Solving the fish kill problem

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Guest Opinion

By Angela Douglas

On July 23, 2012, after two major fish kills, the P.E.I. government issued a seemingly urgent press release touting the formation of an action committee to examine measures for future fish kill prevention.

The committee was composed of members of the potato industry, chemical companies, government officials and only two watershed representatives.

“The Action Committee is an opportunity to build new relationships between government, farmers and watershed groups at a community level to work together on solutions. This committee will focus its efforts on developing a land management template for individual watersheds to prevent fish kills and protect the Island’s natural resources,” said Minister George Webster.

This was such a timely issue that Minister Janice Sherry added, “We want to move forward quickly to reduce the chance of fish kills and, in order to act as soon as possible, we are asking the committee to come back with its recommendations by Sept. 14.”

Thus, a report by the inappropriately named Action Committee for Sustainable Land Management, was completed with 18 recommendations to prevent future fish kills in the Barclay Brook, a template for action in other watersheds (http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/elj_suslndmngt.pdf).

In November, the report was completed and quietly posted online without further publicity. One year later, on July 26, 2013, two more fish kills occurred in western P.E.I., one in the same river system as in 2012.

Of the 18 recommendations from the action committee, a few were considered key; one being the establishment of an environmental fund for the removal of land from agricultural production that is prone to soil erosion and surface runoff. At the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance AGM on April 13, 2013, Minister Sherry was asked if the government was going forward with this recommendation. She said no, as there were no funds available in this fiscal year.

Another of the key recommendations was the need to implement soil conservation practices in fields adjacent to watercourses. Erosion control is vital and a legislated 15-metre buffer alone is in no way sufficient to prevent fish kills.

This was noted in the action committee’s report: “In the four fish kills since 2000, fields adjacent to Barclay Brook had the prescribed buffer zone of either 10 or 15 m.

“It has been apparent for some time that current buffer zone legislation is insufficient for Barclay Brook, and perhaps other locations, at preventing pesticide run off and associated fish kills.

What is most frustrating is that solutions have been presented in many reports over the last two decades. For examples, review the many recommendations that have been made in the 1990 Boylen Report, the 1997 Round Table Report, the 2008 Nitrate Commission Report, and most recently, the Action Committee Report, to name a few examples. These recommendations need to be adopted, enforced and taken seriously by government, industry and the public if we want to stop our rivers from being poisoned.

There were some positive outcomes resulting from the action committee’s formation. The committee was extremely successful at building a collaborative relationship between watersheds groups, the agricultural sector and government. We are all interested in the same outcome and firmly believe that potato farming and pristine waterways can coexist.

The recommendations were solid and well thought out, but the report, like so many others, didn’t result in any tangible action by government. If we keep doing the same thing over and over again, how can we expect different results? It is unacceptable that we have come to expect fish kills to happen each year. Watershed groups and the public are frustrated and outraged.

Minister Sherry and Minister Webster, consider this your call to action for a sustainable future for Canada’s green province.

- Angela Douglas is chairperson of the P.E.I. Watershed Alliance Inc.

Organizations: Action Committee for Sustainable Land Management, P.E.I. Watershed Alliance AGM, P.E.I. Watershed Alliance

Geographic location: Barclay Brook, P.E.I., Iceland Canada

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