, Beaufort Sea, and more of our shore waters. Much of the intended export material is bitumen, which truly cannot be cleaned from the water after a spill. Each of these areas provides habitats for designated species at risk and/or for marine life on which Indigenous Peoples and others depend for sustainable livelihoods.

In particular, Atlantic Canadians feel betrayed by government on marine protection: “Frankenfish” in PEI; aquaculture diseases spreading to wild populations (despite government assurances this would never happen); the evaporation of Newfoundland’s cod fishery; the loss of the salmon fishery in New Brunswick; the loss of some unique Striped Bass spawning habitat in Nova Scotia; off-shore drilling throughout the near Atlantic Ocean; etc.

Darren Porter’s Herring Weir, Minas Basin, NS. When other fish are caught,
such as this stupendous Striped Bass, they are released. ©Erica Danae Porter 

Countless millions of dead herring: a case in point

Beginning mid-November 2016, dramatic mortalities of herring were evident in the Bay of Fundy—a powerful, unique ecosystem boasting the highest tides in the world, and is home to rare species such as the Right Whale, provides spawning grounds for the Striped Bass, and has a flourishing ecotourism industry.

Why the big fuss about the humble herring? The herring are a primary food source for larger marine life in the Fundy, as well as people food, bait for shellfish traps, and a significant resource export. Without herring, the Fundy fisheries collapse.

Contrary to frequent public messaging, energy generation by tidal turbines can seriously harm marine life. Depending on design, direct strikes can kill and injure animals caught in the mechanism. Arguably more insidious is the noise, vibration and pressure change disruption of the marine environment. Many at-risk sea mammals, and forage fish like herring, have very sensitive auditory biology. Despite the urgent need to generate energy from non-fossil fuel sources, this calls into question tidal power’s “green” status.

In April 2016, the Science Advisory Committee for the Maritimes of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) reviewed a proposal to install an experimental tidal turbine in the upper Bay of Fundy. The DFO advisory committee clearly said the proponent’s baseline data was inadequate to establish an environmental monitoring plan. The province of Nova Scotia immediately approved the turbine’s deployment in the Minas Passage. Fishers’ associations are currently taking the province to court over this inconsistency.

Left: Busy Digby Harbour, NS. ©Pics by Mitch (FB)  
Right:  Sandy Beach, on the Northumberland Strait, NB. ©George Griffen

Turbine deployment happened in early November 2016. Within days of the onset of testing and commissioning, dead herring began beaching further down the Bay. DFO’s response was sluggish. While die-offs continued, the department spent weeks testing and retesting for “the usual suspects”: viruses, bacteria, algae bloom toxins, and predators. DFO acknowledged a unique “densification” or “aggregation” of herring in the die-off bays and coves (ie. overcrowding), but had no explanation for the phenomenon. (See this “A Sequel” link for more info on herringcide investigations and theories.) 

Many residents, including fisherfolk, are certain the herring were affected by the turbine. People who know these waters believe the herring fled from the Minas area to similar marine environments further down the Bay. Injured or overcrowded, that is where the herring were seen swimming abnormally, losing strength, and ultimately dying. Repeated calls to government and industry – to please stop the turbine to determine if it was the cause of the herring die-off, or to send cameras and divers to the bottom of the Fundy in the Minas area – were ignored.

Throughout the entire “herringcide” event, DFO refused to acknowledge that the synchronous turbine disruption of the Bay’s marine environment demanded serious evaluation. Many observers feel this is due to politics: Nova Scotia wants tidal turbines to succeed. The province has invested a lot of cash and political capital in creating the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) to start-up major tidal energy generation. Powerful corporations see a huge market for “green” Canadian electricity along the US eastern seaboard, involving undersea cable links from the controversial Muskrat Falls in Labrador, biomass generation at Point Tupper NS, and upcoming Fundy tidal generation.

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Seal near Annapolis Royal, off the Bay of Fundy, NS. ©Pix by Mitch (FB)

Deepening the public’s scorn for DFO’s controversial “look over here, not over there” herringcide investigation, a 2013 Memorandum of Understanding surfaced in early January 2017. This gives the National Energy Board responsibility to assess risk to fish and fish habitat near proposed pipelines and power lines. The possible existence of a similar understanding regarding FORCE initiatives in Nova Scotia could explain DFO evading questions about the new turbine’s possible effect on herring.

Like all such development proposals in Canada, Cape Sharp/Emera’s turbine in Minas Passage went through a provincial environmental impact assessment (EIA). This means that the proponent contracted a company that wrote an EIA report. The government then reviewed the paperwork, and approved the application. In some such instances, governments put conditions on approval, but the proponent is responsible for undertaking, monitoring, and reporting on their own compliance. This process is ridiculous. Asking the fox to install security for the henhouse is unacceptable and makes a mockery of the intent and meaning of environmental assessment.

In the past two months, more than 70,000 international and Canadian individuals have signed a petition calling on federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant to address the issue of herring die-offs. On January 3, 2017, an open letter was sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and all these other political leaders, bringing their attention to the petition and asking for a response on key points. To date, none of the aforementioned have responded.

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Bull Kelp on beach, Tofino, B.C. ©Alexandre Robichaud

The system is failing marine life, and us

This environmental crisis has brought to the forefront a host of broader concerns. DFO simply does not seem to be up to the job of protecting marine life. We understand that DFO’s scientific and species/habitat protection mandate is undermined by its multi-pronged mandate. Most significantly, DFO was hard hit by the extreme politicization of science, including restructuring and defunding, that happened during the Harper regime. At that time, scientists were muzzled, protection legislation was gutted, and key programs and personnel terminated.

As mentioned above, EIA processes across Canada do not protect the environment, and other protective legislation was stripped of its powers by the Harper regime. The Justin Trudeau government came into power promising to renew and revitalize Canada’s environmental regulatory system. Standing Committees and panels recently finished consultations on these ravaged laws. Each committee, dealing with each legislation, picked which major cities to visit (or not). All ignored frontline rural areas that are often most impacted by poor regulations. In the online consultation option, the questions funneled towards the interests of big government, not the affected communities. We will be watching to see what these consultations generate.

Left: Humpback whale & friends enjoy herring snack. Cape Bonavista, NL. ©George Griffen   Right: Loon in winter coat, enjoying aneel, Bay of Fundy shore. ©Pix by Mitch

Environmentalist confidence in the Trudeau government further deteriorated with the November announcement of the Ocean Protection Program. Billed as being about proactive protection of the oceans, it prioritizes putting more resources towards clean up costs after anticipated shipping and pipeline accidents on our coasts. This is useful but not “protective,” which means “preventative” or “precautionary.” The Program also touts creation of more marine protected areas. Meanwhile, the very fragile and important Gulf of St. Lawrence is still open for oil and gas exploration where, intentionally or not, the planning processes are going slower than industry is moving.

“Consultation” seems to be the main public relations strategy of the current government. During the regulatory-related consultation processes in Fall 2016, many directly-affected stakeholders lacked resources and capacity to be at all tables and forums. In this vacuum, the Prime Minister recently held a few “pop-up” community town halls to demonstrate his sincere interest in hearing from ordinary Canadians. He was not seen in directly-affected or -threatened rural communities.

When marine life or habitat decimation occurs, other legal and ethical precepts come into play. In the instance of the herringcide, this happened on unceded Mi’kmaq territory. All of Canada is traditional Indigenous territory. The federal government has trustee responsibility for stewardship and protection of the resources, and is required to ensure that future generations of “Aboriginal” or Indigenous Peoples can enjoy their inherent rights to these resources. When profound environmental degradation occurs, the federal government is abrogating its fiduciary duty. Numerous related court cases are already in motion, eating up funds and personnel time that could go towards genuine protection. (See, for example, this link.)

More crises like the herringcide will be commonplace as our climate increasingly crisps and crumbles. Whenever this happens, those with the most direct knowledge of marine environments must be recognized as experts about what is happening in our own backyards: Indigenous traditional knowledge holders, fisherfolk, citizen scientists, naturalists, local environmental advocacy organizations, and ecotourism operators. These experts must be deliberately sought out, and not evaded or fought, by departments and agencies such as Environment and Climate Change Canada, DFO, and provincial departments. We should not have to go to court to keep corporate actions in line with the public good.

The Council of Canadians represents more than 100,000 people across this nation in a network of more than 60 grassroots volunteer-based chapters who work with a wide cross-section of allies. The Council’s volunteers are backed by a national staff of experts. We deserve an opportunity to have the Prime Minister meet with us about meaningful protection of our marine areas.


Published on February 16, 2017 by the Council of Canadians – Kent County NB Chapter.
Contact us at coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com.

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Swallowtail Lighthouse, Grand Manan, NB. ©Deborah Carr

Please Note: we will soon post our letter to the Prime Minister asking for a meeting.
It has already been co-signed by 25 Council of Canadians chapters across the country.  

A Sequel: What *Happened* to the Humble Herring?

Note: this is “a sequel” to What’s Happening… (dated 12-14-16)

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Prepared by:
Ann Pohl, Kent County NB Chapter, Council of Canadians
January 23, 2017

1.  It May Be Over

For now, the herringcide crisis in the Bay of Fundy may be over. The last observed occurrence of this winter’s major die-off was January 4, 2017. This is according to retired University of Saskatchewan scholar Dr. Ted Leighton, renowned for his work in wildlife disease research.

However, if DFO walks away from this now, we may well see more of the same at the time of the Spring Herring Run in the Upper Fundy (see Sections 6 & 7). In my worst fears, there may be another round of herringcide.

On January 4, 2017, birdwatchers known to Leighton saw an estimated 20,000 seagulls on one remote, distant stretch of beach in St. Mary’s Bay. There were also an exceptional number of crows, eagles and ravens. All were feeding on dead and dying fish on the shoreline, as well as fish at the surface of the water. The huge confluence of birds was not there on January 3rd or on January 5th. Leighton concludes, based on prior events, that this Jan 4th feeding frenzy signified another big beaching, more so considering herring do not usually swim on the water’s surface during the day. What this deductive process illustrates is it’s almost impossible to calculate the scope of the herringcide crisis. To my knowledge, the Jan 4th event went unacknowledged by DFO. (ft.1)

The very next day, after this re-enactment of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” on St. Mary’s Bay, regional staff at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) held a media conference. Two members of the Council of Canadians (COC) took part in the media briefing on January 5th via teleconference. We did so to get the information that DFO was sharing, unfiltered by public hysteria, rumour, or the media (who at times propagate both hysteria and rumours). Teleconference is not the best way to participate in a forum like this. It was very difficult to hear well, and we could not see who was speaking. Still, we took notes. Staff from DFO and at least two other federal departments/agencies, CFIA (ft.2) and ECCC (ft.3), explained that they had looked at all the things they thought might be causative, and had come up empty-handed.

And on the next day, Jan 6th, the experts from DFO, CFIA, and ECCC, etc., held a “citizen scientist” briefing and apparently repeated what they they had shared on Jan 5th (ft.4).

Subsequently, I discussed what was learned on Jan 5 and 6 with my colleague, as well as wildlife, coastal and ocean protection allies Ted Leighton, Darren Porter (fisherman), and Matt Abbott (Fundy Baykeeper and Marine Conservation Coordinator for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick).

It is not surprising that DFO wants to minimize and move on after this herringcide. In its post-Harper whipped and stripped state, the surviving DFO science staffers are doubtless suffering PTSD and gasping for air. (ft.5)  At the same time, the extraordinary aspects of this event lead to the term “herringcide.” The inescapable conclusion of those watching closely is that, in some way not yet determined, human activity led to this mass death. Not identifying the cause is a huge failure. DFO research could have led to breakthroughs that would support super-stressed marine life coping with our dying oceans and critically ill planet.

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Some forage fish species are already in trouble. Pacific sardines are at their lowest numbers in decades

 

Following are point-style lists of what is known, possible, unknown, and theorized, about the herringcide, followed by general discussion.

