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Canso Harbour Authority unsatisfied with DFO divestiture decision

·4 min read

CANSO – Fishers in Canso have been tying up and casting off from the Tickle Wharf for decades. They wanted it to stay that way, but a decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to divest that property has taken that option off the table.

Robert Anderson, chair of the Canso Harbour Authority, told The Journal May 6 that his group wanted to maintain the lease system they had been operating under at the Tickle Wharf. If that was not deemed feasible, they wanted DFO “to give us the first offer, if it was going to divest.”

But that is not what happened.

“We found out last year they were talking about divesting of [Tickle Wharf] and that’s why I requested a meeting with [DFO],” said Anderson. “We did meet and I thought they might change their mind coming out of that meeting, but they didn’t. They said it would be divested of and it was going to First Nations.”

Anderson is quick to point out that the issue for the Canso Harbour Authority has nothing to do with the wharf being given over to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs and everything to do with what’s in the best interest of local fishers.

“If the harbour authority had obtained the wharf through divestiture,” Anderson said, “we could have looked after it the same as we look after the rest of the wharves in Canso.”

Anderson outlined the benefits of the wharf to local fishers.

“It was a lot more convenient for folks that live in the upper part of town to use that wharf ... The shrimp fishery – they were fishing out of there because the harbour iced up in the wintertime, so it was more convenient to use that wharf, more practical. If you have to check on your boat and you have to go down to the other end of town to check on it, as opposed to where you live, it’s so much better.”

And what may be seen by some as adding insult to injury, before DFO handed over ownership of the wharf to the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqnNegotiation Office (KMKNO), the consultation and treaty advocacy body of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaw Chiefs, it invested $346,000 in repairing the structure. This, said Anderson, was after the harbour authority had asked for repairs for years.

DFO told The Journal the Small Craft Harbours’ divestiture program aims to transfer ownership of designated low activity harbours – such as Tickle Wharf – to a third party. The Tickle Wharf was declared surplus in 2018.

DFO Communications Advisor Stephen Bornais wrote in an email, about the Tickle Wharf, “As per the Government of Canada divestiture policy, the department notified other federal agencies, levels of government and First Nations and provided each party an opportunity to declare an interest in acquiring the property. Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqnNegotiation Office (KMKNO) expressed an interest in acquiring the property and ultimately a transfer of the property was negotiated.”

Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) Warden Vernon Pitts, who sent the following statement about the Tickle wharf divestiture, disputed that point.

“We were never contacted by the federal government to see if we had an interest in the wharf. We support the local fishery and the Canso Harbour Authority. It should have been made available to them first, as the local fishers using the facility, even if the federal government had to funnel the property through us as the local government authority.”

Speaking to the funds used to repair the wharf, Bornais wrote, “As part of the divestiture process, the department’s Small Craft branch assessed the condition of the wharf and determined repairs were needed to ensure the structure could be safely used by the new owner. The department carried out repairs at a cost of $346,000 … Following these repairs, the wharf was then transferred to the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office for the nominal fee of $1. The transfer documents are in the process of being executed.”

Twila Gaudet, director of consultation for the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office, issued the following statement regarding the divestiture of the Tickle wharf, “Through our Consultation Process we consult on a number of divestitures - each brought forward to the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Chiefs for their review and to determine if there is a desire to move forward with the discussions. At this point, decisions on how the wharf will be used has yet to be made public. There is always a potential that the decision could be to use it for moderate livelihood purposes.”

Local fishers have been given five years to continue using the wharf. After that time, they must find another location to tie up. Anderson said that the Canso Harbour Authority, which has been in operation since 1994, has been looking after the harbour since its inception “and to not even give us the option to renew the lease, or to have first offer on it – if it was going to divestiture, we’re pretty upset about that.”

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal