The president of the Northumberland Fishermen’s Association is “very concerned” about a proposed effluent pipe from Northern Pulp in Pictou County out into the Northumberland Strait.
“We are adamant it’s not going to happen,” said Ron Heighton, from his home in River John.
Heighton and his colleagues in the fishing industry are worried about a proposal by Northern Pulp, which would see the waste water treatment in Boat Harbour replaced with an in-house operation. That operation could send treated byproduct through a pipe under the harbour before being diffused into the strait.
“Even yesterday, we met with Northern Pulp and looked at other options, some of which aren’t feasible, but as long as they’re looking at other options, we’ll sit at the table. Dialogue is happening,” said Heighton.
The provincial government has given Northern Pulp until January 2020 before it has to close its existing treatment facility at Boat Harbour. This summer, Northern Pulp is expected to submit a proposal to the Department of Environment for review, and Heighton said he and others he’s working with – from New Brunswick, P.E.I., Pictou Landing First Nation, and elsewhere in the Gulf of St. Lawrence – will be ready.
“If (the application) includes a pipeline, we’ll be prepared,” said Heighton, adding the group has scientists involved and they’ve received legal advice. “We’re prepared to take this to the wall.”
Heighton said the volume of water in the strait, without effluent, is equal to daily use in Halifax Regional Municipality. Effluent, he said, will “certainly impact” salt water fish.
“It will make it a dead area. All fish migrate and we’re extremely worried they could migrate into that,” he said.
If that happens, there’s no chance of reproduction.
The association president also said habitat would be destroyed if a pipe were to be buried in the harbour, which would then need protection from ice.
“To us, that’s a no-no.”
But while the association and other groups are worried, they also want to be fair and don’t want to see the mill close.
“We know there are jobs there, but there are alternatives,” he said.
One of those alternatives is using peroxide, which has a byproduct of fresh water. Solids can be filtered out of the water, and that water then re-used, he said.
By sitting down to look at other options, there’s a bit of optimism.
“At least they made the effort, and for that we thank them,” said Heighton. “At the last meeting, it was the pipe or nothing. Now, they’re willing to talk. If they’re willing to talk, we’re willing to listen and share our expertise.”
Northern Pulp spokesperson Kathy Cloutier offered a brief comment regarding the session to the Pictou Advocate, one of the sister publications to The Light.
“We are very pleased with the ongoing discussions involving fishers and the various groups/unions they represent,” she said in a statement.
About two decades ago, Northern Pulp attempted to extend a pipe from Boat Harbour into the strait. Heighton remembers that time, and how local fishermen weren’t brought into the discussion then.
“They should have brought in the fishermen from the very start,” he said. “For some of us, this is not the first time. We stopped the first pipe.”
Federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc announced earlier this month changes to the Fisheries Act, including fish and fish habitat protection and strengthening the fleet separation policy.
Heighton said the change was the product of more than 11,000 letters he and his colleagues across Canada sent to the department, as well as the fact that LeBlanc’s late father, former Fisheries minister and Senator Romeo LeBlanc, championed owner-operator and fleet separation in the 1980s.
Fleet separation prohibits individuals from buying up fishing licences and preserving coastal communities and economies.
“All fishermen are environmentalists,” Heighton said. “Not all of them may like to call themselves that, but we do everything we can to protect the environment. Fleet separation means coastal communities benefit 100 per cent from the fishery.”
*with files from Steve Goodwin