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Northumberland Strait fishermen not willing to gamble on pipe

Mike Noel, 37, and his father Wayne, 70, will be one of many fishermen taking part a #NoPipe Land and Sea Rally Friday in Pictou. The Noels say fishermen don’t trust that their fishery won’t be harmed by Northern Pulp’s plans to pump effluent into the Northumberland Strait. In their opinion, no guarantees mean no pipe.
Mike Noel, 37, and his father Wayne, 70, will be one of many fishermen taking part a #NoPipe Land and Sea Rally Friday in Pictou. The Noels say fishermen don’t trust that their fishery won’t be harmed by Northern Pulp’s plans to pump effluent into the Northumberland Strait. In their opinion, no guarantees mean no pipe. - Sueann Musick

CARIBOU, N.S.  – Wayne Noel knows a little something about trust.

After 37 years of fishing, some days trust is all he has. He has to trust the lobsters will be in the traps and that his sons, Mike and Brian, will be there to do the heavy lifting when he can’t.

He trusts that his fellow fishermen will respond with the click of radio mic when he in trouble and that his boat, Tall Tales, will take him to and from his fishing grounds without fail.

He admits his fishery has disappointed him from time to time, but his trust has never been broken.

“It was not very good starting out,” he said. “I saw 8,000 pounds a season. We were going out and getting 35 pounds a day. Bologna was more expensive than lobster was. I think the lowest price I saw for lobster was $1.25 for canners and $1.75 for markets.”

Noel said the fishery in Area 26A is showing signs of real progress. Lobster catches are decent and other fisheries are holding their own. Lobster fishing licenses are in demand at a high price and conservation efforts are showing positive results.

Catches, for some, now come in at a few thousand pounds a day and the prices this season ranged between $6 and $8. Nova Scotia is being promoted as having quality lobster that is sought out by foreign markets and its export numbers are high.

Yet, he knows that a life dependent upon the fishery is a fickle one. Good fishing grounds one year are not guaranteed the next. A thunderstorm or windy day can throw off lobster catches and sometimes, for no reason at all, the fish just disappear.

“It is not always going to be there. It comes and goes. There is an ups and downs to it. In the good times, you want to save for your bad times.”

Noel and his fellow fishers can accept that Mother Nature might have a plan of her own, but that is where the line is drawn and Northern Pulp’s plan to put a pipeline in to take treated effluent into the strait is on the other side of that line.

There have been stormy days when he worried about effluent in the water now being splashed upon him or wondered why his bait is not being eaten in certain areas where the fish should be swimming. He said he is blown away by the support of Chief Andrea Paul and First Nations residents who suffered with Boat Harbour in their backyard for decades and now stand strong with local fishermen as the mill tries to move it a new location.

What is most concerning, he said, is that he sets his traps directly where the original location for the pipe was supposed to be placed, but no had bother to tell him about the plans or ask his opinion.

“I heard it through a fisheries officer,” he said. “He said Wayne, you will want to check this out. This is the rumour, ’I said, ‘they will never do that’. “

Noel knows his days in the boat are short lived because of his own health problems, but his lack of trust in politicians and Northern Pulp to do the right thing has turned this 70-year-old soon-to-be retired fisherman into an environmental activist.

“They will go out there and poison all our fishing industry and in 10-year’s-time Northern Pulp will probably pick up and leave. Here are our grandchildren - what are they going to say? ‘Hey Grampa, thanks for leaving me this’.“

Fishermen have not wavered from their original stance that no effluent pipe should be going into local waters because the risk is too great and their trust in the province and company to do the right thing is too little.

In his younger years, Noel said he remembers eating clams off the beaches of Pictou Landing, but after Boat Harbour was built, the area became toxic. He said politicians told the First Nations community years ago that it would be safe, but that trust was broken and never regained.

Now science is being brought into play again. New studies are being cited on both sides of the argument, but the fishermen say there are no guarantees that this effluent won’t harm their livelihood and that means no pipe.

Not only is the effluent itself a concern in regard to how it will affect the growth and sustainability of the fishery, but public perception is also a worry.

Thirty-seven-year-old Mike, who has been in the boat with his father since he was a teenager, questions how many people will want to purchase lobster that is grown in the same waters as the effluent. He said one person getting ill for any reason from a lobster in 26A could be attributed to the effluent and ruin Nova Scotia’s fishery for forever.

“If the pipe went in and we are fishing there, are you going to want to buy lobsters off us?” Mike said.

Watch online Friday for #No Pipe rally coverage

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