Shellfish closure explanation not acceptable -- warden

By Lois Ann Dort    

GUYSBOROUGH – Last month an opinion column in The Journal questioned why there continues to be shellfish closure signs posted around Guysborough Harbour. The author of that column, Ray Bates, called the number on the posted warning but found no further information available on the issue.

Last week, The Journal's inquiries into this matter received a response from Environment and Climate Change Canada spokesperson Samantha Bayard via email. She wrote, “The majority of Guysborough Harbour and portions of Milford Haven River have been closed to shellfish harvesting for over 25 years due to elevated bacteriological contamination levels and risk from sanitary pollution sources such as municipal wastewater systems, residential septic systems, boat traffic and wildlife. In addition, historically there were frequent emergency closures in Guysborough Harbour as a result of overflows of untreated sewage from wastewater systems serving the Town of Guysborough and other facilities in the area.

“Shellfish aquaculture leases located in the Milford Haven River became inactive in the 2000s...As a result of the closures and lack of commercial harvesting interest, routine water quality monitoring of the river and harbour ended in 2013 and as a result, the entire area has remained closed since that time.”

On Monday, MODG Warden Vernon Pitts told The Journal that he had not been aware that testing had ceased in the area and that it “was not acceptable.”

Pitts questioned how a decision on the closure of shellfish harvesting could be made on information more than five years out of date. “How do you know? Where does science play into this?”

As for the federal government's statement regarding the municipal waste water system, Pitts said that the municipality is meeting environmental standards.

Pitts also questions the decision to abandon testing due to the lack of a commercial shellfish industry in the area. “Shellfish harvesting, it's not only a commercial concern; let's look at residential use and tourism. When people come here they don't want to be told they can't eat the shellfish.”

Now that Pitts is aware of the situation regarding the shellfish closure, he said council will take action on the matter. “I think the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has dropped the ball on this big time. I will certainly bring this to council and I expect there will be a motion asking them (DFO) to come down and explain themselves.”

Pitts added, “In our taxes we are paying for certain services, both federal and provincial, and this is a service (shellfish testing) we are not getting.”