2.  What was Learned at DFO Briefings?

  • There has been an extraordinary “densification” or “aggregation” of herring in the three areas where the dead herring have beached. This is the only thing everyone agrees on, including experts at these sessions and all fisherfolks in the region. Previously, one citizen scientist described it as “thick, from top to bottom in the water, like they are stacked on each other.” NOTE: DFO offered no possible explanation for “why”.
  • Extensive tests have been done by several federal agencies. DFO asserts they have ruled out infection, viral diseases, physical injury, algeaic blooms, and environmental toxins, as the cause of the herring die-off. DFO has also ruled out “predation” as a cause. Checks were done re: spread of any known cause from aquaculture installations, and this has been ruled out. The DFO laboratory in Moncton analyzed dead herring samples and found no evidence of abnormalities. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) scientists have done some investigations into possible land-based/industrial toxins. Seemingly late getting into the game, ECCC has found nothing but as of early January were still “finalizing results of testing for pesticides and are conducting other tests on water quality.” Routine tests checking for health of shellfish harvested for consumption were double-checked and confirmed as not a factor. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) stated that the fish and seafood from the Bay are safe to eat. DFO continues to caution not to eat the ones that are beached, but to buy from licensed vendors.
  • A webpage was to be launched that afternoon. DFO promised me it will have full information on all tests on fish, water, etc., including locations of samples, dates, what tests were done, and results, as well as a map where the reported “morts” (marine life mortalities) were found. Here is Matt Abbott on this: “I participated in a call on Jan 6, 2016 regarding the mortalities of herring and other creatures over the last several weeks. DFO staff committed to update this website to include more detail, especially relating to test results (including all that came back negative).” After two and one-half weeks, the webpage is up but these details are not on it.
  • DFO was very clear that they do not now know what killed the herring and may never be able to figure it out.
  • One camera was sent down to the Fundy floor in the vicinity of the die-offs. The benthic marine life was fine there.
  • My notes from this media conference show as follows. When I asked if DFO had considered asking Cape Sharp to turn off the turbine, the response I got was, “There is no evidence to support that the turbine could be a cause, so we are not investigating that possibility.” In almost every media report, DFO answered the same way to this question. However, in a January 3rd communication between DFO and the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association (BFIFA), there is a slight qualification, “…DFO does not unequivocally rule out the turbine. The statement made is ‘based on all of the work and the analysis and testing we don’t see any evidence that would point to an issue related to the turbines’.” 6 Consider that DFO’s own experts said eight months earlier that Cape Sharp/Emera had failed to provide either adequate baseline data or a valid monitoring plan for environmental protection. For an unknown reason, the proponent was given permission by the Government of Nova Scotia to proceed without the data or improved plan in place. Why would DFO fall back now on proclaiming the lack of evidence as their excuse for refusing to consider the possibility?
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Cartoon credit: Bruce MacKinnon, The Chronicle Herald

 

3.  What More do We Know, but Not from DFO?

  • Herring have unusually sensitive auditory systems, for a fish.
  • Herring usually do not swim on the surface in the day time, and those seen alive near shores and boats, were doing so and also exhibiting other odd behaviours. Why?
  • The Gulf of Maine has arguably the fastest warming ocean water on the planet, and species travel to cooler areas and affected in other ways by ocean temperature and related chemistry changes. Some herring fishermen in the Upper Fundy believe that herring may now be overwintering there.
  • Ecology Action Centre’s (EAC) “Making Forage Fish Count” is an excellent reference document on the larger issues of the vulnerable herring and mackerel populations. It mentions herring size has diminished over recent years, which may be due to climate change stress. This report also says that overall herring stock in this entire region from Cape Breton to Maine are stressed and likely diminished; and, when a population bottoms normally it gradually begins to rebuild over several years. (NOTE: The past couple months there has been a sudden, absolutely gigantic, upswell of population in the three areas where the morts appeared, called “densificiation” by DFO.) The EAC report concludes, “One of the most pressing issues facing the management of Atlantic Herring is the lack of regulation and monitoring of herring bait fisheries.” The data on the size of the stock has also not been assessed by scientists, and “without proper catch and abundance estimates, it is difficult to accurately determine stock status.” In other words, DFO does not do the needed stock inventory counts and catch-checking, and this is aggravated by the lack of limits on landing herring for bait purposes. The report argues for a “precautionary and ecosystem-based approach” to managing herring population.
  • In recent years, including this one, there have been mass herring die-offs in other regions of the Atlantic as well as in Chile. At least one of these cases may be very similar to the one in the Bay of Fundy: the situation in Iceland (the link provided is not the best reference but it is a starting place). Why did DFO not look into this or if they did, why did they not mention it to the public?

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  • FORCE (Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy) is the umbrella corporate-government organization nurturing tidal energy development in Nova Scotia; the Cape Sharp/Emera project is one of their approved experimental operations. In mid-April 2016, a company called Big Moon Power was given approval by FORCE to run an off-grid test in the Minas Passage, related to a new type of tidal power equipment that does not use in-water turbines. According to Darren Porter, who has talked with his fellow weir fishermen beyond the Passage, this experiment completely disrupted the 2016 herring fishery (see 1:29:45 at this link, which is also footnoted below #9). What Porter explains is that the 2016 Spring Herring Run was only just getting underway when Big Moon brought its tugboats into the Minas area, and seemingly the noise scared the herring back down the Bay. There are six or seven herring weir fishers at the Passage and in the Basin. One may be in talks to reach a financial settlement on this matter. Apparently the subsequent 2016 Gaspereau fishery in this area may also have been diminished.

4.  Other Pertinent Points:

  • Fishermen and “citizen scientists” say the dead herring were mostly juveniles, perhaps coming to spawning age next year. This points towards population decline in coming years.
  • On November 28th, there was a media report of “seals with gashes on them” as well as dead herring. To my knowledge, DFO has made no acknowledgement of the wounded seals seen near “mort” sites by Joan Comeau, and certainly offered no explanation of how this might or might not be related to the herringcide.
  • It is not yet clear if DFO did necropsy of the herring to examine specifically for swim bladder-related damage, which can prove auditory trauma and shows in four ways, specifically: ruptured bladders, emphysema in the heart ventricle, and emboli in either the rete mirabile and/or head kidney.
  • DFO was asked if they can provide population data on how many herring they would expect to find in the Bay’s basins or coves at this time of year. They did not have that information.
  • Many “citizen scientists” say DFO has put all its efforts to this issue, once they realized how serious it was. On the other hand, on December 26th CBC’s As It Happens interviewed community member Joan Comeau said she first reported herring die-off to DFO on November 17th  and never got a call back. Looking at DFO tweets, the first showing they were “on the case” was December 14th. (NOTE: This is when our first blog, “What is Happening to the Humble Herring?” was posted online.) Do these instances indicate a generalized sluggish response by DFO, or are they basically communications failures?
  • On Jan 5th, I heard a member of the expert panel muse that “as many as 1000 people altogether” from the relevant government departments had been working on this for weeks. On one hand, it is no wonder they could not figure anything out with that number of administrative, clerical, frontline, specialist, and other staff running around in all directions. Conversely, how could they do such a poor job of communications and information-sharing, and why did they not come up with some sort of viable theory on causes, or at least a plan for what they need to look into further?
  • On Jan 5th a member of the media asked how many herring died in this event. Further undermining public confidence, DFO staff showed they still had not grasped the depth of this crisis by answering “tens of thousands.” Perhaps DFO was trying to downplay the crisis. As likely, they lack capacity to send real researchers into the field. Most probably the personnel who picked up the dead fish samples are the ones usually out in the field to catch poachers and monitor catch regulations. These workers would have had no idea how to calculate the scope of the die-off based on what could be seen at lowtide on the beach. ALL reports from citizen scientists working closely with the department point to greater than a million dead herring, perhaps several million. As Dr. Leighton said way back on Dec 1st, “What we see on the beach is just a partial window on what’s going on somewhere out on the water.” This is exactly why we urged DFO to get out on the water and send down cameras/divers at multiple points.
  • For more than six weeks, DFO focused on “usual suspects” – what past experience had taught them would kill herring. They frequently referred to the only similar recorded event, which occured in the 1970’s… But it was not similar: fors starters, that incident did not include “densification.” In early December, DFO quickly ruled out the cause of that die-off with their first round of tests. While DFO kept looking at the “usual suspects” based on events that appeared very different, they wasted a lot of time and valuable research opportunities. Why?

5.  Can DFO see the Whale in the Bathtub?

There is an old saying about “not seeing the elephant in the room.” Adapting it to this watery world, DFO, ECCC, their provincial counterparts, and their political masters are not seeing the “whale in the bathtub”. As the EAC has pointed out, DFO lacks an ecosystem approach.

Due to human activity, all marine life in our ocean waters is endangered. Their watery home is rapidly becoming less hospitable. Species are behaving in abnormal and unpredictable patterns, often associated with their demise. Yes, this season, it is only the humble herring caught in the ecoapocalypse cross hairs in our beautiful, abundant Bay of Fundy… But, so many species rely on a healthy herring population and there are many recent reports of herring die-offs around the world. This herringcide is truly a case in point. It’s now or never to change how we do things with our sister and brother, aunt and grandfather, all our relations, in the natural world. There is no Planet B.

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For almost two months DFO has assured the media “there is nothing out of the ordinary,” “nothing amiss,” and “not a great cause for concern.” DFO also consistently messaged they “don’t think fish are being harmed by environmental factors” and the cause is not due to “human activity” or “human-related.”

The “don’t worry” and the not “human related” messaging is manifestly anthropocentric. DFO’s actions were as well: they tested and retested for fish conditions that could impact people who eat Fundy herring, or that could sicken people who eat creatures (such as salmon or lobsters) who eat the herring. Again, as EAC says, DFO does not have an ecosystem approach. DFO’s messaging is only concerned with reassuring human consumers that it is safe to continue eating Fundy fish and seafood.

Not “environmental”? How can DFO make that statement if they do not know why it happened? The theories not disproved start with human-caused environmental stress, due to climate change and ocean warming.

  • Planetary marine health is increasingly compromised by the warming of the oceans, which serve as a major and primary planetary carbon sink.
  • Chemical composition changes in our planet’s oceans such as acidification are a recognized stressor on all marine life. (ft.6)
  • Everyone in touch with the natural world is noticing species, including marine animals, moving from the usual habitats into new ranges – likely due to temperature or other weather changes as our climate becomes less and less “normal.”
  • In particular, the Gulf of Maine, of which the Bay is a part, is warming dramatically. This alters marine life population distributions.

From the beginning, the mass herringcide was extraordinary, including abnormal swimming behaviours, and signaled something entirely new. A quick, bona fide scientific response would have enabled timely collection of priceless genuine environmental data, such as water quality, temperature, chemistry, and distribution of the herring population throughout the Bay.

After the initial quick tests came back negative and the second round were duly commissioned, DFO should have intently focused on the unusual facts of this crisis. They should have immediately examined – by diver and/or camera – the subsurface Fundy down to the benthic region, at key coastal areas where die-offs were seen. As important, camera/s or diver/s should have been sent down in other areas from Yarmouth to the Minas Passage (see Section 6) that, based on currents and other factors, may be implicated. As well DFO should have been:

  • energetically collecting data on water chemistry/temperatures and distribution of herring populations from the top of the Bay to the near Gulf;
  • enlisting fishermen’s and citizen scientists’ collaboration and observations to keep costs down and build knowledge;
  • looking at parallel crises in other parts of the world (especially Iceland, as mentioned above);
  • bringing together all available brains to think outside the box; and,
  • fulsomely sharing their explorations into these realms with the concerned public because maybe out there in the civilian world there was someone who had a theory that might be useful.

The collection of knowledge and data in a timely, valid manner would have changed the outcome, at least in terms of knowledge gained. Instead, the public servants entrusted with duty of care for marine life in the Bay of Fundy are saying they may never know what caused this.

As Evan Young, a New Brunswicker from the Fundy who runs a canoe outfitting/tripping service, said on social media, “How could the analysis be over until we have some idea what happened? What’s missing is the sense that the government actually reports to us, the people, the taxpayers, on this.”

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6.  Best Remaining Guesses: Causes of the Herringcide?

