DFO holds open house on marine protected areas

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St. George – A steady stream of local fishermen and area residents stopped into a recent Department of Fisheries and Oceans public open house on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) held at Magaguadavic Place.

Marty King, an ocean biologist with the Oceans and Coastal Management division of DFO, explained that 54 Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) have been identified by scientists and local experts on the Scotian Shelf and in the Bay of Fundy but not all are going to become MPAs.

“We are going through the planning process for Marine Protected Areas for the whole region. We are here to hear what the public has to say. We want to learn more about these areas.

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“We know about the ecology and biodiversity but there is more we can learn from people who are on the water. We want to learn about how these areas are used.”

Currently only one per cent of coastal and marine areas are protected, but in 2010, Canada signed an international agreement committing to have 10 per cent protected by 2020.

“We have a lot of work to do between now and 2020, and we are trying to engage the public in the process. This is really about planning for the long term – making sure our grandchildren are able to fish and enjoy the ocean.”

King said DFO will be releasing a proposed plan for the whole region five to six months from now in late winter/early spring of 2017 after holding a series of open houses and industry consultations.

In the two existing MPAs in the region – one of which is the Musquash Estuary – King said there are certain types of fishing permitted.

He said there is the potential to make some adjustments as to where fishing would be permitted and the goal is to work with local fishermen to minimize any potential impacts. The MPAs will be protected by DFO’s Conservation and Protection officers.

Deer Island fisherman Dale Mitchell said local fishermen feel they are doing a good job managing the fishery and they have seen a big increase in lobsters and scallops.

“This area is based on the fishery and we would not be able to fish in these Marine Protected Areas. When you get an MPA it goes to legislation and that means there will never be any changes there.

“There is no dragging in these areas – nothing with a bottom impact. We have a lot to be concerned about because this area is so dependent on the fishery.”

Mitchell said the identified EBSAs included five of the highest fishing areas in the Bay of Fundy.

“We have a weak herring fishery but lobster and scallop are doing well. We have been going to meetings on this since February. There is no increase in fishing populations inside MPAs to what they are outside. They are not getting the results around the world that they thought they were going to get.”

Executive director of Eastern Charlotte Waterways Donald Killorn feels those areas where fishing is a way of life will benefit the most from the MPAs and, ultimately, MPAs will keep the fisheries sustainable.

“The benefits of MPAs are less obvious around here than they are around coral reefs where there is concentrated activity. You won’t get the immediate satisfaction you get from tropical MPAs.

“There is an old saying that a truly wise person plants a tree knowing they will never enjoy its shade and that is what an MPA is. We have such abundant marine resources but we cannot just use them any way we want.”

Fundy Baykeeper, Matt Abbott, said the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, which launched the campaign to have the Musquash Estuary designated an MPA, is supportive of greater protection of the Bay of Fundy.

“This is a special place and it is facing a lot of challenges. Foremost among them is climate change. In order to withstand these changes, things have to be done right and I think protection is an important part of the mix.

“At Musquash there have been industrial proposals there in the past and would be in the future if it was not protected. It is really critical to the ecosystem. It was designated 10 years ago and that is a really successful MPA.”

He said the local community, fishermen and other groups supported the establishment of the MPA there.

“The outer Bay of Fundy, where we are, is a special place. We are happy to see discussions going forward. There are things I don’t think are compatible – major new industrialization, seabed mining, oil and gas operations.

“The fisheries have been a part of our community fabric for a long time and that should continue. We want to continue to support our communities going into the future.”