Georges, Browns Banks Could be Threatened by New Offshore Leases

The battle to keep offshore oil and gas interests off Georges Bank was long and hard and prosecuted both here and in New England.

At stake was the continued existence of one of the richest fishing grounds on the planet with a unique ecosystem which feeds sea life, plants and animals.

In this neck of the woods, you had fishermen, aboriginal groups and environmentalists in a coalition against those that would turn this part of Nova Scotia into Alberta East.

Those people are still around and clinging to the notion that the future is oil and gas, not fish, forgetting or choosing to forget that the fishery remains a billion-dollar industry in this neck of the woods and the main breeding areas for many fish species are Georges, Browns and German Banks.

But the oil and gas crowd are sniffing around Georges and Browns Bank again. The province recently announced bids for exploration rights to nine parcels of real estate. At least four of them would threaten Georges and possibly Browns Bank and other fishing banks on the western Scotian Shelf if an accident was to occur, such as the Deep Water Horizon.

The fact the province of Nova Scotia would even consider offering these parcels for development is difficult to imagine. Where were the fisheries and environment departments during the discussion leading up to the bids?

Fisheries Minister Colwell said the fishing industry hadn’t contacted him about their concerns. He obviously doesn’t read this magazine or any other periodical or newspaper which have carried the concerns for quite some time now.

Four of the parcels border the eastern side of Georges Bank and are near the Fundian Channel which contains, among other things, deep sea corals which are protected under federal law.

Another two parcels are perilously close to Brown Bank, which is the nursery for south western Nova Scotia’s half-a-billion-dollar lobster fishing industry.

The Canadian side of Georges, which is home to an offshore scallop fleet, has witnessed in recent years the largest year classes of haddock on record. These two fishing banks, together with other fishing banks on the western Scotian Shelf, have contributed to the Nova Scotia economy for over 300 years and continue to do so to the tune of a billion dollars in annual exports.

This is what’s at stake.

John Davis is director of the Clean Ocean Action Committee which consists of fishermen, environmentalists and aboriginal groups — all concerned with a healthy ocean.

He recently wrote an extensive op-ed article in the Chronicle-Herald of Halifax laying out these concerns.

Leading the way is an inadequate clean up and mitigation plan. The group would like to see a functional oil spill mitigation method in place prior to any drilling activity. They would also like to see dispersants done away with and a capping device wharfed in Halifax, not South Africa or Norway.

Davis feels fishermen and the oil industry can co-exist but there needs to be more openness between the two and an acceptance of the reality the environment needs to be protected.

If the petroleum industry is going to move into this area, the fishing industry must make sure it is protected, that it gets the best deal possible because repercussions of a major oil spill in sensitive areas can last a long time.

I remember the advice given to a symposium on the oil and gas industry and the fisheries held in Yarmouth a number of years ago. A representative of a Scottish fishing organization had this advice, “You’re dealing with very powerful companies, more powerful than most countries. And eventually they get their way so get the best damn deal you can.”

Alain Meuse

Contributor - Nova Scotia

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