A tale of two mus­sel farms

English­town has ex­pe­ri­enced the good and the bad be­ing home to bi-valve com­pa­nies

The Victoria Standard - - Front Page - ANNE FARRIES

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.

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