CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - A marine biologist working with the Island’s fisheries association says a proposed effluent pipeline in Pictou, N.S. could have negative impacts on already threatened fish and marine habitats in the Northumberland Strait.
Speaking before the P.E.I. legislature’s standing committee on agriculture and fisheries on Friday, Melanie Giffin, who works with the P.E.I. Fisherman’s Association, said key Atlantic herring habitats in the Northumberland Strait could be threatened by the proposed Northern Pulp pipeline in Pictou Harbour.
Giffin said the project should be reviewed by the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
Giffin also said the impacts of global warming have not been taken into account in assessments carried out by Northern Pulp.
She said warming may have brought about an increase in the right whale and Atlantic chub mackerel populations.
"I'm not sure the changing ecosystem is being considered whatsoever in their science," Giffin said.
The proposed treatment project would pump between 70 and 90 million litres of treated effluent each day from the Abercrombie pulp mill into the Northumberland Strait starting in 2020.
An existing treatment facility at Boat Harbour has been ordered closed by the provincial government.
Giffin said the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has identified key ecologically significant areas in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.
"They've actually isolated three important areas in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. And those three important areas all surround the Pictou Country area," she said.
There are currently few spawning beds for Atlantic Herring in the Southern Gulf. Lady crab and winter skate populations, which are unique to the Northumberland Strait, are already endangered. The white hake in St. George’s Bay is also endangered.
In a rare moment of unanimity, MLA’s from the Island’s Liberal, PC and Greens parties all agreed the treatment project, as it stands, should be shelved.
“It’s unbelievable that they would even consider this, I think,” said Vernon River-Stratford MLA Alan MacIsaac.
Members of the Standing Committee agreed to send a letter to their provincial counterparts expressing concern about the pipeline and urging a provincial committee to meet with members of the PEIFA.
MacPherson has said he has reached out to the province of Nova Scotia to share concerns but has received no reply.
In July, P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan argued the project should be evaluated by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency rather than through Nova Scotia’s environmental assessment process.
PEIFA executive director Ian MacPherson said a federal environmental assessment would be more stringent and would allow for a lengthier period of public comment.
MacPherson said he was concerned about a possible conflict of interest with the government of Nova Scotia.
Critics have argued the province has a financial stake in the project; taxpayers have paid $6 million to Northern Pulp for design work and engineering studies of the new facility.
Responding to a question from a reporter in July, Prime Minister Trudeau said he would “respect areas of provincial jurisdiction” in relation to the assessment of the pipeline.
Green party MLA Peter Bevan-Baker said he has heard from fishermen in Nova Scotia who are prepared to be arrested in order to stop the pipeline from being built.
He asked if Island fishermen felt the same way.
“I’m not going to go out and say that we’re going to get involved with anything unlawful,” PEIFA president Bobby Jenkins said.
“If individuals believe that their way of livelihood and their way of life is being threatened, there probably will be consequences.”