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Highway blocked to raise awareness of endangered fish

Click to play video 'Fish passage advocates block Highway 101 in Nova Scotia' Fish passage advocates block Highway 101 in Nova Scotia
Traffic near Windsor was backed up on Highway 101 this afternoon right by Exit 6 as demonstrators took to the highway stopping vehicles, to draw attention to the importance of fish passage. Alicia Draus reports – Nov 16, 2020

A group made up of dozens of activists, Mi’kmaq rights holders and their supporters stepped out onto Highway 101 Monday afternoon near Exit 6 to block traffic and raise awareness about the lack of free-flowing water from the Avon River through the Windsor causeway.

“The Inner Bay of Fundy salmon have eight different tributaries off this river that they come to spawn, and they’re a (Species At Risk Act)-listed species, and this gate is stopping them from migrating to their habitat,” said activist Audra Raulyns.

Read more: Nova Scotia residents raise alarm over causeway’s threat to local fish stocks

The gate she’s talking about is part of the Windsor causeway, installed 50 years ago. It’s been a contentious issue ever since. On the other side of the gate is a man-made freshwater lake, used by the local canoe club, and farmers in the area say the fresh water is important for their agriculture.

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But the installation of the causeway and the gate has caused issues for the salmon and their migration route. In May, a ministerial order signed by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan called for the opening of the gate daily to allow for fish passage. Now twice a day the gate opens as the tide comes in and out.

Since then, a group of Mi’kmaq rights holders have set up camp at the causeway to monitor how long each day the gate is open, and they’re not impressed with the results.

“Six minutes twice a day, 12 minutes. Does that seem reasonable?” said Raulyns.

Darren Porter, a fisherman and spokesperson for the Fundy United Federation, said “that six minutes doesn’t necessarily mean fish passage.”

“There’s no attractive flow for the fish to find home to come to. They need to have an attractive flow to fulfill their life cycle.”

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The group says the ministerial order didn’t go far enough. Since then, Department of Fisheries and Oceans staff have worked with the Mi’kmaq and supporters on the issue, looking at what needs to be done, but Porter says so far they’ve seen no further action from the minister herself.

A statement from the minister’s office notes that the causeway is an aging structure that will be replaced as part of the Highway 101 twinning project currently underway, and that will include a long-term solution to prevent flooding and protect the fish and their habitat.

“On November 5, 2020 DFO received the application for the next phase of the Highway 101 twinning project from the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal,” the statement reads. “This includes the design and operation of fish passage for the proposed replacement structure. For our part, DFO will review this project under the Fisheries Act and Species at Risk Act for all fish species likely to use the Avon River.”

Click to play video 'Parade hopes to raise awareness of concern over Avon River causeway' Parade hopes to raise awareness of concern over Avon River causeway
Parade hopes to raise awareness of concern over Avon River causeway – Sep 27, 2020

In the meantime, the statement also says the department is considering measures to ensure fish passage for this coming spring.

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As it currently stands, it’s the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture that actually operates the gates.

In a statement, the department says it “is adapting the management of the gate system in Windsor to provide passage of fish” and that “significant improvements have been made this season.”

Read more: Sipekne’katik First Nation calls for immediate stop to Windsor Causeway project pending review

The statement goes on to say that the department is working closely with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and with the Mi’kmaq to continue to improve the effectiveness of the current structure to allow for the passage of fish until the structure is replaced as part of the new Highway 101 upgrade.

But the group that took to the highway for a demonstration on Monday says they’ve been waiting too long and action needs to happen now.

“Open gates, free flow!” said Raulyns.