No Definite Answer to Fish Kill Question

No Definite Answer to Fish Kill Question

Society expects science — medical and physical — to solve all problems and when it doesn’t, questions abound on what use science is if it cannot attend to all pressing needs.

Fish kills aren’t unknown is in this vast country — a lot of them in fresh water systems, caused by runoffs of this or that chemical from industrial sources.

On the briny side of the coin, it isn’t uncommon each summer to see dead whales or dolphins wash up on our shores, sometimes more than one, as entire pods seemed to act like lemmings and literally leap into a deep gorge, or in this case, sandy beaches.

Whales and fishes die, like all of us, but these suicidal attempts are difficult to understand.

This past fall, dead herring began appearing along the shoreline of St. Mary’s Bay. It was rather late for herring to be in the bay, but there they were and some of them were washing up dead in selected areas.

At first, the numbers were miniscule, but they increased, culminating in a major kill in the Weymouth area at the head of the Bay, which also included bottom dwellers such as mussels, crab, starfish and lobster.

The alarms naturally went off and everything was blamed for the fish kill, from underwater turbines located miles away at the head of another bay, earthquakes, fish farms situated at the mouth of the bay, mink farms and changes in the water column brought on by climate change due to the warming of the polar regions.

In the end, the scientific community threw in the towel. After exhaustive tests, it couldn’t pinpoint any one thing which would have caused the fish deaths, including parasites, disease or toxins.

The crisis has passed, for now, with scientists saying there is no great cause for concern.

One theory floated as the cause of all this was a storm during the Yuletide season, which caused shallow water temps in St. Mary’s Bay to drop to minus 5 degrees.

Due diligence was followed by fishery scientists on this one as they tested everything from the bottom of the bay to the water column to the fish, crustaceans and bivalves themselves. And they kept the public informed almost on a daily basis, a far cry from the days of the Harper government which muzzled the marine scientific community, especially if the news was on the negative side.

Proof of this came recently when scientists disclosed their findings re-haddock and lobster on Browns Bank.

Haddock Numbers

Browns and Georges Banks are the engines which keep the commercial fishery alive and well in western and southwestern Nova Scotia, the Gulf of Maine and Bay of Fundy.

Estimates of a recent haddock year-class on Browns showed an astounding 250 million plus fish. This is just one of many similar year-classes for this species which thrived on Georges and Browns though the groundfish downturn which afflicted Atlantic waters beginning over a decade ago.

Cod, except in parts of Newfoundland, are still struggling to survive in the Gulf of Maine, although they occupy the same real estate as haddock.

When cod reach a certain size in these areas, they seem to disappear.

As eye popping as that 250-plus-million year-class of haddock on Browns is, it pales in comparison to the figures found on Georges Bank. There, the latest year-class topped the billion-fish mark; yes, billion.

Despite these huge numbers, the Canadian quota for haddock is only expected to fractionally increase from last year.

The scientists found that lobsters on Browns were also in good shape and predict no problem with this fishery for at least another three years.

The importance of Browns Bank to the commercial fishery is why the industry vented its displeasure at the Government of Nova Scotia for allowing exploratory leases in deep water off the western Scotian Shelf. One of these almost abutted Browns Bank. This lease was not sold but it remains in the books, so to say.

Shell and Statoil bought some of these offshore leases, but Shell recently decided to seal two of these wells because they didn’t contain commercial quantities of oil.

This puts the entire Nova Scotia offshore oil dream on hold.

Since 2003 Nova Scotia has had a strategy titled Seizing the Opportunity which saw offshore projects lead to new industrial developments.

The fishing industry was basically ignored in all these deliberations and pressure by both communities and environmental groups in New England and Nova Scotia finally persuaded the United States to ban oil and gas exploration on their side of Georges Bank. Canada meekly followed suit, but only after a lot of prodding.

Analysts say oil prices need to hit the $80 to $90-dollar mark before any major offshore development takes place.

Alain Meuse

Contributor - Nova Scotia

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