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Colin Sproul

Scratching out a living – Colin Sproul

Colin Sproul, fisherman
Delap’s Cove, Nova Scotia

This interview is part of the Faces of Offshore Resistance project highlighting a number of community activists fighting to protect their homes, coastal communities, fisheries, tourism, and cultural history from the harms of offshore drilling. All photo credit goes to Robert Van Waarden.

Colin Sproul: My family has been scratching out a living here on the Bay Shore in Litchfield and Delap’s Cove for close to 200 years. I’m a 5th generation fisherman at least –  and we’re sure it goes back further than that.

I’m the vice president of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s’ Association, a director at Clean Ocean Action Committee and a director at the Southwest Lobster Science society, and I sit on the NSNDP environment committee and the president of the Annapolis NDP association.

I rose to have a voice in the fishing industry by default – I’m not sure if I was good at it or no one else wanted to do it. I saw that fishermen in Nova Scotia deserved a voice and weren’t getting one. We add so much to the economy here and  the culture. Between me and my brother we have 5 boys and I will stop at nothing to see this legacy that our dad gave to us gets passed on to them. Corporate greed is not going to get in my way.

Robert Van Waarden: What role does BP offshore play in that?

CS: It’s an existential threat to our way of life. I got asked an important question that I pondered for a long time by Ray Ritcey, the head of the Maritimes Energy Association, he’s the chief lobbyist for the oil and gas industry in Nova Scotia. He said, “I want you to say whether or not you think that the two industries can coexist.” I thought about that for a long time, and I realized that it’s not an answer we have to provide to the oil and gas industry but one they should have to answer to us.

The oil industry has proven time and time again in Alaska and Angola and the Gulf of Mexico that they’re not willing to coexist with fishermen.

And now BP is drilling in Nova Scotia at twice the depth of the Macondo well in the Gulf and in way harsher conditions than the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is a sheltered placid sea, and the north Atlantic is anything but.

The technology that has been proposed in the event of a deepwater blowout on the Scotian Shelf are skimming, booming, aerial spraying. The conditions for skimming and booming to be effective are currents of less than 1 knot and wave heights less than 1m. The wave heights here are almost never less than 1m and 1 knot, which only leaves the aerial spraying and deepwater injection of a toxic dispersant called Corexit.

Corexit doesn’t clean up the oil, it just pushes it out of sight and out of mind. BP’s drill site is between the Roseway Basin which is critical foraging habitat for North Atlantic Right whales, and the Gully MPA (marine protected area), which has rare and extremely old deepwater corals. We were prevented from fishing in the Roseway Basin and we understand that and accept that. But if there was a deepwater blowout and Corexit was injected the oil would sink into the water column and it would devastate our copepod population, which are what the whales feed on. So using Corexit might prevent whales at the surface being covered in oil, but would disrupt their food chain and cause them to starve to death.

If Corexit was used in that area it would cause the oil to sink to the bottom and cover those corals that are so rare and so important to protect in the Gully. Allowing oil is bad enough, and then to allow the use of Corexit on that oil is just preposterous.

What we see is the government creating MPAs (marine protected areas)  to achieve an aura of sound environmentalism and protection, and then they allow other things like this or Transmountain to endanger orcas in the Salish sea. It’s just enraging for the government to be asking independent fishermen to give up areas they’ve fished sustainably for generations to create MPAs. Our activities within the MPAs have never degraded the environment. At the same time we’ll see offshore oil development which has measurable impacts on the ecology being allowed in those MPAs. It’s just unbelievable.

This duplicity in ocean protection has unforeseen dangers. It jades the fishing community to progressive ideas about protecting our fisheries. Imagine how hard it is for someone like me to sell progressive environmental policies to fishermen when they have questions like ‘why should I give up grounds I fished with my grandfather and why should I give up my hard earned money to protect these whales when ultimately the government is placing them in much greater danger while they pander to the oil industry?’

RVW: Is there any way you can see moving ahead with oil and gas?

CS: In the current state of affairs there is no room for this oil and gas industry to coexist with ours. It’s always hard in Nova Scotia for politicians to make these decisions because they’re always struck with the need for economic development. But last year alone our fisheries exports exceeded the entire value of offshore royalties, ever. In 16 years of Sable offshore gas and Deep Panuke we received $1.8B in royalties and that doesn’t include the $200M we’re on the hook for in decommissioning costs. Last year alone our fisheries exports were over 2 billion dollars.

We’re the biggest employer in Nova Scotia outside of the public sector: 26 000 direct and 26 000 indirect jobs in the fishing industry. The 16 year period in offshore oil and gas employed 300 people. It doesn’t add up. It doesn’t add up in Digby, it doesn’t add up in Delap’s Cove, and it shouldn’t add up in Halifax.

Every dollar of the fishing industry goes to coastal communities and every dollar is predicated on clean seas, including billions dollars in tourism.  I’m not sure where the Nova Scotia government thinks the economy would be with a catastrophic event on the Scotian Shelf but if you remove five billion dollars from the economy it will be in tatters.

It’s shocking to think that one machine floating off the coast of Nova Scotia through mechanical failure or singular human error could forever alter the future of this province, but that’s the situation we’re in with offshore drilling.