To repeat: the term herringcide is used because with all the usual causes excluded at the outset and the extraordinary factors mentioned above, it is evident the herring were killed by something/s people did, or something/s people did not do. As with any man-made disaster, there is a domino effect here, one small issue leading into the next larger one. Bang! Herringcide. Here are some theories:

  • Although we know from DFO that food-chain predation is not the cause, the herring were running away from something. They crushed themselves into these three somewhat sheltered areas, and succumbed to lack of oxygen from being in such density in these havens.
  • One credible citizen scientist hypothesizes the herring normally in this area had a huge population boom this year and starved to death due to their overpopulation.
  • Land-based/industrial contaminants may have been causal or partially causal. The argument supporting this is that the die-offs occurred in the mouths of three major watersheds.
  • Some of the other species found dead during the same time period may have been killed by causes unrelated to the herringcide. Weather, specifically quick and dramatic temperature changes, might have been the factor in the one-day dramatic shellfish die-off. I have heard no alternative explanation for the whale death/s. The wounded seals are not ever mentioned by DFO. Until we figure out what killed the herring we will not know whether it is linked to these synchronous deaths or harm.

As the herringcide progressed, DFO repeatedly said they were not ruling anything out, but they consistently refused to consider any possibility the herringcide could be causally connected to the turbine. We say that the failure to investigate this possible cause along with others illustrates the depth of institutional carnage in DFO, and the width of systemic biases. Failing to act quickly, effectively and inclusively could have contributed to the profound consequences.

Herring have very sensitive hearing biology, on which their capacity to thrive depends in various ways. Big Moon’s test at the Minas Passage in Spring 2016 (see Section 3), shows how accidental man-made changes in the Passage’s environment can have deleterious impacts. After the turbine was lowered on November 7th for testing and commissioning, the change in that environment may have scared herring away from the farthest reach of the Upper Fundy, sending them down the Bay, looking for accommodations that are in some ways similar to Minas Basin. This outcome would have begun anytime between November 7th and when the Cape Sharp turbine was connected to the grid and started generating electricity on November 22nd.

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Photo credit: C.W.MacKay

Colin Sproul, Spokesperson for BFIFA, wrote to Christian Richard, Director of Cape Sharp Tidal Ventures/Emera on January 2, 2017 (ft.7) :

“…The past months have seen an alarming situation develop in the Bay of Fundy. The massive fish mortality overtaking its herring population has caused great concern amongst our membership. All scientific investigation thus far has failed to identify what is causing this to happen.

“One fact that cannot and is not being ignored by BFIFA members is the emergence of these fish kills immediately after activation of the CSTV turbine in the Minas Passage. Our members have a legitimate concern that the onsiderable acoustic disturbance from the turbine and the electromagnetic field present due to the failure to bury its transmission line as accorded in the environmental assessment approval may be having a deterrent/exclusionary effect on herring stocks in the upper Bay of Fundy.

“…[Y]our predecessor, Paul Laberge made an assurance to the BFIFA… if population level effects to a species were evident in the Bay of Fundy that you would cease operations. We contend that this may be happening now but acknowledge that there is not scientific certainty of this. However, it seems the only appropriate action at this time is to temporarily stop the turbine and see if the killing may cease….

“Therefore, the BFIFA respectfully asks CSTV to follow through on its commitment to take this responsible action to protect the Bay of Fundy’s critical herring population and help determine if the turbine is contributing to fish kills or not.”

I consulted a respected and successful international high-voltage electrical engineer on this issue. He had no knowledge or experience of a crisis like this being caused by electromagnetic waves. The industry is all about electric current and has been groomed to pay special attention to issues such as this. However, based on his knowledge of rationale behind environmental impact regulation for his industry in other jurisdictions, he felt that the herringcide could indeed be related to the turbine’s noise, vibrations and/or pressure changes. Without prompting, he suggested they may have “run away to find a safer place.” It certainly would have been very useful to have a count of usual population levels in the Cape Minas area, before the turbine was lowered so that could be compared to a diver/camera investigation of population in that same area after the die-offs began.

Asking DFO for a current population count on how many herring should have been in Minas Passage, or any other specific part of the Bay ,is useless. DFO could not supply this information at the Jan 5th media conference. Looking into the baseline population data in Cape Sharp’s EIA is also pointless. As mentioned above, DFO’s own science advisors critqued Cape Sharp/Emera/FORCE for not providing the baseline data necessary to ensure proper environmental monitoring. Even if their data were adequate (which it is not), the proponent also did not provide an adequate monitoring plan. DFO knew that the baseline data was not done and that this is a major concern of their own science advisors. It is confounding that DFO repeatedly refused to do their own assessment of the impact of the turbine’s impact at the height of the crisis.

The turbine was synchronously installed just before the herring die-off began. Right from the start of the beachings, fisherfolk, residents, ecotourism entrepreneurs, citizen scientists, and naturalists asked that the turbine be turned off as a precautionary measure, while examining to find the actual cause. The injured seals and the dead whale/s are additional reasons it would have been the right decision to see what was happening at the location of the new tidal turbine near Minas Passage, and if needed turn off the turbine to study further. For some reason, DFO would not even consider requesting this.

The responsible Government of Nova Scotia, which allowed installation of the turbine without adequate baseline data and a proper environmental assessment monitoring plan, appeared mute on the entire subject of the herringcide, the dead invertebrates, the chopped-up seals and the dead whale/s.

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Photo credit: Joan Comeau

The petition we started online on December 17th is full of comments echoing what grassroots people were saying in social and mainstream media: shut down the turbine, look at the bottom of the Bay, and see if you can figure this out. From early on, the position of our chapter and others in Council of Canadians across the Maritimes has been the Cape Sharp/Emera turbine should be considered as “a stone that must not be left unturned.” We advocated to turn it off and look around. If this did not solve the quandary, it would at least put the hearts and minds of so many Maritimers at rest that the problem was NOT the turbine. We want to support renewable energy, but not at the cost of millions of marine creatures, perhaps on a recurring basis.

7. Lack of Capacity or Intentional Blinders?

The challenge DFO faced in November and December was to determine how we human beings are responsible for this, and how it could be prevented in the future. In our opinion, government’s institutional and systemic biases (particularly DFO) deeply influenced the causal factors investigated throughout the crisis. These biases have resulted in a dead end to their investigation. There may also have been forces (intentional pun) at play that caused some things to be obscured.

The comparative analysis in this article supports a conclusion that at least some of this apparent bungling is intentional. It shows how “company men” in management positions in our Maritime government bureaucracies engage in cover-ups of issues because it is important to corporations. When corporate agendas conflict with public concern, governments often seem to forget their obligations to transparency and accountability, “obligations” because that is what makes our democracy work. This holds in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, or Newfoundland, in federal and provincial systems.

We also need to consider that some frontline public servants are still hogtied by political will enshrined in non-legislative policies. We recently discovered a 2013 MOU between the National Energy Board (NEB) and DFO that gives the NEB authority for “assessing potential impacts to fisheries from proposed NEB regulated pipeline and power line applications.” This inter-bureaucratic agreement was developed under the Harper government and, added to that regime’s gutting of legislation, further undermines the capacity of DFO to protect marine life. It is true that this MOU applies only to projects under NEB auspices. However, could a similar MOU or policy-level “understanding” exist that resulted in Nova Scotia ignoring the environmental plan shortfalls outlined in the 2016 DFO Science Report on Cape Sharp’s turbine?

Documents filed in court by BFIFA show that DFO staff well understood, and appeared to concur with, the view that the turbine project proponent had failed to provide a proper environmental monitoring plan for this “experimental” project. Specifically in P21 of BFIFA’s October 20, 2016, Submission for a Stay to delay start-up of the turbine, it states that DFO staff wrote the Minister of the Environment for Nova Scotia and did not mention the missing baseline data. (ft.8) Why was this left out of DFO’s comments?

For the sake of all life in and around the Bay of Fundy, including the living water itself, we need to implement the Precautionary Principle. As Darren Porter says, “If you don’t have the money to monitor… and if you don’t have the baseline” data, don’t do it, “ecology comes first.” (ft.9) Incidentally, in this talk Porter says he got an email from the DFO on January 16th, in which DFO acknowledges that Cape Sharp’s single monitoring camera is not functional.

Just as this document you are reading was being prepared for publishing, there were two new media stories related to the herringcide. One is a report from Dalhousie scholars about tidal energy in general. The other is a CP Press story on the presentation that DFO did at the Nova Scotia Legislature. Both may be intended to do damage control; yet the many controversial issues raised in this document were not addressed in either of these settings.

Every point raised above still needs to be investigated. We need alternative renewable energy, but not at the cost of already deeply stressed marine life. As the BFIFA letter to Cape Sharp/Emera executive Richards points out:

“This situation has quickly shown that the absence of adequate environmental monitoring for the FORCE project can lead to a lack of social license and acceptance for tidal energy generation with Bay of Fundy stakeholders. Please begin the process of fulfilling your commitment to the BFIFA, this will surely start the much needed rebuilding of trust and acceptance amongst the greater Bay of Fundy community.”

NOW is the time for DFO to stop saying, “There is no evidence to support that the turbine could be a cause, so we are not investigating that possibility.” There is no evidence to support that it is NOT a cause of the herringcide, and DFO has already acknowledged that. For the sake of all marine and coastal life, no stone can be left unturned.

If this remaining possibility (the turbine) explains the herringcide, and if the transnational Emera’s tidal power experiment issues are not addressed, it is very likely herring will be pushed out of the uppermost Fundy, stressing the remaining populations in this region. That is an unacceptable possibility.

 


The intent of this document is to support community partners to rouse federal and provincial action. Emerging ecocrises are learning opportunities; we MUST study and understand what is actually happening on our planet. In specific, in this instance, we must sleuth our way to the core of the learnings that so many herring sacrificed their lives to give us. We must do this for the sake of all future generations of ALL LIFE on this planet.

This document is a follow-up to the earlier posts:

Following circulation of this “Sequel” backgrounder, another Open Letter on Protection of Coastal Life and Oceans across Canada will pursue political responsibility issues. Stay tuned, there will be a chance to get involved in meaningful national action.

This document was prepared by: Ann Pohl, on behalf of the Kent County NB Chapter, Council of Canadians, and is supported by:

  • Moira Peters, Member, Board of Directors, The Council of Canadians, from Maitland NS, on the Bay of Fundy;
  • Marion Moore, on behalf of the South Shore NS Chapter, Council of Canadians;
  • Leo Broderick, on behalf of the PEI Chapter, Council of Canadians;
  • Marilyn Reid, on behalf of the St. John’s NL Chapter, Council of Canadians;
  • Leticia Adair, on behalf of the Saint John NB Chapter, Council of Canadians; Jean Louis Deveau, on behalf of the Fredericton NB Chapter, Council of Canadians;
  • Brent Patterson, Political Director, National Office, Council of Canadians.


A Note on Popular Education Social Action Research:

Usually external crises that affect ordinary peoples’ way of life or livelihood are analyzed, and pronounced upon, by powerful people at a distance from the disaster. “A Sequel…” was prepared following the Freirean pedagogical principles for collection and summarizing participatory social action research. As such, it honours knowledge, opinions and concerns of grassroots people who live close to the situation, or in the midst of it, not just topic specialists.
If you want to contact the author, email Ann Pohl at coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com.

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Yes, I know those are mackerel, and that is the Northumberland Strait.

Footnotes

DFO is also known as Fisheries & Oceans Canada. Throughout this document, except when referring to the Minister, I use the term DFO because that is what their website address is and also what everyone calls them.

2   CFIA: Canada Food Inspection Agency  

3   ECCC: Environment & Climate Change Canada  

4   It is not clear why DFO did not invite independent fisherfolk and their organizations to their Jan 6th briefing session. Some fishermen were very helpful to DFO during the herringcide event. They hold an enormous wealth of knowledge on Fundy marine life and related marine health issues. They are definitely stakeholders. Is it because some fishermen are meeting the province in court over the issues related to the tidal turbine installation?  

5   For those who may have forgotten or been distracted at the time, here are just a few news reports re: the Harper attack on DFO. Read and imagine the culture of the surviving institution and its survivor personnel:

– https://thetyee.ca/News/2013/12/23/Canadian-Science-Libraries/
– http://halifax.mediacoop.ca/fr/story/harper-agenda-fisheries-and-oceans-%E2%80%93-sweeping-nation-wrecking-transformation/10441
– http://www.alternativesjournal.ca/policy-and-politics/crimes-against-ecology     – http://fonv.ca/media/pdfs/Press_Release_-_Habitat_to_be_Removed_From_Fisheres_Act_March_12_2011__2_.pdf 
– http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/42231-400-dfo-jobs-chopping-block-50-atlantic-region  – 
http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/killer-whale-expert-out-of-work-as-ottawa-cuts-ocean-pollution-monitoring-positions  

6   This citation deals with an entirely different species, but also in the Gulf of Maine, of which the Bay of Fundy is a part. It does demonstrate how acidification could possibly be one of the causal factors for relocation and the herring densification witnessed by fishers, scientists, etc. in these locations.

