A group of concerned Nova Scotia citizens is raising the alarm over their causeway’s threat to local fish populations and the possibility that an upcoming causeway — not yet built — could cause similar damage in the future.
On Sunday, the group held a public awareness event in the park by the Windsor causeway, a critical piece of transportation infrastructure that separates the Avon River from the human-made Lake Pisiquid on the other side.
The causeway’s fish passage opens intermittently throughout the day to allow crossing for species ranging from Atlantic salmon to smelt, but at the best of times, the advocates say that adds up to about 14 minutes of proper fish flow.
“They’ve been getting less than 20 minutes a day every day to run their natural spawning up a river that they’ve been running for thousands of years,” said advocate and event organizer Audra Raulyns. “Doesn’t seem right.”
“This river is already dying, we’re already losing all of our fish, and along with losing all of our fish, we’re losing our rights as well,” said Nikki Lloyd, of the Annapolis Valley First Nation
Darren Porter, a local fisherman and fishery spokesperson for the Fundy United Federation, said over many years, he’s seen a reduction in productivity for both professional and recreational fishers. Government efforts, he alleged, to improve passage times have fallen short of what’s required to keep the ecosystem healthy.
“When they did operate this properly for two weeks this year, there was a huge amount of recreational fisheries happening inside,” he told Global News. “Now there’s none, because if you block the fish, you don’t have fishermen.”
Porter said Fisheries and Oceans Canada has not enforced its own laws for protecting fish and fish habitat with regard to the Avon River. The federal department was unavailable to respond to those allegations on Sunday but said it would issue a statement when the workweek begins.
Another key concern for the residents is the ongoing Highway 101 twinning project for Windsor, which will eventually come with another causeway. That project has obtained a provincial environmental assessment requiring it to facilitate fish passage, but the advocates are considered it will be more of the same.
“If we don’t win this battle now,” said Porter, “and the province doesn’t start operating the (current) causeway to the best of its ability, to uphold First Nations rights and the productivity of our fishery, how can we believe when the new structure is slated to go in here in two years, that the new structure will be any different?”
Representatives for Nova Scotia’s Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department could not be immediately reached on Sunday afternoon, but a previous statement from federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan describes the project’s requirements for protecting fish and fish habitat.
“(Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal) will offset the residual impact from the infilling by restoring comparable tidal wetland habitat, by breaching agricultural dykes and removing three aboiteaux along Salmon River, near the confluence with the North River, in Onslow in Colchester County,” reads Jordan’s response to a petition filed in the House of Commons in February of this year.
That petition called on Fisheries and Oceans Canada to require the closure of a portion of the Windsor causeway, in order to ensure free fish access through the Avon River.