A tale of two mussel farms
Englishtown has experienced the good and the bad being home to bi-valve companies
Below a former church in Englishtown, two new steel girders jut two meters out over the water of St. Ann’s Bay, emblematic of change and continuing tension around the harbour's two mussel farms over the past 15 years.
Jim Kennedy, president of Cape Breton family-owned Louisbourg Seafoods Ltd., which owns the smaller of the farms, bought the white, arch-windowed former Presbyterian church in January 2016. Last month, contractors installed the girders, the first step toward a private dock after local fishermen banned him from using their community-run wharf.
“We felt it was best to part ways,” Kenzie Macaskill, president of the St. Ann’s Fishermen’s Association, said October 23. “(Kennedy’s) operation is large enough that he can provide his own infrastructure instead of relying on local fishermen.”
Kennedy had a history of late rent and unpaid damage to the wharf caused by heavy equipment he used to offload “product”, which the dock was not designed to handle, Macaskill said.
“We would make a request, and he would make promises that were never met,” Macaskill said.
Unlike wharves in larger communities, the Englishtown dock gets no government funding. When Transport Canada divested itself of small craft harbours in the mid-nineties, Englishtown was left alone to maintain theirs.
Kennedy did not return a phone call by press time, but Louisbourg Seafoods Vice-president Dannie Hansen said the new private dock would make trucking mussels to a packaging plant in North Sydney more efficient.
Meanwhile, Bounty Bay Shellfish Inc., the larger of the two farms in the harbour, has been more community-minded, Macaskill said. When the fishermen told Bounty Bay’s president, Scott Dockendorff, that his employees had accidentally damaged the wharf, it was repaired within days, Macaskill said.
Dockendorff’s company also supplies enough mussels each year to feed hundreds of people at the Englishtown Mussel Festival that raises funds for the Englishtown community hall.
Those efforts have assuaged, but not entirely erased, Englishtown’s disappointment over its
15-year wait for jobs that never materialized after the mussel farms opened.
In 2002, amid protests from environmentalists and fishermen, Ernest Fage, then-provincial Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, stated, “The project includes the development of a processing plant in the community … Over the next four years it is hoped that the combined farm and plant operations could provide up to 50 jobs.”
The processing plant never appeared. Dockendorff’s company continues to truck Englishtown mussels, harvested between January and April each year, to Prince Edward Island for processing. Last year, Kennedy’s farm received a $500,000 loan from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to open a processing line in North Sydney.
In September, when Bounty Bay began constructing a large commercial building on the harbour shore, speculation arose that the processing plant would soon open. But if that is Bounty Bay’s plan, the company is not saying. Construction workers and an employee said late October that the building will be used to repair and maintain boats. “For now,” the employee added. Scott Dockendorff did not return calls.
Meanwhile, according to Robin Stuart, who has monitored the environmental health of the harbour since the farms opened, both companies plan to increase the number of lines they lay out each year. Until now, the farms have used only about 70 percent of their combined 3,300 leased acres. Neither has applied for additional space, and no other company is looking to start a farm in the bay, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website.
Either way, Stuart said the fishermen should not worry.
“The concern 15-20 years ago was that (mussel farms) would damage the lobster fishery,” Stuart said. “In fact, it has done the reverse. They had the best lobster fishing ever in the history of the Englishtown wharf last year. Some of that, I think, is due to the mussel farming, which is creating food for kelp.”
“Kelp is an important component of lobster habitat. Today there’s far more kelp there, and when you lift up the kelp fronds, there are juvenile lobsters under every one of them.”
“One of (lobsters’) preferred diets is mussels, so if there’s any fall-down, that would attract lobsters, too.
“It’s nice to see the harbour doing so well. The fishermen are doing well, and the farmers.”
“I think it’s turned out much better than we all thought was going to happen 15 years ago.”
Stuart credited a community liaison committee, which meets annually with the mussel farmers, the fishermen and the community, with easing some of the tension.
The committee’s next meeting is scheduled November 9.