By Scott Costen
They came, they saw, they commented.
For the fourth consecutive council meeting, opponents of sea-based aquaculture filled the public gallery last night, stating their case during public comments.
Speaking for a total of 53 minutes, they implored council — which has no jurisdiction over aquaculture licensing — to take a symbolic stand against fish farming and its possible expansion in Liverpool Bay. Councillors remained silent and Mayor David Dagley appeared unmoved.
But that doesn’t mean Protect Liverpool Bay and its supporters aren’t being heard.
Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland has echoed many of their concerns. Two former Region of Queens mayors (Christopher Clarke and John Leefe) have also spoken against Cooke Aquaculture expanding its operation near Coffin Island.
Just as important, fish farm opponents have struck a chord with the general public. They attracted more than 100 people to a protest at Fort Point Lighthouse Park and drew a good crowd for a march in downtown Liverpool.
Based on my observations, most Queens County residents are with Protect Liverpool Bay.
They see very little local economic benefit in open-pen fish farming. They see aesthetic degradation, environmental risk and potential damage to traditional fishing industries. And they see possible harm to tourism and efforts to attract new residents.
Yet while many residents see these things clearly, our mayor and council appear blind to them.
During a break in last night’s meeting, Dagley told reporters (myself and LighthouseNOW’s Kevin McBain) he appreciated people’s passion for the issue, but council needs to stick to the facts of the matter. Cooke is currently “scoping” Liverpool Bay to determine its suitability for expanded fish farming, but it has not submitted any reports or made an official application to add new cages.
Dagley referenced an information session council attended in Shelburne last month with provincial fisheries and aquaculture staff. “They provided us with an overview of the process and the work that they do,” he said. “We were privy to watching a video of the Liverpool site, under the cage and next to the cage, that was taken in July and August of this past year … indicating that the bottom is clean and there (are) numerous wild fish around the bottom.”
Officially stating a position now would not only pre-judge the situation, Dagley said, it would also be a wasted effort on council’s part.
“We haven’t deliberated on a position because it would be good government to have the facts, which we don’t have.” Given the fact licensing decisions are made by the independent Aquaculture Review Board, he said: “Any letter that’s sent to the minister of provincial fisheries or anywhere else is not part of the process. It’s a dead letter.”
Dead letter or not, many people want to see action on this file from their elected representatives. Until they get it, opponents will likely continue to give councillors an earful from the public gallery.