If we can’t save Ir­ish moss in­dus­try, save the com­mu­nity

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

The Ir­ish moss in­dus­try was once a vi­tal in­dus­try on the Is­land, em­ploy­ing hun­dreds of peo­ple. The com­mu­nity of Mimine­gash, which still car­ries the ban­ner “World’s Cap­i­tal of Ir­ish Moss,” was the epi­cen­tre of the in­dus­try.

Slowly and for un­ex­plained rea­sons the Ir­ish moss in­dus­try died. Some blame over har­vest­ing. Oth­ers blame global warm­ing and cli­mate change. Still, oth­ers blame fed­eral gov­ern­ment sci­en­tists who planted what they hoped would be an al­ter­na­tive to the Ir­ish moss in­dus­try – fur­cel­laria – how­ever, some claim, it choked off the Ir­ish moss leav­ing only fur­cel­laria to grow and thrive.

It turned out while there was a niche mar­ket for fur­cel­laria, it was nowhere near as valu­able as Ir­ish moss.

What is stun­ning is how ev­ery level of gov­ern­ment turned its back on the Ir­ish moss fish­er­men, the com­mu­nity of Mimine­gash and western Prince Ed­ward Is­land as a whole.

Yes, politi­cians will ar­gue there was some money put aside to pur­chase ex­cess Ir­ish moss out of the mar­ket. There were fee­ble at­tempts to look at the root cause of what was killing off the Ir­ish moss in­dus­try.

But no­body came to the res­cue of the Ir­ish moss in­dus­try.

When it looked like Oshawa was go­ing to lose the car-man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try, fed­eral, pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments came to the res­cue.

When Summerside faced the clo­sure of Cana­dian Forces Base Summerside, again gov­ern­ments at all lev­els and all po­lit­i­cal stripes came to city’s aid in an ef­fort to en­sure the city’s sur­vival.

Mimine­gash may be no Oshawa or Summerside, but it de­served some­thing . . . any­thing.

Hun­dreds of fish­er­men re­lied on the Ir­ish moss in­dus­try. They’ve ei­ther moved on to other fish­eries or they’ve left the in­dus­try, or worst yet, the province.

Even more peo­ple who worked at one of two Ir­ish moss plants in the com­mu­nity were laid off, the plants ei­ther closed or re­duced to a one or two man op­er­a­tion. The Ir­ish moss in­ter­pre­tive cen­tre – closed. The Sea­weed Pie Café and Res­tau­rant – closed. The lit­tle take-out res­tau­rant by the har­bour that teemed with cus­tomers, many Ir­ish moss fish­er­men wait­ing by the side of the road to sell their harvest of Ir­ish moss – closed.

The com­mu­nity was once home to a fed­eral marine plants re­search sta­tion. In its hay day, more than a dozen peo­ple were em­ployed there. Put that into per­spec­tive – a dozen good pay­ing, fed­eral gov­ern­ment jobs in a com­mu­nity of 300 or so in Mimine­gash. That, in it­self, is the equiv­a­lent to hun­dreds of jobs in a larger cen­tre.

The fed­eral marine plants re­search cen­tre is shut­tered. The build­ing it­self still sits there on the com­mu­nity’s wa­ter­front, doors swing­ing open and closed in the wind, the me­tal roof peel­ing off through years of ne­glect, and long grass grow­ing over the once man­i­cured lawns.

The cen­tre, much like the whole com­mu­nity, for­got­ten.

The Ir­ish moss fish­er­men de­served bet­ter. Mimine­gash de­served bet­ter. Western Prince Ed­ward Is­land de­served bet­ter.

There may have been no sav­ing the Ir­ish moss in­dus­try. That’s some­thing only science could an­swer.

But Mimine­gash could have been saved. It didn’t have to be another ex­am­ple of ru­ral ne­glect.

The cor­po­ra­tions, which once thrived in Mimine­gash, based in the U.S. and in Den­mark, owed the com­mu­nity more than sim­ply walk­ing away af­ter they had taken mil­lions of dol­lars out of the wa­ters that sur­round western P.E.I.

The fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments owed the com­mu­nity more than sim­ply turn­ing a blind eye to the loss of a once mighty in­dus­try in our province. But it may not be too late. Asked if the Ir­ish moss in­dus­try would ever re­bound, a man who has been in the in­dus­try most of his life, re­sponded in The Guardian last week, “Not in our life­time.”

Now is the time for ev­ery­body to act if not to save the in­dus­try to at least save Mimine­gash.

“When we had a sore throat our mother used to make us gar­gle kerosene.” — From the col­lec­tion of Is­land au­thor David Weale, dweale@pei.sym­pa­tico.ca

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