7  Due to DFO’s and Cape Sharp/Emera’s failures to respond with answers to the questions in several relevant communications, Colin Sproul, BFIFA Sokesperson, shared them with me.

8   See: Hfx Court # 453771. September 26, 2016. Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Between: The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman’s Association, Halifax N.S. (APPLICANT) and Nova Scotia Minister of Environment, the Attorney General of Nova Scotia representing Her Majesty in Right of the Province of Nova Scotia, Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy Limited, and Cape Sharp Tidal Venture Ltd.

9   In this talk found on RedSky-BlackSea see minute 1:25 : http://www.redsky-blacksea.com/podcast/au.mp3

An Open Letter to Political Leaders re: Marine Life Protection in the Bay of Fundy

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~ photos: Jennifer Thibodeau, Bruce Hewey,  various news sources, social media posts ~

January 3, 2017

Addressed to:

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • Dominic LeBlanc, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)
  • Stephen McNeil, Premier of the Province of Nova Scotia
  • Brian Gallant, Premier of the Province of New Brunswick

Dear Sirs:

“Canada’s Ocean playground has become Canada’s ocean graveyard,” commented Robert from New Brunswick on 0ur petition demanding leadership from your governments regarding the huge crisis that has been occurring in the Bay of Fundy for the past six weeks. At the time of writing this Open Letter to you, more than 53,000 signatories make this request:

We petition Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Nova Scotia Premier McNeil and New Brunswick Premier Gallant to call a joint public conference with concerned citizens and the media, to provide updates regarding the herring die-offs, and to indicate steps that will be taken immediately to improve transparency, collaboration, reporting, and resourcing between citizens and frontline DFO staff.

Living creatures in and around the Fundy will be coping with this disaster for a long time. In fact, it will get worse, not better, while not necessarily in exactly the same way. The Bay of Fundy, as part of the Gulf of Maine, faces major challenges due to the fossil fuel and methane pollution rapidly changing the chemistry of the world’s oceans.

Our publicly-funded scientists must be unrelenting in search of identification of contributing causes. Instead, after virtually hiding for more than five weeks, regional DFO staff emerged on Friday December 30th. (That link is to national CTV coverage. This link is to local coverage: by listening to one story and letting it run onto the next and next, you can get a good chronology of the past week.) DFO comments appear dismissive: there is nothing to be concerned about, the event appears to be over, it is not “environmental,” etc., while they are unashamed to say it’s “perplexing.”

DFO has made some huge mistakes in the past, as post-mortem analyses of the collapse of the Cod fishery shows. (Please note the comment in there about DFO’s “failure to recognize environmental changes and their impact on the groundfish fishery”). Does DFO now know how to listen for alarm bells? Sadly, it does not seem so. On both coasts, and in every province between (see comments on our petition), people report DFO’s outright dismissiveness of community concerns. It appears that sometimes DFO goes even further and deliberately misinforms. Deliberate action or lack of capacity, you leaders MUST step in to prevent DFO from fumbling the ball any longer.

The November/December 2016 Fundy fish crisis is terrible beyond words, but we are not just concerned about that event. We certainly do not want to see you leaders get yourself off the hook by throwing individual staffers under the bus. You cannot blame the staff. It is the political leadership that sets the tone and determines expectations about priorities, so our sights are set for a larger and more significant goal.

We watched the previous federal government, under Stephen Harper, conduct a war on science and environmental protection regulation. This article, La recherche fédérale sur la pollution décimée par le gouvernement Harper (Federal Pollution Research Decimated by the Harper Government), published in Quebec’s Le Soliel in June 2012, provides some insight on this matter. The remaining staff in the “decimated federal government’s DFO had to learn to shut up to keep their jobs. For scientists and nature advocates, this means shutting down their brains and closing their hearts.

Prime Minister Trudeau, although the only federal politician addressed in our petition is your close colleague Dominic LeBlanc, DFO Minister, we added you to this Open Letter. You are really the one person with full duty of care for protection of the Bay of Fundy. In your recent Ocean Protection Plan announcement you commit to “ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come” because our coastal habitats are “rich” in “biodiversity and precious ecosystems” that “offer unparalleled economic, recreational, and tourism opportunities.” Step up and put muscle behind that promise. The past six weeks show that staff in departments such as DFO do not understand you are serious about this.

Prime Minister, your government has recently held all manner of public consultations about laws that need to be revised, reinstated, and/or upgraded to increase protection of our precious water and land and air in Canada. Now we understand you have funded the World Wildlife Federation to do some “buffer” consultations on related matters, such as “ocean zoning” for competing marine uses. It is obvious that “ocean zoning” is not a panacea. While it may work for industries of various types, the fact is water and marine life move around constantly.

Valid and inclusive terms of reference and resourcing are needed to create a wide-view research analysis such as this one from British Columbia. The fact that the Harper regime decimated this BC process makes it clear this is close to what we really need. It could lead to the logical and positive outcome of the entire Bay of Fundy region being officially recognized as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, instead of the existing smaller region of the Fundy. We need the big picture validly consolidated, with sustainability as the first objective from here on. While gearing up for that, we also need answers to some of the questions citizens have been asking for weeks now. In a crisis of this proportion, no stone should be unturned:

  1. How soon can DFO provide a map of all sites where water was tested and cameras were sent to the Fundy, in the Bay, in estuaries, and in freshwaters leading to the estuaries, with appended results from those tests, as well as numbers of mortalities seen at each site on each day?
  2. DFO keeps saying they should have more test results in two weeks, etc. What are the outstanding tests, why are they taking so long, and when will be they be available?
  3. Have the dead herring been examined for symptoms of swim bladder damage, specifically: ruptured bladders, emphysema in the heart ventricle, emboli in the rete mirabile, emboli in the head kidney?
  4. Is there a clear correlation between temperature drops and major mortality reports for any or all species?
  5. Have provincial authorities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick taken a careful and exhaustive look at possible land-based toxins that could have seeped into the water?
  6. What studies have been done to determine that the Cape Sharp turbine noise, vibrations, and pressure changes do not factor into these mortalities in any way? Because the two events began on the same day, what consideration has been given to stopping the turbine to see if that makes a difference?
  7. What research colleagues were contacted or studies were done to determine that whales were not part of this event? We ask this because of the dead whale on the same shoreline, which was not detected in DFO’s “flyovers.”
  8. Fundy Fishermen say “everything is out of whack.” True and will continue to be truer with dramatic climate and weather changes due to anthropogenic/industrial causes. Despite global climate and ocean chemistry issues, we can protect against exacerbating factors that make Marine Life more vulnerable. One related study would be to analyze why there is such an unusually large number of herring in the affected areas. Has DFO looked at this and if so, what have they learned?

These are just a few of the questions that citizen scientists, concerned scholars, marine life advocates, and others, want answered. We want them answered in a public, transparent, and collaborative information-sharing process. Think of the opportunity you have to contribute to world marine ecology science by making sure DFO staff (and whoever else is needed) understand that getting these answers is essential, and providing them with full independent mandate and resources to do the work. From these answers will come some of the terms of reference for the large urgent study.

Messieurs Gallant, LeBlanc, McNeil and Trudeau, do you recall what happened recently in the United States and in England when their populaces became convinced that their governments were not listening?

You all have to set the example for the DFO staff who have been psychologically “decimated” by the previous federal government regime. You need to show them it is not just “ok” but expected that they will function at top-speed, transparently, respectfully to concerned citizens, etc., in a crisis such as this. Canada’s public service scientists need to be convinced that the reign of terror is over. They need to know that the public and environmental good is what you expect them to diligently research and advocate, and that there will be no personal consequences or repercussions.

This is now also an international controversy. Make no mistake, Canadians and especially Maritimers, are devastated by this and angry at the slow government response but your problem is even larger than that. Most of the petitions’ signatories are from all over the world. All water is connected, so every planetary person has a valid reason for concern. As well, there have been similar unexplained die-offs recently in Iceland, England, Chile, and elsewhere. Do Canada’s federal and provincial Liberal governments want a reputation of not caring to mobilize resources to investigate this huge crisis? Suppose awareness slows tourism and seafood contracts? Instead of deepening the disaster, we could have a reputation as world leaders in the fight to protect the humble herring, an unsung true hero in marine and human food chains.

As leaders, you need to be seen to be acting, and you must also act effectively. We need good governance, transparency, accountability, responsiveness, appropriate prioritizing, and evidence that you are listening to concerned people. We invite you to visit our petition site and read the text of our call to action as well as the comments of signatories, who believe we are at an exceedingly fragile moment in human history. You must lead in a way that seeks to restore ecological balance as the highest priority. Are you up to the job?

Respectfully yours,
Ann Pohl, Council of Canadians – Kent County NB Chapter
Jean Louis Deveau, Council of Canadians – Fredericton NB Chapter
Ken Kavanagh, Atlantic Representative/COC Board of Directors (St. John’s NL Chapter)
Marion Moore, Council of Canadians – South Shore NS Chapter
Leticia Adair, , Council of Canadians – Saint John NB Chapter
Leo Broderick, Council of Canadians – PEI Chapter
Pamela Ross, Council of Canadians – Moncton NB Chapter

Brent Patterson, Political Director, National Office, The Council of Canadians

cc.
Catherine Blewett, Deputy Minister, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)
Morley B. Knight, Maritimes Regional Director General, DFO

***Endorsing chapters updated as of January 5th.***

 

 

Submission to the Federal Government re: Consultation on the Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51)

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December 13, 2016

To:         National Security Consultation, Public Safety Canada

From:   Ann Pohl, on behalf of the Kent County Chapter, Council of Canadians;

To the Attention of: 

I am writing to you today on behalf of the Kent County NB Chapter of the Council of Canadians.

We are pleased to learn that your government is seriously considering how to undo the considerable damage to human rights enacted through the Anti-Terrorism Act (formerly known as Bill C-51).

Unfortunately, we only became aware of your government’s consultation process on this matter about a week ago. In this letter, we ask you to consider the grave social importance of having a public meeting in our area. What follows is the “back story” so that you know why we make this request.

Introducing Ourselves

Our chapter supporters are some of the Anglo, Acadian, Mi’kmaq, and Newcomer community members who determinedly protected our watersheds, soil, air, communities, properties, and the health of our family and neighbours, from the threat of deep shale unconventional hydraulic fracking in 2013.

Actually, we were educating ourselves and others on this issue since 2011, when people in this area first learned about this proposed resource development by SWN Resources Canada. The industry was still in its youth when we heard it was coming here. Still, we were not operating on a lucky hunch when we began to kick up a fuss about the proposal for this to happen in our neighbourhood of New Brunswick. We were warned of the serious issues by other communities in the United States, who had been in the first wave of those to be fracked. For that, we are extremely grateful..

Aside from documented cases of pollution of water, soil and air, this resource extraction 02335e37ded043bf5b18318a013bd7b9process is incredibly capital and water-usage intensive, It contributes terribly to global climate issues due to fugitive methane releases, flaring, and the carbon footprint of the industrial practices of drilling, transporting, etc. On top of that, this form of deep fracking has proven to have very low productivity after just the first year. When the wells become too unproductive to merit more fracks, they are no longer used. Most governments have not demanded a guarantee for close-down in the contracts with proponents. Sometimes wells get capped off properly, but these may remain hazardous unless monitored continuously. There are many time-bombs in aging frack plays, because the cost of proper decommissioning and monitoring is greater than the profit margin supports.

Subsequent to our success at stopping the proponent from commencing with drilling, we have been proven correct in our concerns. There is now conclusive scientific research on the risks and hazards of this form of fracking. Our concerns were acknowledged by the Government of New Brunswick earlier this year, when an indefinite moratorium on hydraulic fracking was announced.

