Shellfish producers propose marine centre in Mabou Harbour

    MABOU: A group of local shellfish producers is working on a plan to help maintain the Mabou Harbour ecosystem.

    Local producers are working with the Mabou Sailing and Boating Club, the Mabou Watershed Committee and the Mabou and District Community Development Association to establish a marine centre at the current site of the Mabou Sailing Club.

    “It’s a multi-purpose centre that will include a sailing school, a watershed research and development centre, an oyster hatchery, an oyster processing facility and oyster bar,” said Jeff Lee, owner of Sam’s Point Oyster Company and president of the Mabou Watershed Committee.

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    Lee said a key purpose for the centre is to help keep up with increased water testing demands that have taken a toll on local shellfish producers in recent years.

    In 2005, the Mabou Harbour Coastal Management Planning Committee received government funding to hire a community watershed coordinator who was in charge of water testing in the harbour.

    “Unfortunately in 2011, our funding dried up to hire anybody and our committee went into hiatus. That came around to bite us in the end because we weren’t keeping an eye on the water quality,” said Lee.

    In 2016, testing by Environment Canada showed bacteria levels in the harbour were rising. Local shellfish producers met with government agencies to address the issue and were placed under a conditional management plan requiring local producers to implement and pay for additional water testing and leading to costly closures. Lee said water sampling costs for last year reached $5,000 and he expects the amount to double this year.

    Local producers formed the Mabou Watershed Committee to develop a more sustainable way to address water quality issues in the harbour. Lee says the marine research and development centre will coordinate water testing efforts and provide a space for research. The group hopes to partner with local educational institutions to work on water testing methods while finding ways to protect the Mabou Harbour ecosystem.

    “We want to make sure this is sustainable. We can’t be dependent on government grants. We have to have a dependable cash flow so that we can keep things going,” said Lee.

    Lee is hopeful that the marine centre will also help Mabou Harbour’s nine oyster lease holders by allowing them to run their own local processing facility.

    “In order to sell oysters out of the province, they have to go through a processing facility. The closest one to here I think is in Dingwall,” said Lee. “It would be better if we could do that right here in Mabou.”

    Contributed photo:
    An oyster bed in Mabou Harbour

    In order to pay for the new centre, Lee said the group plans to take out an oyster lease. In addition to providing a sustainable source of funding, Lee says the lease could used to create a community oyster garden and would create opportunities for local students to learn about how oysters grow. Oyster producers in Mabou Harbour have also agreed to donate one per cent of the profits from all oysters sold in Mabou to help fund the centre.

    The group is currently in the process of applying for the oyster lease, which Lee says could take up to a year-and-a-half. In the meantime, the watershed committee is working with institutions such as Dalhousie University to develop tools to test the water and find the source of the higher bacteria levels.

    “Right now we’re trying to build the boat while sailing it,” said Lee. “It’s kind of a hard way to do it, but we really don’t have much choice.”