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Friends Of Port Mouton Bay

The Story of Friends of Port Mouton Bay
by Gloria Gilbert

Samuel de Champlain was the first "Friend of Port Mouton Bay". He sailed into the harbour in 1603, probably for an overnight stop on his exploration of the coastline, searching for a good location for settlement. Champlain stayed long enough to make a respectable map, and brought his clerics ashore to hold the first Christian church service in North America. It's a good bet that he enjoyed a delicious meal of wild Atlantic salmon. He noted the abundance of fish. We're not sure whether he ate lobster. People still find sheltered anchorage in Port Mouton for overnight stops or a vacation. Champlain made his map so he could come back again.

The Bay is one of those rare places on Earth that is unspoiled, quiet, beautiful, natural...you only need to be there for five minutes to recognize what Champlain saw, and to know in your heart that this place should be preserved in its natural state. Anyone who experiences the uniquely spectacular water and seven white sand beaches becomes a Friend of the Bay. The only prerequisite for membership is this recognition. Families who have lived around the Bay for generations have a genetic predisposition to preserve the fishery, the health of the marine ecosystem, and a way of life that still works very well. This is evident when talking with the fishermen around the wharf.

In 1994 a trout farm was started north of Spectacle Island. Fishermen agreed that a couple of cages of trout should not be harmful. By 1996 the size of the farm had increased, salmon were introduced, and more cages added. Fishermen became alarmed when lobster catches began dropping in the inner harbour. Traps, lines and buoys set in the vicinity of the farm became fouled with slimy algae.

In 2002 a proposal was introduced for a second farm. Lobster fisherman Greg Gatzke, his wife Janet and Brigitte Petersmann led a protest, circulating a petition opposing the idea. The proposal seemed to go dormant. In hindsight, this was probably due to a glut of salmon on the global market, driving prices down. Small companies couldn't expand under those conditions.

In July of 2006 the proposal for Site 1251 was re-activated, enlarged this time to 28 hectares. Fishermen voiced their dismay and Clyde Fisher (the second Friend of Port Mouton Bay) began collecting signatures on a new petition, and with the help of neighbours, called a community meeting in Southwest Port Mouton. It was the birth of Friends of Port Mouton Bay.

Since that first meeting Friends have been on a mission to save the Bay and the lobster fishery from pollution and unfair competition. Discovering the pathways for participation in the Environmental Assessment has been an education in itself. Friends have also learned much about salmon aquaculture on a global level. Beyond our local organization are provincial, national and international groups who have contributed to our understanding of industry practices and issues raised in various environments where salmon aquaculture is happening. Friends of PMB have stayed focussed on the issues unique to Port Mouton Bay.

The most surprising and delightful part of working together in a common purpose has been the emergence of talented and committed people with amazing skill sets and incredible generosity. We have attracted oceanographers, marine biologists, divers, photographers, graphic designers, public relations experts, printers, writers, publishers, film producers, politicians, lawyers, and community women who were more than happy to prepare food for us when we invited Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture staff to consult with the fishermen. Every person who loves the area has looked for a way to contribute to the protest. Our website designer, Arina Winkleman is a Queens County resident. The content of the website is from many sources, but Arina is responsible for the presentation.

Local concerns were taken to the Region of Queens Council in August of 2006. A resolution was passed, unanimously opposing the expansion of salmon aquaculture in Port Mouton Bay. This resolution was communicated to Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture under the Region's official seal. Both the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department and Aqua Fish Farms subsequently made presentations to Council and Aqua Fish held open house sessions in Port Mouton. Friends of Port Mouton Bay were not influenced to change their position.

In November 2006 Friends sponsored a learning session with Inka Milewski, Conservation Council of New Brunswick. By July 2007 we were ready to present the results of local research carried out under the leadership of Dr. Ron Loucks and Ruth Smith. Studies were designed to test the assertions of the fishermen. They do know the Bay best, and their observations and theories have been substantiated by solid science.

That brings us to February of 2009. We had spent the past 27 months developing an amazing grasp of how the ocean behaves in Port Mouton Bay. The fishermen were right on every count. The Bay does not flush away aquaculture waste effectively. The ecosystem is changing in response to nutrient overloads. Every study had been shared with NS Fisheries and Aquaculture staff and submitted to the Federal Environmental Assessment process, as well as being offered directly to Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Habitat scientists.

We were not sure why they weren't listening.

The Friends learned in February that the federal Environmental Assessment draft was nearing completion, and that it would recommend that the aquaculture expansion could go ahead. Within a two week period, we wrote to our federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans demanding a moratorium, we gained the support of LFA 33 lobster fishermen and the Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council, and we organized a press conference at Province House.

Can you imagine our relief and delight on March 12 when the Premier announced a moratorium on new aquaculture sites in the Bay?!! Supporters from across the country have sent their congratulations and thanks. Whether the right outcome is derived from politics, science or business, matters less. The smiles on the faces of the fishermen tell the true story.

The traditional fishing community of Port Mouton now has a public voice. The Friends of Port Mouton Bay are committed to monitoring the long term health of the Bay. Working and learning together has been a real honour, and we know that the ocean has a lot more to teach us.

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