In short, we have been exonerated: we were right to defend our families and our rural environment from this environmental threat. Yet, in 2016, there are road-level resistors/protectors who are still living with court “conditions.” The conditions imposed on many of our Indigenous allies are far more severe than what a non-Indigenous person would expect. All-out attempts were made to make an example of us and thus discourage other similar Water Protection actions across Canada.

The facts about fracking above illustrate that we did the right thing when it needed to be done. We did this despite having to face down our own provincial government, one of the largest oil and gas mining companies in North America, and the most powerful resource extraction corporation in this province who also controls the vast majority of the mainstream media. In a sense, we were on the side of the angels, but obviously some of the national security forces in Canada did not agree.

The Repression We Experienced

I do not need to drag you through everything we went through. It is all a matter of public record in the media, and in various government files. I want to bring your focus to the particular matters which underscore why the Peoples of Kent County NB deserve our own public consultation meeting on domestic national security and the Anti-Terrorism Act. I will focus on four points:

  1. Critical Infrastructure Intelligence Assessment: Criminal Threats to the Canadian Petroleum Industry

    Around the same time as Bill C-51 was introduced to the federal parliament, a “top secret” RCMP 2014 document was somehow obtained by Greenpeace and released to the media. This document is an internal “security force” backgrounder. It clearly makes the argument for a stronger legislative framework to criminalize grassroots environmental protection action.

    It is significant to note that this document repeatedly suggests that peaceful protesters who assemble over climate concerns or other environmental issues are somehow a risk to national security. It is a disgrace that such a document would be produced in a country committed to respect for the civil and political rights of its citizenry.

    Throughout the document you will note that our allies and ourselves are specifically tumblr_mh3bkewfyd1s0tx32o1_500portrayed in a very negative manner. Completely missing from this biased document is what we actually did for four years to protect the water and environment here in Kent County NB and why we did it. Also, the document suggests we were all dangerous and inclined towards violent protest.

    Exaggerations, lies, misinformation, and disinformation are propagated in this official document. This is only one example of how we Protectors and Defenders have been villainized, disrupted, and otherwise attacked in the so-called interest of national security. We do not expect an apology for these slanderous comments. We would like the opportunity to tell leaders of Canada about the damage your police and security forces have done to lives here with these and other attacks.

  2. SWN Resources sued gas protesters for losses

    Two civil court actions were filed by SWN Resources Canada in Fall 2013 against some of us and our allies. (A link to an article on the first suit is provided in this section’s heading.) It is evident that these claims were launched for the purpose of discouraging public involvement in resisting the destruction of our local environment. Typically, civil actions like these are known as “SLAPP suits” (Strategic Legal Action to Prevent Public Participation in social activism). They include a claim for damages, on the basis of which an injunction is sought against protestors.

    14368804_10154323458455932_5073778277126996304_nThese suits are simply corporate violation of human rights. To those directly named, they cause alarm, depression, trauma, anger, and much more. In the broader community, they create panic and confusion for those who are affiliated with the named individuals through organizations or actions. In almost all cases, the suits amount to empty bullying. Few are taken to conclusion, primarily because corporations know they would lose with their inflated and untrue assertions. In a subsequent news report, it can be seen that the 10 named individuals in this first SWN Resources Canada initiated SLAPP suit are accused by the corporations of a range of illegal and obnoxious acts. Although our Chapter does not personally know all the individuals named, we do know that several of those accused had not done the things that were published in the newspaper as their “crimes.”

    In many jurisdictions there is no legislation preventing corporations from launching these exasperating actions. As in our area, the names of all accused would be dragged through the mud in public while all these people are doing is exercising their civil and political rights. An increasing number of jurisdictions are bringing in legislation that prevents frivolous and noxious legal action like this. To protect the rights of all Canadians, federal initiative is needed to ensure that SLAPP suits cannot happen anywhere in this nation.

  3. Chair-Initiated Complaint and Public Interest Investigation into the RCMP response to the shale gas (fracking) protests in Kent County, New Brunswick, in 2013

    In 2013, we spent seven months on the roads of this county to stop SWN Resource Canada’s search for the best fracking drill sites. Many of us – especially our Mi’kmaq allies – were subjected to severe repression by the RCMP. Numerous abuses of power took place.

    The RCMP also completely and inexplicably flip-flopped on the question of whether it was their responsibility to enforce a private corporation’s civil suit seeking damages for their losses from community leaders. Initially the RCMP said it was not their job: there is a court affidavit dated October 9th that substantiates this. For some unknown reason, a week later they changed their opinion, and immediately initiated one of the largest police attacks on a public protest ever seen in Canada. Even this assault, and a myriad of trumped-up charges and release conditions, did not stop us. Resistance continued on the road for another almost two months.

    Many of us who were involved feel strongly that much of the non-peaceful conduct on 2013 was the work of outsiders, possibly provocateurs, conceivably working for a security force that wanted to make us look bad. Not coincidentally, no protector/protester was convicted of the most controversial activity that took place: the burning of police cars. Our feelings about this are based in reality. It has been previously determined that RCMP have burnt buildings and cars, and conducted other illegal activities to discredit dissenters and activists.

    Many of us were traumatized by the experiences we had at the hands of the RCMP.

    tumblr_mh3bkewfyd1s0tx32o1_500Arising from all of this, hundreds of complaints about police abuse of powers were documented. These are being investigated by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. In December 2014, we were relieved to learn that the Civilian Commission has taken this matter so seriously that their own Commissioner also filed a complaint regarding RCMP activity. It is now more than three years since these abuses took place, and more than two years since the investigation began. It is very demoralizing that there has been no news about when we can expect a report from the Commission.

    Sadly, being disappointed by the Commission is not a huge surprise. In 2009, the Harper government removed outspoken Paul Kennedy, head of the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP, from his position. The government at that time also cut the budget of the this agency, and narrowed its purview. Subsequently, in December 2014, the Harper government finished off any hope for a valid independent process for review of RCMP actions through passage of the Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act. This closed the Commission for Public Complaints and replaced it with the current Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (CRCC), which is mandated under the RCMP Act and has no powers to order anything. The CRCC can only make suggestions and use moral suasion.

  4. 35 Indigenous anti-shale gas protesters in N.B. on RCMP ‘threat’ list 

    Recent media reports indicate that the RCMP’s National Intelligence Co-ordination Centre has a list of 313 Indigenous activists who concern them. 89 of these are on a priority “watch list.” 35 of these “potential threats to public safety” got on the list because of anti-fracking resistance here in Kent County NB. Jeffrey Monaghan, an assistant professor at Carleton University’s Institute for Criminology and Criminal Justice, filed the Access to Information request that uncovered the list of Indigenous persons of national security interest. Monaghan is quoted saying, “These are Charter-protected activities… public, political events that people are engaging with.”

    14963180_10154449656475932_3513501820441595556_nIn a follow-up new story on CBC, ‘We’ve always been seen as a threat,’ says former N.W.T. premier of RCMP surveillance revelations, former NWT Premier Stephen Kawfki makes the point that “some of our people stand up to protect our land, wildlife, our way of life, our community against development and against business interests, industrial interests… When our people stand up and take a stand it evokes fear and outrage sometimes from other groups and individuals and we need protection. That’s what police are for.” Deneze Nakehk’o, who works with Dene Nahjo in the NWT, comments, “All this surveillance really makes it difficult for Indigenous people to trust the state.” Kawfki is concerned that “Canada reverts to police state surveillance, when we should all be working towards working together.”

    That is exactly our point. When any of us are handled like enemies of the state, when civil and political human rights are violated by the state, all of us are injured. Then we are all affected and become extremely distrustful. That is the situation today in Kent County NB.

    There are no comparable information releases for non-Indigenous people involved in environmental protection or social justice action across Canada, or specifically here in NB. However, we can be sure there is a long general and a shorter “watch-list” for non-Indigenous persons as well. At the community level, we grassroots people are all in this together. As well some non-Indigenous people have been long involved in peace and justice civil disobedience, and many work together with Indigenous communities.

What A Public Consultation Meeting re: the Anti-Terrorism Act would Mean for People in Kent County

another-worldIn this submission, we have not touched on all the problems in Canada’s current national security legislation, policies and programs. As mentioned, only last week we accidentally learned of this consultation process deadline. There are certainly dozens of issues we would like to highlight, but shortness of time makes that impossible. For now, suffice it to say we endorse anything sent in by any chapter of the Council of Canadians, the national office of the Council of Canadians, or from KAIROS, Voices-Voix, or the Canadian Section of Amnesty International.

Our immediate request is that your Committee come to Kent County NB to hear from people directly how we feel about being made to look like enemies of the state. Speaking for our Chapter members, and advocating also for all our diverse Water Protection allies, you need to see our faces and hear our voices to understand what needs to change and why.

After the treatment many of us endured, we need to know you care enough to take the time to do this. It may be a first step to rebuilding trust. As former NWT Premier Kawfki says, we are all in this together. There is no Planet B. We need to figure out how to get along and pull this planet back from the brink of ecoapocalypse.

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copied to:
Scott Bardsley, Media Coordinator/Minister of Public Safety; scott.bardsley@canada.ca

What’s Happening to the Humble Herring?

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For the past three weeks, a great tragedy has been unfolding along the eastern shores of the Bay of Fundy. Dead herring are washing up on beaches from east of Yarmouth to north of Digby. For those from “away,” this is in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, which since time immemorial is unceded Mi’kmaq territory.

Darren Porter, a local weir fisherman, is an informed advocate for the health of the Fundy, Minas Basin and Cobequid Bay. Porter is a founding member of the Fundy United Federation, 1 a think-tank of scientists, people with profound experiential knowledge, and allied organizations concerned about regional marine life conservation, protection of habitat and sustainable and traditional fisheries, and food sovereignty.

For almost three weeks, Porter has been Fundy United’s “point-man” for people concerned about the future of the humble herring in western Nova Scotia. His phone has been ringing non-stop. He is bombarded with emails and texts from ordinary people alarmed at seeing the beached dead herrings. Porter estimates that more than 100,000 herring have already been found dead along the shore.

The Government of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is the agency responsible for protection of the Fundy shore and fisheries. DFO began investigating on November 22nd, after several reports of dead and dying herring. Darren Porter has been in daily contact with them, reporting on this awful situation.

The beautiful Bay of Fundy has a magnificently abundant marine life. Many people make a portion or all of their livelihoods from sustainable fisheries on the Fundy. It is also a tremendous eco-tourism attraction for both provinces abutting the Bay, as well as the north coast of Maine. Many come to the Fundy to see the “highest tides in the world,” and enjoy the beaches, trails, ferry ride, views, quiet resorts and bed-and-breakfasts, farmers’ markets, and gourmet wineries. There are also many recreational fishers on the Bay.

Whatever happens to marine life and health on one side of the Fundy impacts the economies and communities in the provinces on both sides. And, both the Government of New Brunswick (GNB) and the Government of Nova Scotia (GNS) have fisheries and environment departments.

Although one might assume that DFO or GNS would inform GNB, so far there is no evidence that GNB is concerned about this crisis.

Perhaps even worse, GNS does not seem deeply invested in the future of Humble Herring, Bay of Fundy fisheries in general or food sovereignty. On August 23, 2016, GNS Environment Minister Margaret Miller was nonchalant on fishery issues, telling Fundy United 2 that “Resources evolve – there was once 3000 farms in Nova Scotia and now there are only 300.” The question arises: is GNS forgetting that local fishers, farmers and tradespeople are what keep communities together in our rural Maritime areas?

Quite simply, more than three weeks after of massive die-offs, the abutting provinces are not really engaged in solutions. DFO appears no closer to identifying the cause of this mysterious crisis.

This backgrounder compiles information from community members, especially from the Fundy United organization. It is being shared to help the Humble Herring, on whom so much depends.

About the Humble Herring

Atlantic Herring usually travel in huge, fast-moving schools around fishing banks and near the coast. These migratory fish feed on plankton and small sea creatures found near or on the surface of ocean waters. Larger surface fish follow and feed on the herring, so during the day, they swim below the surface. The herring move close to the surface when night comes and the danger of predators lessens.

herring-1“Herring feed everything,” says Darren Porter. “Without herring, we have a catastrophe on our hands.” Predators of herring include seabirds, marine mammals, and larger surface fish such sharks, tuna, salmon, striped bass, cod, and halibut. People also eat this oily fish: raw, fermented, pickled, smoked, salted, etc. Herring roe is valued by some. Herring are commercially important in another way: they are used for shellfish traps and pots.

