SONORA — After three years of intense opposition by members of the community, a local company has quietly backed away from its plan to hydraulically dredge the ecologically sensitive St. Mary’s estuary for soft-shelled clams.

But, even the leader of the group aligned against the proposal can’t say for sure why Longshore Fisheries Ltd. (LFL) withdrew its application to the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board for a new marine license and lease at Sonora only two months ago.

“I’m not sure, exactly,” said Brian Maher, a local fisherman and the man behind the Association of St. Mary’s River Estuary Protectors, a Facebook group (listing 372 members) he founded to mobilize community opposition to the plan in 2019. “As far as having contact with Longshore Fisheries, there is no such thing. They don’t reply.”

An email from The Journal to LFL requesting clarification on the reasons and timing for its decision was not returned by press time. Still, according to a posting last week, under the heading 2023 Adjudicative Decisions on the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board’s (NSARB) website, Longshore Fisheries Ltd. of Sonora, Guysborough County, withdrew its application for a new marine licence and lease, at file/site # 1435, on May 23, 2023.

As The Journal reported in Sept. 2020, that application — originally made on April 26, 2019 — was for a new aquaculture operation that, according to the company’s description at the time, would “use hand diggers and a hydraulic dredge, [which] may become the primary method of harvesting [because] hand digging can only happen when the tides are favourable.”

The proposal to hydraulically dredge the river’s mouth sparked a tempest in this otherwise placid coastal community and even attracted attention from opponents to the harvesting technology from as far away as the state of New York. 

“The issue is those water jets, which homogenize sediment layers that are normally stratified,” Robert Wemyss, secretary of North Shore Oyster Bayman’s Association of Huntington, Long Island, told The Journal in an interview. “When you disrupt it, you are changing the environment for everything.”

That, Mahar noted, was the essential problem with LFL’s proposal.

“Myself and most others here have no problem with commercial use of our tidal flats as long as it’s done in a sustainable manner, with little impact to the ecosystem of our estuary, leaving our tidal flats public and healthy for all to enjoy,” he said. “These tidal flats were hand-harvested for clams years ago and this caused very little negative impact. When the tide comes in, the sand just settles back into the area that was dug by hand held tool, leaving little disturbance and little effect on all the little creatures living there.”

But, he added, LFL being determined to use a hydraulic dredger would have caused “huge sediment plumes and create an environment [that’s] only beneficial to them… Our estuary supports a lot of life and we want to keep it that way.”

Mahar doesn’t take full credit for LFL’s decision to back away. But, he said, “I’m pretty sure they thought they would get this pushed through quietly. They no doubt do know there is a lot of opposition here. I’m not sure if that had anything to do with the application withdrawal or not… It probably didn’t hurt.”

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 12, 2023 at 05:18

This item reprinted with permission from   Guysborough Journal   Guysborough, Nova Scotia
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