Dr. Melanie Wiber kicks off 2013 Ideas That Matter series
Wednesday, October 9 | 7:00 p.m. | Memorial Hall | UNB Fredericton

Legal and economic anthropologist, Dr. Melanie Wiber kicks off UNB's Ideas that Matter speaker series on October 9.The demands we place on our oceans are multiplying. Fishing and transport are being asked to make way for aquaculture, tidal power, oil and gas development, tourism, and coastal amenities. Who gets to decide how ocean space will be carved up among these many competing demands? Who allocates public versus private rights in the ocean?

Dr. Melanie Wiber tackles these issues in the first public lecture of the University of New Brunswick’s Ideas That Matter speaker series. She uses a case study of the Bay of Fundy to provide context for an audience discussion about a fair process for decision-making.

All lectures in the Ideas That Matter speaker series are free and open to everyone. To arrange a media interview, please contact Kelsey Seymour.

Dr. Wiber’s interview with the Telegraph Journal’s John Chilibeck was featured on the front page, Oct. 7.

Carving an ocean path to protect sea life, industry
New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
Mon Oct 7 2013
Byline: John Chilibeck Legislature Bureau

The Bay of Fundy is advertised as Canada’s natural wonder, a vast stretch of water that features some of the highest tides in the world and impressive creatures such as the northern right whale and the semi-palmated sandpiper.

But anthropologist Melanie Wiber also sees a less idyllic expanse: an enormous industrialized zone where people with different interests are increasingly coming into conflict with one another.

“Increasingly we’re cutting up ocean space and rewarding it to private interests,” says Wiber, a professor at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, who has done research on the Bay of Fundy for 14 years. “Once you’ve awarded private rights, it becomes legally entrenched and very difficult to change.”

Wiber is the first lecturer in the university’s Ideas That Matter Lecture Series this term. She’ll present “Carving up Canada’s Oceans: Who Gets a Say?” at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Memorial Hall on the Fredericton campus.

The idea of the lecture series is to encourage discussion on issues facing New Brunswick.

Wiber argues it’s a myth there’s lots of room in the ocean for competing activities with no need for wider debate and better planning.

A map she has of different activities shows just how busy a space it can be, particularly in New Brunswick’s southwest: besides the traditional in-ground fishery and ferries, there are aquaculture cages, supertankers for oil and liquefied natural gas, cargo ships, pleasure craft, whale watching, kayaking, rockweed production and experiments with tidal power.

There are many rules on who can do what on the water, a situation the anthropologist describes as a top-down model, with multiple government departments handling the regulations.

The Fundy North Fishermen’s Association knows this first-hand, representing the people who have plied their trade the longest on the ocean.

“Fishermen want to share the waters with the other industries that are there,” said Maria Recchia, the association’s executive director. “The problem is they really feel like when a new industry comes in, they are the ones who should share the water. They don’t feel like a new industry arrive and take away from the industry that’s already there, taking away from their economic potential.”

The best example, Recchia says, is gear loss. Fishermen have to buy their own traps, rope and buoys to make a living, and they are under great pressure during four to five months of the year – particularly during the height of the lobster season from November to December, and May to June – to earn most of their wages.

Non-fishing vessels can inadvertently plow through the gear, either moving it or cutting the lines.

“It’s often never found again. So not only do they lose the gear, which is about $150 a trap, but also the income they would have generated from the gear for the rest of that season. In addition, that gear is a hazard to wildlife. It indiscriminately kills lobsters on the bottom and potentially a risk for whales and other marine mammals.”

The association has worked on developing protocols, with some degree of success. For instance, Bay Ferries and the association came up with a plan to avoid gear loss by mapping out the ferry track between Saint John and Digby, N.S., so fishermen can avoid putting their traps in the laneway.
And within the last couple of months, the association, the Port of Saint John and Transport Canada held meetings to figure out how to avoid big ships anchoring near the middle of the ferry track during the height of lobster season. The ships had forced the ferry to deviate from its track, increasing the chances fishermen’s gear would be cut and lost.

The association has also tried to convince aquaculture companies to use special equipment on their motors so they don’t destroy fishing gear by mistake. Initially, many of the aquaculture boats outfitted their propellers with cages, but more recently the association has noticed that the newer boats on the water don’t have special protection.

“We’re losing lots of gear again, and we’re having a hard time getting them back to the table,” Recchia said.

When new industries are proposed, governments usually hold consultations and solicits opinion from existing enterprises. But Recchia says this has had its limitations.

“We’ve been involved in environmental impact assessments for new marine projects, but there haven’t been many of them where we felt like our voice mattered. The research is often done before we participate and it’s often poor, like doing surveys of lobster traps in February when the season is closed.”

Their demand is relatively simple: to be consulted before, not after the fact, and to come up with solutions together.

The anthropologist, meanwhile, points out there have been moves to involve existing industries and communities in more planning decisions – the Southwest New Brunswick Marine Resource Planning Initiative, which more recently was turned into an advisory committee to Ottawa, is one such example.

But for the most part, it’s still decision-makers in Ottawa or Fredericton who divvy up the ocean.

“There should be more balance between public and private interests,” Wiber said. “I don’t have the answers, but we’re not grappling with these issues or having a wider public debate. That needs to take place.”

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