“Based on work I have been doing in the Bay,” says Porter, “here is the breakdown on the stock:

  1. “The Bay is the nursery area for four stocks (populations), three of these spawn here, and one spawns along the Maine coast, which all contribute juveniles to the Bay.
  2. “A small stock, estimated at 500 metric tons spawns inside Minas Basin in Spring (April-May). These are the large herring caught in weirs and gill nets inside the Basin in spring.
  3. “A larger stock estimated at 50,000 metric tons spawns in Minas Channel (off Scots Bay) in August-September. These are the large fish the herring seiners go after in that region.
  4. “The largest stock of 100,000+ metric tons spawns on Lurcher Shoal off Yarmouth in the fall (October-November). These also are the herring that seiners and gill-netters take in that region. They want them for their eggs to ship to Japan.
  5. “Finally a stock spawns on the Maine coast south of Grand Manan, and make their way to the Bay of Fundy. I do not know much about this population but could find out if needed.
  6. “The adults of each stock are more or less in their spawning area once a year to reproduce. Then when it is not spawning period these stocks mix together and move all over the Bay and north along the Nova Scotia shore to Chedabucto Bay, where most overwinter.
  7. “The young from each stock hatch out and the larvae largely remain near their spawning site until they become small juveniles or ‘brit’. As the juveniles grow, they migrate around the Bay of Fundy concentrating for longer periods of time in the regions of upwelling (Minas Channel and Passage, the Passamaquoddy Bay Channels, and off Brier Island).
  8. “At this point, the stocks are mixed together but individual schools are largely stock and size discrete. For example, in Minas Passage there is a large concentration of ‘brit’ (1 year old juveniles) during fall, winter and spring (probably many stocks). In late winter and spring the adults that spawn inside Minas Basin migrate through both in and out. From May to July, a huge migration of what we call ‘June Herring’ migrate through the Passage, moving inward and outward, and very occasionally penetrating as far as Cobequid Bay. ‘June’ herring are 2-3 year old juveniles and probably a mixture of all the spawning stocks in the Bay of Fundy. It is these fish that concentrate around Passamaquoddy Bay in late summer-fall and are taken in the weirs there for the sardine factory at Blacks Harbour.

“In short though, I want to emphasize that our herring has been in the best shape lately that it has been for years. I know that the World Wildlife Fund found that two herring stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are in trouble, saying that predators are not being addressed adequately by DFO. However, those herring communities are quite distant from the current die-off.”

The Herring Troubles

Darren Porter estimates that well over 100,000 dead herring have beached on the eastern shore of the Bay of Fundy in the past three week. From what he has seen, it is pretty much all adults that are coming on the beaches dead or dying.

Many concerned people have commented that the number of dead herring in Nova Scotia is much higher than what has been reported, because many dead animals would have disappeared beneath the waves or been eaten by crows and gulls.

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In an November 30 2016 Digby Courier article, University of Saskatchewan wildlife biologist Dr. Ted Leighton poses the question, “What percentage of the fish is washing up? Is this one percent, five percent? No one knows. But it’s a lot of fish. What part of St. Mary’s Bay is affected? And now the Annapolis Basin? It could be millions. It could be much more.” 3

“This amount of mortality doesn’t look like a parasite to me, but that will be easy to determine,” continues Leighton. “It could be some kind of toxic algal bloom, the Gulf of Maine is crazy warm right now. But again DFO will be able to test for all the known marine toxins. If it isn’t one of those easy to test for causes, we may never know.” One of the issues raised by Leighton and others is that it appears only the one species is affected. “But we don’t know if herring is the only species dying because we don’t know what is behind this or where it is happening,” he said. “Are other animals washing up in other places? We don’t know.”

Two shallow divers within the affected area have told Darren Porter they could “touch the herring in the water.” This is extremely abnormal for such a fast moving fish with evident awareness of the hazards of predation. As well, fishermen in the Minas Passage area report seeing fish swimming strangely. Other reports have noted seeing seagulls pick up herring in open water. Clearly, the herring are not behaving normally.herring-2

Community members who are reporting the beached dead herring are confounded by why so many are just lying there, not being eaten by scavengers. As some have pointed out, often an animal can tell if something is not fit to eat. Most agree it probably just looks like they are not being eaten because there are so many of them. Perhaps the gulls cannot keep up?

What We Know

Although we do not know what is causing this die-off, informed observers have listed a wide range of possible causes. These include:

  1. parasites
  2. noise from explosions such as seismic testing
  3. fishery by-catch or a dumped catch at sea
  4. predation, pushing them to shore
  5. contamination through toxins in the water, such as algae bloom, pollution runoff from herbicides and/or pesticides, an industrial sewage or chemical dump; leakage from Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station, etc.
  6. bacterial disease
  7. viral disease
  8. pressure on the species due to ocean acidity or higher temperature, due to climate changes
  9. lack of food
  10. environmental stress from in-stream tidal industry, including noise, vibrations, and pressure changes from turbines

Possible Cause 1 – Parasites

Parasites were strongly suspected by some because of the 1956 parasite infection that devastated the western Bay herring and some of the fish that eat the herring. In this case, the first round of tests done by DFO did not confirm parasites. DFO has now sent off samples to external labs with greater capacity. However, it looks unlikely that this is the cause.

Possible Cause 2 – Noise from Seismic Testing, etc.

Aside from the in-stream tidal turbines, it is not known if seismic activity or other very loud, very vibrational, industry has been occurring in the Bay of Fundy. There was some mention of work planned or underway to prepare the site on the other side of the Bay for the proposed TransCanada EnergyEast pipeline terminus, however it is not known if that could be relevant in any way, or if it is ongoing. The International Fund for Animal Welfare‘s research marine animals sensitivity to sound and vibration is summed up with “Anthropogenic noise interferes and overwhelms.” 4

Possible Cause 3 – Fishery By-Catch or Dump

Not likely a cause after three weeks of continuous beachings. Art MacKay from Fundy Tides 5on the New Brunswick side of the Fundy comments that he has seen research on “illegal catches, which are sold at sea, and if released, they can live for some time before they die.”

Possible Cause 4 – Predators

“I would go for ruling that out now, given the scope of the problem,” Biology professor Shawn Craik from Sainte-Anne University in western Nova Scotia said.6 Common sense also says it is not likely that predation is the cause. The herring are not reacting normally. As Porter said, divers have been able to reach out and touch herring, and fishermen have watched seagulls pulling live fish out of the ocean. This indicates a much more complex problem than predators.

Possible Cause 5 – Contamination through Toxins in the Water

Porter asked DFO if tests had been done on the water. He was told “that is the protocol,” but was not told if they had been done or not – nor, if so, what the results were. Hopefully this information can be forthcoming very soon. Dr. Craik also observed, “If there was a toxin getting into these fish and being passed on the scavengers, you would expect that someone, somewhere would find some dead gulls,” he said, adding that no such reports have come in (see footnote 6). MacKay also commented that Lepreau contamination is not a likely cause because Fundy Tides “did the current circulation for this, and it goes to Grand Manan on the ebb and the inner Bay on the flood.” However, all possible causes need thorough investigation.

Possible Cause 6 – Bacterial Disease

DFO has sent off sample fish for further study, but to date no one has suggested a bacterial infection that might actually have the seen effects. The point has been made by some concerned citizens that we may indeed be looking at something completely new. There is, however, a huge fish farming industry in Nova Scotia, accidents have been known to happen, and fish farms too frequently have problems with bacterial infections, which can spread to wild populations.

Possible Cause 7 – Viral Disease

This is another cause that some people strongly suspect. Viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia Virus (VHSV) is also often a by-product of fish farms. On August 25, 2016, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) confirmed that VHSV has been detected in wild Atlantic herring in Newfoundland and Labrador. 7 It remains to be determined by the further tests commissioned by DFO whether VHSV is the culprit, however most people who have reported seeing dead herring say they look healthy. Animals sick with VHSV usually do not look healthy.

Possible Cause 8 – Effects related to Climate Change on the Ocean

Prof. Ted Leighton was quoted above talking about the “crazy warm” temperatures we have been experiencing and it is well known that the ocean is rapidly becoming more acidic, for example. If this is the cause, it falls into the category of something entirely new and not seen before in human history. At this stage, Porter says, he has been assured by DFO that “nothing has been ruled out.” No stone can be left unturned with this crucial marine food-chain fish population.

Possible Cause 9  Lack of Food 

MacKay comments this is unlikely, having observed “Populations of copepods and krill in the Bay have been impacted in recent years, causing serious shifts in some marine species. Right Whales are actually the best indicator along with Phalarops. When they don’t arrive there is trouble. Actually this seemed like a good year.”

 Possible Cause 10 – Environmental Stress from In-Stream Tidal Power Industry

This is a difficult cause to assess for likelihood. On one hand, the dead herring we can see on the shores are quite distant from the location of the new Cape Sharp turbine installed at Minas Passage in early November. Some say this is irrelevant: we need divers to look at the Cobequid and Fundy bay floors to see how many dead fish have fallen down there.

Most significantly, the die-off started right after a new turbine was lowered into the Bay at Minas Passage area. So this possibility must be seriously investigated. To date, it seems to not be duly considered. “Fish die for many reasons when interacting with tidal turbines,” says Darren Porter. Although mortality from direct strike is a major issue, “actually the blades don’t have to hit the fish to kill them.”

Two years before the new turbine at Minas Passage was installed, the Vice-President of Fundy United Dr. Mike Dadswell challenged claims from the government and industrial proponents (GNS, FORCE, and Cape Sharp) that the installation would be environmentally friendly. In an October 2014 interview, Dadswell said, “there is no such thing as a ‘fish-friendly’ hydroelectric turbine,” and he “asks why Nova Scotia would risk collapsing a $100 million fishery.” 8

Dadswell is very familiar with the older tidal energy installation at Annapolis Royal. Regarding direct strike mortality, he recalls you can see a “wall” of seagulls come in when the turbines are in generating mode. 9 “Regardless of what they say” these two installations are very similar. Both are “axial-flow hydraulic-lift turbines,” although the one at Minas Passage spins a little slower. One difference is that Annapolis Royal has a tube entrance, where the Minas Passage turbine is open, but the opening is 16 metres across, backed by something with the impact of 1000 tonnes, moving at about 30 kph at the tip of the blades. From the herring’s perspective, he likens this to a person being hit by an 18-wheeler at 30 kph.

Herrings are particularly sensitive to noise, vibrations, and pressure changes.

  • Sound waves can have a multitude of negative effects on the herring’s sensitive physostomous swim bladders. They can create lesions or rupture swim bladders, which is what fish use to control the depth at which they are traveling in the water. For a general discussion of the impact of sound waves on fish with swim bladders, see this footnoted article from the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 10
  • Herring are also very susceptible to the pressure itself. Turbines generate power using a “pressure drop across the blade,” as Dr. Dadswell explains. “When fish are moving in the water, they have a certain amount of gas in their swim bladders, and when they come to turbines, pressure changes cause their gas bladders to expand rapidly” (see footnote 9). A report from Washington State University observes:

“If the pressure change happens too quickly the fish would be unable to control their buoyancy and, like an inexperienced scuba diver, would either sink to the bottom or float to the surface. During this time the fish would become disoriented and risk being caught by predators. In a worst-case scenario, severe pressure changes could cause internal hemorrhaging and death.” 11

  • The industry has designed the turbine to set off a warning noise, which they say will keep the animals out of the turbine. However, this noise could have another very serious outcome, if the herring get stressed and disoriented by the decibel level, etc.

The Minas Passage acts as nursery for the herring. Herring populations all the way up and down the Atlantic coast are at risk when the nursery area no longer has suitable habitat, and “one way or another” this turbine is “eventually going to crash the stock” (see footnote 9).

The crux of the matter, explains Darren Porter, is that DFO is not set up to monitor the impact of the new turbine that was installed less than two weeks before the die-offs began.

  • A major problem with evaluating the impact of the new tidal energy turbine in Minas Passage is that the proponent’s baseline data for the 2016 federal science review was very incomplete. 12
  • As well, the proponent’s monitoring plan to assess adverse environmental impacts was so poor that DFO issued a directive to submit a new and better monitoring plan by January 1st, 2017.

