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Tristan Cleveland is an urban planner who has also worked in Montreal, Guyana and Venezuela. Cleveland grew up in the south shore of Nova Scotia and has been an advocate for sustainable planning in Halifax since 2012.

Tristan Cleveland: Nova Scotia must step up ocean protection from reckless 2.6 per cent

Canada has vowed to protect 10 per cent of the country’s oceans by 2020, but it doesn't look like Nova Scotia considers our waters a priority.

Lobster boats head from West Dover, N.S. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 as the lucrative lobster fishing season on Nova Scotia's South Shore opens.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Lobster boats head from West Dover, N.S. on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 as the lucrative lobster fishing season on Nova Scotia's South Shore opens.

I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that Canada aims to protect 10 per cent of the country’s oceans by 2020. Nova Scotia is screwed if we grind our ocean to a husk, so we should celebrate. But here’s the bad news: the provincial Liberal government doesn’t want to take part.

What? Our ocean doesn’t matter to our future?

If our fisheries collapse, we lose the foundation of our economy, our culture, and our rural communities. It’s not like it’s an abstract risk that’s a hard thing to imagine. The ruination of our cod fisheries is one of the world’s finest examples of how not to manage a resource. You’d think if anyone would get it, we would.

And let’s be clear on why protection matters. You may mistakenly think the ocean is like a bathtub full of fish, so it wouldn’t matter if we catch them in one spot or another.

But to state the obvious, the ocean is not a bathtub. There are certain vitally important locations where fish consistently collect to breed, spawn, and mature. If we protect these places, they will continue pumping out free food and money for our economy, forever. Or, we can harvest and dragnet there, destroying both juveniles and habitat, to sell a few fish today. Surely we are smarter than that.

The provincial Liberals would make you wonder. In a recent letter to the federal government, our former Minister of Energy, Michel Samson, wrote about the current 2.6 per cent protection of our ocean area: “Nova Scotia has reached the right balance for now. We suggest that the federal government now work with other jurisdictions to reach the high level of protection that has been achieved in Nova Scotian waters before Nova Scotia is asked to make further contributions.”

Two point six per cent is not “balance.” Two point six per cent is not a “high level of protection.” Two point six per cent is a reckless abdication of our responsibility to our future.

We don’t need to troll 97.4 per cent of ocean. Ninety per cent is absolutely plenty if it means we can continue fishing for decades and perhaps centuries, sustainably, as we did in the past. For comparison, we have protected over 12 per cent of our land and plan to protect more.

The reason the government resists protection may be to ensure oil companies can drill wherever they find oil. But of course, an oil spill in a key fish nursery would be an absolute disaster. Limiting oil drilling to the 90 per cent of the ocean that isn’t vital to our fishing industry would be just good risk management.

It’s frustrating that on so many environmental issues — climate change, forestry, energy efficiency, and now oceans — the attitude of our government is “we’ve done enough.” What would be so bad about Nova Scotia showing some leadership? Responsible resource management is just good economic policy, so why are we so afraid to lead the pack?

As a proud Nova Scotian, descendant from four generations of fishermen, I think we should set the example other provinces to aspire to.

This week is Ocean’s Week, and the UN is holding its first international conference on the future of the oceans. It’s a good time to see a shift in our government’s attitude. Let’s take some pride in our ocean and protect our future.

HALIFAX OCEAN'S WEEK EVENTS

Thursday: Elisabeth Mann Borgese Public Lecture - Marine Protected Areas: For Whom. Commemorate and celebrate the life and work of Elisabeth Mann Borgese, 7 p.m. Dalhousie University, Scotiabank Auditorium.

Friday: A Plastic Ocean documentary screening by Craig Leeson revealing the startling amount of pollution found in the world’s oceans. 6:30 p.m., Dalhousie University, Ondaatje Auditorium.

Saturday: A cycle journey to York Redoubt where a short ecology talk will take place. Expected departure is 10 a.m. from the Ecology Action Centre.

Sunday: Yoga by the Sea: Enjoy the views of the ocean while following a yoga class taught by instructor, Moriah Rose. Bring your own yoga mat. 10 a.m., St. Mary’s Boat Club.

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