John Davis, Director of the Clean Ocean Action Committee
Shelburne, 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.
John Davis: I’m the Director for the Clean Ocean Action Committee (COAC). We represent over 9,000 vessel owners, captains, crew members and fish plant owners — operators and workers who are totally dependent on the renewable fishery resources on the Scotian Shelf, Georges Bank and the Bay of Fundy on Canada’s East Coast.
We have a renewable, fully sustainable fishery here, and we live by strict regulations to ensure the fishery is maintained. Oil and gas recently became active in the area and they are being allowed to operate without functional regulatory oversight. This is putting the renewable resources in these waters at massive risk.
For example, Lobster Fishing Area 40 (LFA 40) on Browns Bank is the only officially designated lobster spawning ground on the East Coast of Canada. It is completely closed to fishing. It sits in massive tidal flow of the Bay of Fundy and although the area is closed to fishing the oil and gas industry are allowed to lease sites that include a section of Brown’s Bank.
COAC formed as an effort to connect the inshore fishery, the original stakeholders, with the regulators, (the Canada Nova Scotia Petroleum Board, CNSOPB) so that our voices could be heard. We made several requests. We asked that this lease area on Browns Bank be removed from their auction. We asked that chemical dispersants not be used on and near our fishing grounds, we asked that the regulators demand that their leaseholders be capable of cleaning up any oil that they spilled, we asked that a capping stack be positioned on Canada’s East Coast – this is a piece of safety equipment that can cap a blowout in an emergency. We asked that those drilling on the Scotian Shelf have equipment nearby to drill a relief well if required. All these requests were denied, so now we feel we have no choice but to call for a full moratorium on oil and gas resource development until an independent public enquiry can be held.
Robert Van Waarden: How are most people in the fishing industry feeling about this?
JD: It’s quite varied, really. Many in the seafood industry are totally up on the issue; others, particularly fishermen, might be so busy making/repairing traps, buoys, lines etc. that they may not be so aware. It’s a tough game to get everyone informed.
RVW: Why are you engaged on this issue?
JD: The renewable fishery resources in these waters have supported our communities for over 300 years. They are our economic lifeblood. If we continue to work in a sustainable fashion these same resources will support us forever as we provide a high quality protein food source to markets all over the world. We refuse to allow the advocates for a poorly regulated finite oil resource to put this bounty at risk for a few decades of dangerous oil extraction. It doesn’t make sense for the communities that depend on this renewable resource and it surely doesn’t make sense to be out looking for new oil supplies when our federal government has Paris Accord commitments to decrease Canada’s carbon footprint to a level that will not allow us to use the oil reserves we have already identified. We can’t even use the hydrocarbons we already know are there per the Paris Accord. It’s not a NIMBY [Not In My BackYard] issue. If hydrocarbons are going to be developed, they can’t be developed if it’s risking renewable resources.
We know that the Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) that Shell and BP submitted to our Environment Minister were totally inadequate, the risks were not reduced sufficiently but our regulators accepted these documents without comment. We have a major problem. The regulations that oversee the oil and gas industry must reflect the value of the renewable resources that are being put at risk. To date, this is not the case. The regulations are laughable and the risks are too high. We’re worried and we’re taking action.
RVW: What is your message to the regulators?
JD: We’re demanding a moratorium. We know that there is no capacity to clean up a spill. Instead, they’ve spent millions convincing regulators that the spraying of chemical dispersants is equivalent to cleaning it up. The oil lobby is incredibly powerful. We have to get organized and we have to meet them head but it is an uphill climb.
New federal legislation, Bill C-69, plans to give even more power to our unelected and unaccountable regulators. Bill C-22 creates a federally approved list of acceptable dispersants allowed to be sprayed in our ocean. This bill overrules the Fisheries act, the Migratory Bird Act, Coast Guard and Department of Transportation regulations – all of which say it is illegal to dump these chemicals in our waterways. This might meet the definition of insanity.
RVW: What keeps you motivated?
JD: Take a walk along this shore. Look at the number of communities that are absolutely dependent on the ocean’s renewable resources. These are my friends and relatives and neighbours. We have an absolute right to some sense of security that those resources that form our economic lifeblood are protected. We are saying that these resources must be respected and held safe. We do not have that assurance from this government. We deserve it, we need it, and we’re going to fight for it.