Why did the project go ahead without that baseline data and monitoring plan? GNS makes the decisions on project approval. Basically, DFO is in an arms-length consulting role to GNS on proposals like this. All questions from Porter about environmental monitoring – such as how well cameras are working, if the corporation has people walking the beaches as it is supposed to do, if the water has been tested for toxins, when divers will be sent to investigate the floor of the Bay, etc. – are met with evasive answers and/or a corporate statement that they are not obligated under the regulations to provide public information until three months after the turbine is in operation.

Many of those concerned about the herring say they know the reason that government officials are not pushing the panic button to stop the turbines and evaluate further: the province has invested a huge amount of financial and political currency in this demonstration project. GNS remains enthusiastic about the possibilities of tidal power, even though the new turbine is producing what some call the most expensive energy in the world. 13 A CBC report said, “The electricity being generated is some of the most expensive ever produced in Nova Scotia, costing $530 per megawatt hour versus the current average of $60 per megawatt hour.” 14

herring-4As Porter says, “It does not look likely that turbines are the cause, because of the distance between the new turbine in Minas Passage and where the herrings are beached, but to not assess a factor that could be causing this kill is irresponsible, regardless of what factor that is. DFO has told me this could be related to food supply, predator avoidance, viruses, water conditions, etc. – all of which are not monitored or studied on a regular basis. For the turbines, we know the possible pathways of effects and can assess the likelihood based on the evidence collected.” Yet it appears that the turbines are not being properly evaluated.

Other Contemporary Herring Die-Offs

There have been other recent dramatic herring die-offs in the more eastern Atlantic.

In England, just the past week or so, “thousands of dead fish have washed up on a beach in Cornwall and nobody quite knows why…” apparently “mostly herring with a few mackerel.” 15 It may or may not be relevant, but two companies, OpenHydro (owned by naval defence and energy corporation DCNS based in France) and Emera (a publicly traded energy and services company based in Nova Scotia, specializing in renewable/alternative energy) have partnered to form the Cape Sharp corporation that installed the turbine at Minas Passage. OpenHydro has apparently installed two similar turbines in Ireland. Everything must be considered in this crisis situation for the humble herring, on whom so many others depend. It’s odd that concerned citizens on both sides of the Atlantic are saying they have never seen kills like these before. Further, they are happening in two separate places across the ocean where new tidal energy turbines from the same manufacturer have been deployed. It at least deserves some investigation.

In December 2012 and February 2013, in Iceland, there were two massive die-offs of herring. One expert estimated that 50% of the herring were wiped out. Various reports have attributed this to causes as diverse as local building, overcrowding of the population in one spawning fjord, related oxygen starvation, etc. However, for most informed observers, there really has been no satisfactory conclusion on cause, making it impossible to learn from this instance. Perhaps this could be the result of changes in the ocean arising from global climate alterations? In any event, it would behoove government to immediately consider the parallels of the Iceland die-off in regards to the current Bay of Fundy die-off. 16

Can We Help the Humble Herring?

DFO began conducting tests more than two weeks ago. Their preliminary results found no evidence of a virus or parasites. As the crisis has deepened, DFO decided to send some of the dead herring for external bacteriology, virology and histopathology analysis. There are different timelines for getting results from the various types of tests, some of them quite lengthy.

In general, it often seems to grassroots people that it can take years to get answers from government departments about the simplest things. As the situation stretches towards a month of beachings with no answers, fishermen, Mi’kmaq traditional knowledge experts, environmentalists, and other concerned people are becoming more and more critical and skeptical about whether DFO still has any capacity for responsible management and protection of life in the ocean.

Some people are concerned that DFO is too subject to the politics and hidden agendas passed down to them from Ottawa. This was very evident under former Prime Minister Harper’s regime. Not only were environmental regulations tossed out, but libraries and archives were destroyed and personnel stripped from relevant branches concerned with protection of marine life. Most people working in DFO now are survivors of Harper’s 10 year reign of terror on environmentalists; many who could not accept the regime’s decrees left, or were let go.

The current government’s new Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) does not offer much reassurance. Touted as a stewardship initiative, a careful read of federal government announcements shows something different. A lot of emphasis is put on additional resources being put towards mopping up environmental crises that may occur as a result of oil and gas industrial development in the water, or transportation over the water that has gone wrong. 17 This is not a bad thing, but protection starts with prevention.

Overall, fishermen and outdoors enthusiasts do not remember ever seeing so many dead fish on eastern Bay of Fundy shores. Some say that Government of Nova Scotia has prioritized industrial development over the wellbeing of the water and those whose lives depend on being in or near healthy water. Community members often point to the case of the salmon farms as the cause of the end of our wild salmon: DFO swore the farms were safe, but now we see viral and bacterial contamination of the indigenous species from these farms.

As mentioned above, rural life is hugely important to Nova Scotia. However, the government does not seem to understand that by allowing the “resource” to “evolve” – possibly towards extinction – it will destroy the capacity of rural areas to sustain themselves. This bodes disaster for food sovereignty and many other facets of holistic sustainable economic development.

One deeply alienated citizen said “government response is basically the Monty Python one: those fish are not dead they are just sleeping!” Politicians in power must read these frustrations as a warning sign. Consider the upheavals recently in England and in the United States, when ordinary community folk were convinced that big government was not listening and addressing community concerns?

By contrast, Dr. Bradley Walters, a professor of geography and environment at Mount Alison University, did a critical reading of the draft of this document. Walters’ view is too much attention is paid to the “highly unlikely possibility” the tidal turbines could be causative. It is his hope that the assistance of DFO’s Rob Stevenson, an expert on Atlantic finfish including herring and the Fundy weir fishery, is sought on this matter.

Leighton rejects “notions of government scientific incompetence or conspiracy,” but seems to be concerned that the issue is not being taken seriously enough. He says he would like to urge “someone get out on the water and try and find out how big a problem this is, how widespread is it, what are we dealing with?”

While we wait for government to do the job they are supposed to do, Porter emphasizes, “The biggest thing needed is continuous reporting of sightings. People are getting slack, thinking enough have been reported or possibly the kills they see are already reported. The message must be, ‘Report every single kill you see.Here is what citizen scientist beach-walkers are asked to document with photographs and in writing:

  • The exact location of the beach you walked, how much of the beach you covered, and the date and time of day;
  • The approximate number of fish you saw on the beach, per yard or metre;
  • The approximate number of fish you saw in the shallow water at the shore, per yard or metre;
  • Whether the dead or dying appeared to all be herring and if not what other species were present;
  • Percent of fish still alive when observed;
  • Any other dead birds or mammals found, and if so which ones and how many;
  • Were scavengers present to eat the dead fish?

When you have done your beach walk, and have photos and text to share, MacKay (from the western Fundy) and Porter (from the eastern Fundy) are teaming up and eager to share all their information with involved government agencies and non-governmental bodies:

There is a third way to report as well, if you are comfortable with computers:

One more thing: contact your provincial and federal politicians and ask them: “What are YOU doing about helping the Humble Herring, and thereby all of us?”

We need to get this crisis resolved and hopefully find some way to really help the herring. This humble fish is truly a crucial part of both the marine and terrestrial food chain. In the western Fundy, MacKay comments, “In general, the herring industry over here has undergone big shifts for many reasons, which all deserve more research. All the pressures are here in one form or another. We are not seeing similar mortalities right now, but we have observed huge impacts on prey species such as Calanus, krill, etc., from, I believe, aquaculture.”

On the plus side, people on the ground with the most to lose or gain from successful resolution are alarmed and motivated. This emergency effort could break “silos” and foster better collaboration

The document is intended to bring awareness and encourage everyone to work together for all our sake’s. It was prepared as a social action research report: ie., community information assembled and packaged to encourage social action.

Most often crises that affect ordinary peoples’ way of life or livelihood are reviewed and decided by people with more power and who are at a distance from the disaster. Following the priniciples of Freirean popular education, the opinions and concerns of grassroots people who live close to the situation, or in the midst of it, are given a lot of weight. Popular education social action research honours the input of those on the ground, as well as those who are specialists.

I have the support of the Kent County NB Chapter of the Council of Canadians to post this discussion document on the Chapter’s blogspace. If you want to contact me, the author of this document, email Ann Pohl at coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com. Due to lack of time, I will have to leave it at that. I hope this helps. Please leave no stone unturned for the Humble Herring. 

16 The herring apocalypse: Fish worth millions in exports die in Icelandic lake after building work ‘starves them of oxygen

Submission to Government of New Brunswick on “Water Strategy”

 

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Council of Canadians Water Protection Day, Brown’s Yard Bridge


Kent County Chapter, Council of Canadians
April 28, 2016

Department of Environment and Local Government (DELG),
Policy and Planning Division,
P.O. Box 6000,
Fredericton, NB E3B 5H1

Re: Public Input on “Water Strategy”

Dear Honourable Minister Brian Kenny:

The Kent County Chapter of the Council of Canadians is forwarding to you this submission regarding the new “Water Strategy.”

New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance Submission

On April 20, 2016, the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA) submitted to you a document called “Remarks to the Department of the Environment and Local Government on Creating a Water Strategy.” Our group, the Kent County Chapter of the Council of Canadians is a longstanding member of NBASGA, and we are in accord with the points raised in that submission. We will not repeat what is said in that submission.

Like all the member groups in NBASGA, we also speak with and for a specific community in this province that is concerned about major environmental issues. Since 2010, people in Kent County have had to fight very hard to protect: our water and the rest of our environment; the health of people in all communities in our region; and, the creatures and plants that live in the water, soil and air here. This fight-for-our-lives has taught us a lot and especially shown us to what extent we can trust the government in Fredericton to care about us. On the following pages you will see why we are extremely concerned about the development of this Water Strategy. We conclude by asking you to start the consultation over again – and do it the right way.

The Government of New Brunswick does not have a good record on environmental protection.

In recent years some of the evidence of this includes:

  • issuing licenses for shale gas extraction exploration and development in 2010, without doing the research to determine if this was an environmentally sound activity;

  • ignoring the many recommendations about the links between environmental matters and population health contained in the Chief Medical Officer of Health’s 2012 peer-acclaimed, awarded, report on the risks, hazards, and benefits of the shale gas industry for this province;

  • revoking, in 2013, the very strong well water protection regulation that was passed in 2011, which required those doing seismic exploration for oil and gas to test every potable water well along the proposed route;

  • in 2013, stripping most of New Brunswick’s wetlands from their prior protected status, which many local Kent residents believe had to do with the damage to wetlands the government knew would happen during the seismic exploration for fracking that took place later that year;

  • passage of a 25-year forestry management plan in 2014, which overwhelmingly advantages one major corporation in the province, and even more so disadvantages the common, humble people who live near the province’s public forest reserves (also called “Crown,” formerly called “Indian” or “Native” land), and who rely on the forest for at least part of their local sustainable livelihood;

  • promising during the 2014 election to revise the forestry agreement and then saying they would not;

  • approving the permit to construct Sisson Mine in December 2015, without considering first the many environmental and other issues raised by the public, which were published in a report (dated January 2016) by the group of experts contracted by the province to collect public opinion;

  • in the absence of an in-place and functioning water protection regulatory system, eagerly and energetically promoting the development of the Energy East pipeline, which will cross approximately 300 waterways in the province as it snakes along the Saint John rivershed from the northwest corner of the province to the Bay of Fundy, also seemingly to benefit a major corporation, as it will create very few jobs and much risk to the rural areas and those who need water in this province.

The above list of examples does not include a truly major issue: the shameful mess associated with the Government of New Brunswick’s 2002 “Water Classification Regulation.” Incalculable millions of dollars and unquantifiable preparatory community volunteer and provincial staff hours were spent on preparation for the implementation of this regulation, which has been very successful in Maine. For more than a decade, this policy simply collected dust. It was never operationalized. 

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View of the River in Fords Mills, photo credit George Griffin

The Ombudsman’s Report on the previous, unenforced Water Strategy

In 2013, the Ombudsman for the Province of New Brunswick received a complaint from one of the community organizations involved in the early preparatory work for the 2002 Water Classification Regulation. On August 15, 2014, the Report of the Ombudsman into the Department of Environment’s Management of the Provincial Water Classification Program was published.

