Uncertainty surrounding marine protected areas concerns N.S. seaweed company

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Uncertainty surrounding marine protected areas concerns N.S. seaweed company

One of Nova Scotia's leading seafood companies is raising concerns about the Trudeau government's plan to create more marine protected areas in Atlantic Canada.

Acadian Seaplants pioneered the extraction of products from seaweed. Now it's trying to figure out if it will be squeezed out of a newly awarded harvest area in the name of environmental protection.

"Our concern regarding the marine protected areas is that we don't know what is going to happen," said company president Jean-Paul Deveau.

"Is the government going to say this is going to be 100 per cent no-take zone or are they going to allow proper environmentally sustainable activities? There's a big difference between the two," Deveau said in an interview at the company's Dartmouth, N.S., head office.

Deveau said he cannot get answers from Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans on what impact an MPA designation will have on harvesting.

Harvesting operation within proposed MPA

Acadian Seaplants has spent more than $1 million developing its rockweed harvesting operation on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, Deveau said. The company has a dozen people at work in the area.

But its provincial leasehold, awarded in December, is now inside the boundary of a newly proposed 2,000-square-kilometre federal marine protected area dubbed Eastern Shore Islands.

The potential consequences extend far beyond the Eastern Shore Islands marine protected area. Acadian Seaplants has much of Maritime Canada's coastline under harvest leases with provincial governments.

The raw material raked from the shoreline feeds manufacturing plants throughout the region that export a wide variety of products from plant fertilizer to pet food to nutraceuticals.

The federal government is expected to protect more coastal waters in order to achieve its promise to protect 10 per cent of Canada's oceans by 2020.

"We know we take less than the annual growth. By taking less than the annual growth, we know this is sustainable for the future. So the type of activities we are doing is exactly what the federal government will want to have in a marine protected area because it is protected for the future," Deveau said.

Intertidal zone may be outside DFO's reach

Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell has frequently warned about the economic damage caused if Ottawa creates no-take zones inside marine protected areas, especially if it restricts fishing.

But when it comes to rockweed, the province may have more say.

The intertidal zone — the area between high and low tide, where rockweed is harvested — is under provincial jurisdiction.

Colwell said he hopes the federal government would not try to impose a no-take zone in an area regulated by the province, but the question has not been settled.

"It's our contention that it's our responsibility in the intertidal zone, but that's never been proven one way or another by the federal government. But we have that belief," Colwell said. "That would be a constitutional issue."

DFO's position

In response to CBC News questions on rockweed harvesting within an Eastern Shore Islands MPA, federal Fisheries and Oceans spokesperson Stephen Bornais acknowledged MPA designations under the Oceans Act do not apply to intertidal zones, but said rockweed is "an important ecosystem component of the overall area."

DFO will ensure management plans submitted by harvesters to the province are compatible with Ottawa's conservation goals, Bornais said.

"DFO will engage and work with the province and the leaseholders through the MPA establishment process to identify management measures for rockweed that align with and support the future goals and conservation objectives of a MPA for this area," he said.

MPA designation and business

The proposed Eastern Shore Islands MPA, announced in March, is the first large inshore coastal area on the Scotian Shelf where there are fishing interests — including 170 lobster licence holders — with something to lose if commercial extraction is restricted or eliminated.

Colwell said he has information that Eastern Shore Islands is the first of a wave of MPAs the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has planned for Nova Scotia.

"They have proposed areas of up to 25, almost 26 per cent of all oceans and coastal waters around Nova Scotia. That is a large number, a very large number. It's the largest in the country, if that ever happened. We already have more marine protected areas than anyone else," said Colwell.

DFO refuses to release its network map of proposed MPAs, saying it is still sharing details with stakeholders.

It has appointed a seven-member panel to establish standards outlining which activities will be allowed in MPAs including the potential creation of "no-take" zones.

Opposition Conservatives have criticized the panel for its lack of industry representation. The panel has until September to report.

That is when DFO is expected to spell out what no-take zones, if any, will be created within the Eastern Shore Islands MPA.

The department has predicted an MPA designation on the Eastern Shore will have little impact on lobster fishing in the area.