Minister launches offensive

Sherry says fish kill devastating news; challenges farmers, watershed groups

Published on August 13, 2014

Environment, Labour and Justice Minister Janice Sherry

©Guardian file photo

Environment Minister Janice Sherry has decided that the best defence is a good offence. The minister says the latest fish kill discovered over the weekend is devastating news, the same response we heard from three opposition parties. Ms. Sherry has drawn a lot of criticism for her recent weak track record on the deep-water well issue and cosmetic pesticides. She now subscribes to the theory that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em and has allied herself with Islanders aghast at the fish kill.

While the investigation continues into the deaths of approximately 1,000 fish discovered Saturday in the North River, potato farmers have already been tried, convicted and sentenced to new careers in organic farming. It’s likely that pesticides sprayed on nearby fields were washed into the river by heavy showers and thundershowers which impacted the Island from last Thursday into Monday. Farmers, lawns and watersheds all needed rain, just not in a sudden downpour.

This was the first kill in the river in many years, and the only one on P.E.I. thus far in 2014. Any fish kill is unfortunate, and opposition parties were quick to heap criticism onto Ms. Sherry as being personally responsible for allowing this to happen. A provincial biologist said that samples from the scene showed oxygen levels and water quality were OK so the list of suspects is rapidly narrowing to pesticides.

 No one wants to see fish kills, especially farmers who know they will automatically receive most of the criticism. Ms. Sherry said: “It’s not anything any of us want to hear about or deal with.” That would be the understatement of the year.

The Action Committee for Sustainable Land Management, which was established after a 2012 fish kill in Barclay Brook in western P.E.I. made 18 recommendations, including soil conservation measures. One could argue the group has been relatively successful with just the one kill this year.

Fish kills should no longer be an annual occurrence, any more than highway fatalities or residential fires. But accidents or acts of God will happen and it’s doubtful we can ever reach the point where there are no fish kills.

Sharon Labchuk, co-ordinator of the environmental group Earth Action, thinks otherwise. She said the usual response from government to fish kills is to improve regulations. Isn’t that a good thing? Is she suggesting banning agriculture or just making the province a pesticide-free, organic zone?

Earth Action is hoping to get the public to help report pesticide regulatory violations through a new campaign it calls Operation Pesticide Watch.

Ms. Labchuk will hold a news conference today near the North River to launch that campaign. She argues that until P.E.I. becomes an organic province, the public has a right to know what pesticides are being sold and how much is being sprayed.

OPW sounds like the RCMP mantra of asking the public to provide tips on suspected drunk drivers. Spray at your own risk.

It’s obvious that additional measures are needed to protect streams and rivers from dangerous runoffs.

Ms. Sherry is placing more onus on industry to better patrol itself and watershed groups to work on solutions since its obvious that government won’t, or is unable, to do it all by itself.

It has to be a co-operative effort by all parties to reduce the risk of fish kills as much as possible.

The minister has announced she will introduce a Water Act which will address the problem, but not necessarily find the magic solution some people thinks exists to prevent these fish kills.