In that report, the Ombudsman identifies four aspects that are extremely relevant to this current policy development process:

  1. An apparent government preoccupation with being challenged for authority by corporate interests: On December 2, 2008, the Minister of the Environment said in the Legislature, “What was brought to our attention was that, in the Clean Water Act, we did not have enough authority to run the Water Classification Program… I think what is important to understand is that, right now, under the Act, neither the minister nor the government has the legal capacity to run the program. We do not have the authority. That is all. The only thing that we are asking for is to legalize it here in the House, so that the department and the government have authority to act. That is all. Right now, there are certain activities, for instance, that are not permitted. The minister cannot prohibit those activities because it would not be legal to do so. We could and would be challenged in court. The only thing that we are asking for is to make it legal. That is all… The Department of Justice told us: ‘Well, if you are challenged in court, it is highly likely you will lose.’ ” As the Ombudsman notes, this speech pertained to the passage of a Bill that would strengthen those regulatory powers, and this Bill was given Royal Assent later in December 2008. Still the Water Classification Regulation was not operationalized.

  2. A Troubling Use of Ministerial Discretion,” which the Ombudsman details on pages 6 and 7 of his report so there is no need to summarize here. Just the title of this section summons up the common experience of New Brunswickers: the lack of transparency and accountability by the Government of New Brunswick, especially regarding backroom deals made with corporations that disadvantage ordinary New Brunswickers.

  3. The “Mirage” Aspect, whereby the government claims to do, and makes it look as if they are doing, something they are not doing. Specifically, the Ombudsman identifies “focused political will is the missing element” for successful resolution of this issue, which is another way of saying the bureaucracy has been mandated to make it look like something is happening while the real attention of the political arm of government is focused elsewhere.

  4. The use of public resources for accomplishing nothing, or even worse allowing things to happen that are not in the true public interest. As the Ombudsman points out, this monstrous regulatory wreckage “perpetuated the illusion that the province has a water classification program” while “deflecting public pressure,” so it reduced “vigilance” simultaneous to providing “no protection.” It is from conduct such as this that the vast majority of New Brunswickers have become cynical and distrustful about our government and its (lack of) intention to protect our treasured and essential natural environment which sustains all life.

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Rexton Bridge, decorated with Blue Ribbons to Protect the Water

Distrust of Government, and Not Being Consulted or Heard

Within less than two weeks of the announcement that your government was working on this new “Strategy,” Town Hall meetings began around the province to discuss it. Some might think this was a good thing: to get public input early in the process. We doubt it is early in the process: you have had almost two years to figure out how to respond to the Ombudsman’s report.

Those of us who have been watching what the province has been doing on natural resource and environment issues for the past two years are regretfully skeptical regarding how serious your government really is about this “Water Strategy.” Why the enormous hurry? People had no time to arrange to attend these meetings feeling prepared. Or was that on purpose?

It is instructive to look at the independent panel soliciting public opinion on the Sisson Mine proposal, Summary of Public and First Nations Participation. It discusses in detail the lack of public confidence that New Brunswickers have in your government’s intention to protect our priceless natural environment: the same natural environment that sustains us all.

Most significantly, the independent “Summary” report on Sisson Mine discusses, at length, aboriginal and treaty rights and the obligations of the Crown (on matters of natural resources, this would be the Provincial Crown) in regards to Indigenous Peoples. (See pages 12 – 92, in particular.) Your government clearly needs to pay closer attention to this text, because once again on the development of this Water Strategy, you have failed to do your due diligence in consulting with our neighbour Indigenous community, Elsipogtog First Nation (EFN).

Our Kent County Chapter of the Council of Canadians works very closely with our neighbours at EFN on environmental issues. EFN’s mandated consultation delegation on natural resource issues is led by Kenneth Francis, of Kopit Lodge. (Kopit means “beaver” and the principal mission of the Lodge is to protect the water.)

It is our understanding that Mr. Francis sent you a letter in early March asking for information about this Strategy. Apparently, this sat on your desk, Minister Kenny, for more than five weeks. Your response, dated April 14th, advised the deadline for input is April 29, 2016. You must be aware that this whole process you have just used is a complete violation of the protocols for valid consultation with First Nations in Canada, according to relevant case law precedents from the Supreme Court of Canada, and other levels of the justice system across Canada.

In other parts of Canada, in regards to Aboriginal Rights and Duty to Consult, “provincial governments take Indigenous Peoples seriously,” said Bruce McIvor, a lawyer for Elsipogtog First Nation, at a community meeting on April 21, 2016. “I work across the country. Here in New Brunswick, I feel like we are starting back talking in the 1950’s or 1960’s. I talk to people here and say, ‘Yeah, this is crazy!’ I think New Brunswick must be the ultimate political,legal backwater for Indigenous People, and that’s a sad thing. No one wants that.”

As a result of oversights, or perhaps blind spots, such as this, the taxpayers of this province are in imminent danger of being forced to bear the enormous burden of lengthy Aboriginal rights litigation – which New Brunswick will lose!

Perhaps you will decide to extend the deadline for input for First Nations, as was done by the New Brunswick Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing (NBCHF), when their procedural errors were brought to their attention. But, to make your process valid, the “Water Strategy” process may need to be shut down and begun again, anew, bringing First Nations to the table at the very beginning. There may be other requirements as well, such as capacity building, but we will leave these to First Nations to elaborate as appropriate.

It is not only Indigenous people in New Brunswick who are ignored by the provincial government. The Final Report of the New Brunswick Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing also speaks at length about “one of the core findings,” which is New Brunswickers’ “distrust of public institutions runs deep.” Specifically, see page 6: “The government’s water monitoring record has caused rural residents to distrust government officials’ assurances that it can adequately monitor a new industry.”

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Local Resident who Loves the Water, photo credit Nancy Alcox

The Government of New Brunswick has consistently demonstrated that it does not value having adequate review, inspection and enforcement capacity.

You do not have enough trained staff in the civil service. You always rely on industry to police itself, which is like allowing the fox to guard the henhouse. We saw this over and over again during the year (2013) when we endured the invasion of the seismic exploration for shale gas drilling locations by SWN Resources Canada. We also see this when someone cuts through the river bank to create a place to load and unload their yacht. We see this when we complain about herbicide spraying that does not conform with the regulations.

It is clear to us that the government does not even seem to value this role in its bureaucracy. This was clear when the government fired, without cause, the one person in the civil service whom ordinary New Brunswickers trusted to protect the public’s health and our environment: Dr. Eilish Cleary, the former Chief Medical Officer of Health. Her departure has slowed progress on important environmental policy research for the people of this province, and many people here in Kent County believe this was the real reason she was fired. This has only heightened our distrust of how government acts – how government seems to have higher regard for corporate goals than ordinary peoples’ health.

This past Fall, we understand that the Director of Fish and Wildlife was put on leave from his position in the Department of Natural Resources. In that position, he actually had the personnel, resources and authority to try to protect wildlife during industrial review processes. His closest investigatory staff may also have been put on leave or moved. When the former Director was called back to work, he was put on a completely different job. Shortly after that, the permit to proceed with Sisson Brook was approved. A cross-check with the independent “Summary” report cited above shows there are many reasons why it would have been very inconvenient to have a wildlife champion in the bureaucracy when that permission was issued.

Returning for a moment to Dr. Cleary and the NBCHF: before being removed from office, Dr. Cleary made a cogent, well-researched plea for an overhaul of the industrial proposal review process used by the Government of New Brunswick. She recommended that the more comprehensive and independent “Health Impact Assessment” (HIA) be adopted in lieu of the current Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) process. New Brunswick’s EIA process relies on corporate identification of issues, and does not have adequate scope to consider impacts on the range of determinants relevant to population health.

The NBCHF, which was clearly subjected to corporate pressures, supported the HIA proposal. The NBCHF watered down Dr. Cleary’s proposal in their final report, proposing that the HIA could come under the umbrella of the EIA process. Dr. Cleary had specifically proven that the HIA approach is broader,offers superior protection for human and environmental health, and is inclusive of the EIA mandate. So the NBCHF got it the wrong way around, but did support the idea.

Consider as well that the HIA process was also favourably reviewed in the independent “Summary” report about Sisson Mine.

So, the HIA proposal was brought to government three times in one year! Each time it was brought by people hired by the Government of New Brunswick to protect the public’s interest and wellbeing. Your government has not taken any position on the implementation of the HIA, relative to relying solely on the more limited and corporately-biased EIA. This is yet another way it is clear, to those of us watching, that you do not really care what happens to small people in rural areas that are viewed as sacrifice zones by industry and their allies.

Further, we are concerned that your government has historically not put enough resources into effective implementation of policies such as that being discussed in this Strategy. Without the money to inspect and enforce, the policy will be meaningless.

In summary, we simply have no basis to believe that there is any substance to the rhetoric in your “fact sheet” on Working towards a Water Strategy for New Brunswick: Programs and Approvals.

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The Trees are Wearing their Coloured Jewels to Impress the Water

Watershed Designation, Protection and Related Issues

We note that you have combined several distinct watersheds in our region into one called Northumberland Strait Composite.

  • At least seventeen (17) rivers and tributaries in Kent County are lumped together in this one watershed “Level 1” region. Most of these are not connected.

  • There are at least seven (7) different watersheds (pg 2) that have been locally identified.

  • It is difficult to tell by the information provided, but it may be the case that our Level 1 region has the largest number of rivers of any single Level 1 watershed identified on the “Water Strategy” map.

  • Certainly Kent County is in the region of the province that, in this decade, has been most severely under resource extraction industrial pressure opposed by area residents.

We are concerned about the underlying reasons for lumping together all our waterways into one super-sized watershed. Elsewhere in the “Water Strategy” document it is made clear that a significant purpose of this policy development is to facilitate a balancing of “environmental conservation and economic activities” and to “manage and use water responsibly… while allowing economic opportunities.” For those of us using the land and the waters in this county, for part or all of our livelihoods, the various rivers are not interchangeable. We would be more comfortable with smaller watershed areas that reflect local use patterns.

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Manifestation, Saint-Louis-de-Kent, Juin 2013

 

There is no Planet B.

No one is making drinking water. The climate will not heal on its own. Our generation has to turn things around. That means you need to show leadership: real leadership, not the appearance of leadership.

Despite the urgency, we are asking you to start this consultation over again. Without a hidden agenda, without narrow and/or meaningless questions, without your own ideas of how you want to do things, please invite the Indigenous, rural and urban people of New Brunswick to tell you what we want you to do to protect our water, and how we want you to do it. Then draw up your plan, and share the ideas with us before legislating.

It is very hard for us here in Kent County to trust a slick package of materials like this, with such a rush-rush series of meetings, and so little actual content to any of it. Regarding protection of the environment, most Kent County citizens have seen too much evidence of too little concern by your government. From our perspective, it usually seems the provincial government is listening far too closely to corporate industrial demands. You do not seem to pay enough attention to the urgencies and needs of common humble people in communities like those here in our area.

In the final analysis, the effectiveness of any government policy, including the case in point – this emerging Water Strategy – will be determined by your commitment to make it strong and comprehensive, and your will to enforce it. The resources provided to this initiative, and the behind-the-scenes guidance given by management to operations personnel, will determine whether or not even the best policy will succeed at its stated goals. Above all we need transparency and accountability.

Something you may want to consider is that, in other jurisdictions, young people have begun taking their governments to court for allowing the environment to be destroyed. They know their futures are in the hands of today’s governments.

Respectfully yours, on behalf of future generations,

Ann Pohl, Chairperson, Council of Canadians – Kent County Chapter
with: Debra Hopper and Denise Melanson, Council of Canadians – Kent County Chapter

copies:
Premier Brian Gallant
Council of Canadians – Atlantic Region network
New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance
Conservation Council of New Brunswick
New Brunswick Environment Network
Kenneth Francis, Kopit Lodge, EFN
Chief Arren Sock, EFN
Wolastoq Grand Council
Chief Candace Paul, St. Mary’s FN
Mr. Charles Murray, Ombudsman, Province of New Brunswick
The Hon. Minister Ed Doherty, Responsible for Aboriginal Affairs

TO COMMENT ON THIS, please email us at <coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com>, we do not have enough people power to handle comments on our blog space and do all the other stuff!