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LETTER: Place: Northumberland Strait; time 2026

Thoughts about what could happen

This is the tale of J.B. Mc Click and his desire to purchase fishing gear, boat and licence and become part of a strong fraternity, the lobster fisherman of Northumberland Strait. J.B., now 25 years old, recently married and with a child on the way, was thrilled that he had the opportunity to attain his goal .

He had worked as a fisherman’s helper, understood the inherent dangers, appreciated the rewards of hard work and could not believe his good fortune. This long-awaited chance to be self employed presented itself at the end of November 2025 when a gentleman with whom he worked offered him the business. There will be more of J. B’s chronicle but allow me to digress and afford you a flashback to the years 2018-20.

So much was happening at that tumultuous time surrounding the “Pipe” fiasco so in order for you to digest it all, my plan is to take you on a journey.

There were meetings organized by Northern Pulp with their point of view detailed and their vision for the pipe installation along with a successful resolution. This type of PR was their way of proffering the notion there was nothing to worry about, a benign result.

The fishermen, their union, Friends of Northumberland and individuals opposed to the “Pipe”, did their part with a plethora of protests, presentations, rallies and an awareness campaign. Joan Baxter who with her book, “Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest”, made every effort to shed light on a possible devastating conclusion. She based her concern on history, that is, what occurred regarding Boat Harbour and how past governments poured financial resources into an industry with a multitude of environmental misgivings.

Local entrepreneurs like Paul Sobey, Stirling MacLean and Bruce Heron criticized the damage already inflicted and tried to warn of a future that would possibly lead to the decimation of the lobster industry and other aspects of fishing life. Wes Surrett and colleagues of his argued with passion about how tourism was going to be adversely affected and therefore hurt the overall economy

MLA Karla MacFarlane did her best to encourage the Minister of Environment Iain Rankin and Minister of Fisheries Keith Coldwell to visit the county and hear the concerns, first hand. That did not happen! The federal Liberals under Minister of Fisheries Dominic LeBlanc demonstrated his power by closing a number of fishing districts to protect the right whale. Districts, did in fact close and jobs were jeopardized, money was lost, so why did he not see the need to protect lobsters in the Northumberland Strait? Was one species more important than the other? What would have been the political ramifications of protecting one and not the other? When challenged, Minister LeBlanc simply ignored pleas from all concerned!

Federal Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna decided to adopt the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Sounds of Silence” when questioned about the infamous “Pipe”. Surely, our local MP Sean Fraser was adamant that someone in Ottawa must make certain that the most stringent of reviews would have to be undertaken before any effluent ever entered Pictou Harbour from a pulp mill. Surely, she was aware of the utter devastation created at Boar Harbour and the astronomical cost of remediation. Surely, Ms. McKenna was an advocate for fresh air, less pollution and an environment geared toward positive health results. Why did she not become more involved, say enough is enough and take a stand against big business polluting time and again, remained a huge question mark.

So governments of the day in essence paid lip service to the seriousness of the problem at hand and thought the risk was worth the votes. No pressure was applied to demand Northern Pulp do a Federal Environmental Assessment under Section14 of the Canada Environmental Assessment Act. The new treatment plant and the ensuing “Pipe” apparently met all regulations required; yet standards, were mediocre, at best.

The protests and rallies were held around the county and in particular, along the PIctou waterfront, the one town that has truly felt the brunt of the mill’s ongoing disregard. The premise behind these demonstrations was the fishermen’s plight, tourism concerns and environmental groups’ worries would have some impact.

Unfortunately, the “Pipe” was built but not without several incidents. Tempers did flare and police were involved. A multi-million-dollar industry was thrown to the wolves while those proponents of Northern Pulp stated that there was nothing to worry about, “science” indicated clearly, that no harm would be done.

Back to J.B. McClick who was preparing for his first year at sea. J.B. hadn’t thought much about the “Pipe”, after all it was not on his radar back in 2019. Things seemed to plateau after 2020. Nothing negative had evolved; yet fishermen remained on egg shells wondering when the worst-case scenario would rear its ugly head. Boat Harbour did not reveal its true colours immediately so all needed to remain vigilant and not become too complacent.

Things began quite smoothly for the first two weeks of May 2026 as catches were on par with previous years but during the third week the numbers began to diminish. Fishermen started to notice a rather pungent odour and some discolouration associated with lobsters that were trapped. For J.B. it was disheartening since he had serious financial obligations and family responsibilities. Had the infamous “Pipe” ultimately become the nemesis of the fishermen, six years after its inception?

J.B. was hoping this was perhaps an anomaly but as days and weeks passed and catches along the strait decreased and buyers backed off, he, like many others, panicked. The season did not improve, in fact, the damage to the industry escalated with a significant loss of wages to all fishermen; our friend J.B. McClick being signalled out here as but one example.

The fishermen were not alone in enduring a huge setback because tourism was now in the cross-hairs of government bureaucrats who had no alternative but to close beaches and camp grounds all along the Northumberland Strait. Wes Surrett who had done his part in 2018-20, was speechless and overcome with disappointment that those in charge during that heightened period of time 2018-20 had turned a blind eye.

The sinking of the Titanic can serve as both an analogy and a wakeup call beyond the trials and tribulations of J.B. McClick. A gentleman by the name of William Thomas Stead warned of safety concerns on a fictional ship that crossed the Atlantic in 1886, 26 years prior to the Titanic’s demise. In March of that year he wrote a story in the Pall Mall Gazette, denoting a large boat setting sail from England with 916 aboard. During the crossing, an iceberg was encountered, the ship began sinking and, since there were only life boats for roughly 200 souls, 700 perished. To quote Mr Stead, “this is exactly what might take place if liners are sent to sea, short of boats.”

Using such a comparison and suggesting William Thomas Stead was a prognosticator, would be an understatement. And to further suggest that we have among us today similar soothsayers, namely, Ann Baxter, Matt/Dave Gunning and Wes Surrett, predicting a possible catastrophe with the building of the “Pipe”, is hardly a stretch.

Anger and disbelief were now evident. Those who aligned themselves with Northern Pulp, some councils, some MPs and some MLAs of the day that did virtually nothing, were quiet, justifying their response by following best practices. There was no turning back the clock for J.B. and his fellow fishermen who felt overwhelmed with a feeling of despair for what lay ahead.

Around the globe, the protection of the environment is paramount so why on earth would anyone with an ounce of intelligence and vision choose to be so reckless in allowing such a travesty, that is, installing a “Pipe” and then leaving the public open to another “Boat Harbour”!

The concept presented here is far from extreme but rather a serious dose of reality! Government officials, management of Northern Pulp and any naysayers need to “THINK and THINK HARD” in order to weigh in favor of the environment and then hopefully ensuring, a life of prosperity for J.B. McClick!

Ken Johnston

Pictou

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