LITTLE HARBOUR – The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture may have gotten more feedback than expected during a public meeting Thursday night in Little Harbour.
Close to 200 people filled the community centre to voice their concerns and receive answers to their questions regarding eight aquaculture lease applications, most dealing with American oysters and bay quahog, in the Little Harbour and Merigomish Harbour waters.
“This is literally happening on my doorstep,” Jennifer McCarron said. She has property in front of site 1350 – a proposed amendment to Stephen MacIntosh’s existing aquaculture site in Powell Cove.
“I think we’ve seen lots of examples… when our government has made decisions in the name of economic development only to find out they weren’t good decisions,” she said during the meeting.
MacIntosh’s amendment involves a 60-metre expansion that would allot him more space to relay oysters using bags, a procedure to cleanse the shellfish, making the classification off-bottom culture.
The bags would lie on the bottom, three to five inches off the ocean floor, said MacIntosh, who is a part of three existing leases in the area and owns an oyster processing plant.
“The reasoning for my expansion is to relay the contaminated product that is in the existing bay that is a part of my lease,” he said.
Though he understood why people would be concerned, he said it wouldn’t affect anyone’s ability to use the area for boating.
McCarron had some of her questions answered, but it didn’t dissipate her concerns.
“I’m not in favour of that amendment, but I understand why he’s doing it. He’s held a lease in our cove for many years. And we’ve coexisted harmoniously, but the application to expand the size of his lease and change it a little bit, I’m not in favour of that.”
She echoed the voices of many landowners who said they didn’t want to discourage entrepreneurs, but that they were concerned business would impede recreational use.
“Most of us want to live happily and harmoniously with our neighbours and with the people that work in our community and we don’t want to be in conflict with them,” McCarron said.
Joan Ervin, a Little Harbour landowner in front of lease application 1382, felt some relief after speaking with applicant Jamie Davidson.
“He gave me a lot of information, and he said it would all be on the bottom and it wouldn’t affect us. I felt pretty good when I talked to him, but I’m very concerned about – in five years time, he might want to sell that lease. And he could sell it to someone in China.”
During the meeting, representatives from the department said a transfer of the lease would have to go through the minister.
One of the applications, 1362, is located in Big Cove, near the Big Cove YMCA Camp.
Staff from the 125-year-old camp were at the meeting, and asked if they’d be able to continue canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and snorkeling as they’ve been doing for years.
The proposed lease that’s near the camp is classified as bottom culture, meaning the cultivation takes place on the ocean floor.
One man on his way out of the meeting called it commodification of the shoreline, while a shellfish farmer in the area made a presentation about the economic opportunities.
Paul Budreski has a lease close to Melmerby Beach, and said the quality of oysters in this area puts them in high demand.
“We can’t grow these fast enough.”
He suggested it could stop people from moving out west if the industry had a chance to grow locally.
He said most people don’t even know his oyster beds exist, much less affect water activities.
One concern that repeatedly surfaced was a lack of communication between landowners and shellfish lease applicants before the public meeting took place.
Sam McKinlay, one of the applicants, agreed that was an issue. He suggested a way to improve the process would to be to have an upfront meeting with property owners before the department begins to review the application.
“That way, any questions they have, before the process starts, they’ll have them answered,” he said. “It should’ve been done earlier.”
The process itself was called into question many times.
“This is not a process with problems. This is a regulatory train wreck,” one man said during the meeting.
Residents questioned the department’s advertisement of the meeting, many of whom said they had found out about the proposed leases and the public meeting only a few days beforehand.
In May 2013, the department announced they would be developing a new aquaculture regulatory framework. A draft report of recommendations was released on July 4 this year.
Representatives from the department said they would be taking all concerns back to the minister, Keith Colwell.
Though residents suggested more public meetings should be held, a spokesperson for the department said Friday that secondary public meetings are not part of the regular process.
However, Brett Loney, communications director for the department, said it doesn’t stop applicants from holding their own public meetings about the leases.
The public meetings are one of the last steps in the process for lease approval or rejection, but Loney wasn’t sure how long it would take before decisions were made.
“I wouldn’t anticipate that it would happen in the next few weeks.”
On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda