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Port Morien fisherman Don Messenger, left, talks to Donkin Mine vice president Shannon Campbell during a protest which saw fishermen block the entrance to the mine on Tuesday. Messenger said there are no viable options, he wants the mine to close before it destroys their fishery.
Port Morien fisherman Don Messenger, left, talks to Donkin Mine vice president Shannon Campbell during a protest which saw fishermen block the entrance to the mine on Tuesday. Messenger said there are no viable options, he wants the mine to close before it destroys their fishery. - Sharon Montgomery-Dupe

Fishermen claim mine operations affecting their livelihood

DONKIN, N.S. — Angry fishermen say a blockade at the entrance to the Donkin Mine Tuesday was just the beginning if something isn’t done about the mine’s plans to ruin their industry.

“We need immediate action on issues or we’re going to come back and do this again,” said Mira Gut resident Don Messenger, who fishes out of Port Morien.

Messenger said many fishermen don’t want coal transportation by barging, rail or by road — they simply want the mine to close.

They are hearing seismic testing is scheduled within the next couple weeks, but other issues include barging, contamination of their lobsters and the impact on the fishermen’s livelihood, he said.

“When seismic comes and the contamination of the coal, it’s going to destroy this fishery. We want the mine to shut down. There’s no benefit to Cape Breton with this mine. The long-term and short-term effects are going to destroy this industry.”

On Tuesday, fishermen from Membertou, Port Morien and Glace Bay blocked the mine entrance with their vehicles, citing concerns about the mine’s plans to barge coal and do seismic testing, which they claim will ruin their industry.

Donkin Mine officials recently announced plans for geotechnical drilling, a first step towards plans to build a marine terminal in Port Morien.

Upset fishermen lined up blocking the entrance to Donkin Mine including with their vehicles Tuesday morning, from the left Paul Mullins of Main-A-Dieu, Don Messenger of Mira Gut, John B. Paul of Membertou, Raymond Christmas of Membertou, Edwin Christmas of Membertou and Tracy Murphy of Glace Bay. Fishermen continued to gather at the scene of the protest through the morning which lasted until shortly after noon when they agreed to arrange a meeting with the mine’s vice president Shannon Campbell.
Upset fishermen lined up blocking the entrance to Donkin Mine including with their vehicles Tuesday morning, from the left Paul Mullins of Main-A-Dieu, Don Messenger of Mira Gut, John B. Paul of Membertou, Raymond Christmas of Membertou, Edwin Christmas of Membertou and Tracy Murphy of Glace Bay. Fishermen continued to gather at the scene of the protest through the morning which lasted until shortly after noon when they agreed to arrange a meeting with the mine’s vice president Shannon Campbell.

The Tuesday protest was organized at the spur of the moment, but more fishermen continued to gather after hearing about the action, resulting in about 20 fishermen at the scene within a couple hours.

In the meantime, at least five coal trucks were lined up on the side of the highway, unable to access the mine. Traffic exiting the mine was also held up.

Four members of the Cape Breton Regional Police Service were on the scene, chatted with the fishermen, and described it as a peaceful protest.

“We’re just here maintaining the peace for the time being,” said Sgt. Wayne Forgeron.

At about 11 a.m., Donkin Mine vice-president Shannon Campbell arrived at the mine and pleaded with the fishermen to go somewhere else to talk.

“I want to make sure things are safe first and it’s not safe here right now,” he said. “I’m absolutely willing to go wherever you want to have a chat.”

The fishermen responded by asking Campbell if the mine was OK with destroying the fishing industry.

“I’ll send everyone home right now and we won’t bother you ever again when you shut this mine down,” Messenger said.

“You’re going to destroy our livelihood, there’s no negotiating here.”

Other fishermen said they weren’t there to have a discussion, they were there to make a point.

Fishermen told Campbell the seismic testing would harm the fishery, affect the quality of lobsters, bring prices down and damage the value of their enterprises.

Campbell insisted they need to work together to find solutions.

“I’ll be happy to have that discussion with you all day long,” he said.

“We can’t talk here. Let’s go somewhere to talk about this.”

Rodney Billard of Glace Bay, who fishes in Morien, said what they want is for the Donkin Mine to leave their water alone.

“We don’t want any piers and we don’t want any barges,” he said. “Find another way.”

Campbell said the reason they held a recent meeting with Port Morien fishermen was to hear any concerns.

“And we want to continue to talk about this.”

However, fishermen Raymond Christmas of Membertou said Donkin Mine didn’t consult with them.

“The last time you guys met you didn’t include us.”

Christmas, fishing lobster and snow crab for 26 years, said he was at the protest to offer his support, but he does come through the fishing area in question.

“If they barge it’s going to knock everyone’s livelihood out of here,” he stressed.

“We do have fishermen here out of Glace Bay and Port Morien that are going to be affected.”

“We’re not going to let them do this alone, we’re going to stand with everyone here.”

Messenger told Campbell that even if they talk and a decision was made to transport coal by road or rail, the coal dust would still harm their fishery.

“How do we sell our lobster that have cancer in them?”

“I’d be happy to have these discussions all day long but not right here,” Campbell responded.

Fishermen also questioned the lack of scientific data to prove the coal mines plans won’t hurt their industry.

“We could hire experts and run the numbers,” Campbell answered.

Messenger said the mine had four years to do that.

“Yes, because we didn’t find anything wrong with it,” Campbell noted.

Coal trucks were lined up near the entrance of the Donkin Mine on Tuesday morning, unable to access the mine after angry fishermen blocked the entrance.
Coal trucks were lined up near the entrance of the Donkin Mine on Tuesday morning, unable to access the mine after angry fishermen blocked the entrance.

Messenger said the only answer was to shut the mine down.

“I think you’re getting a bit off topic,” Campbell responded.

“How can we sell lobsters without a market?” Messenger replied.

Campbell asked the fishermen what exactly they want.

“We don’t want you in the water at all,” one responded.

After about an hour of a heated discussion, Campbell said he needed to let the trucks into the mine and the backed-up traffic inside the mine out.

“I need to get the ship running here.”

Campbell urged the fishermen to put together a small group of fishermen they trust and he’d sit down and meet with them later this week or next week.

“I want to talk about all the issues you have, I want to understand all the issues,” he said.

“I’m willing to put the time and energy into understanding concerns and to see if we can do anything. Right now, this doesn’t help anything.”

Eventually, the fishermen agreed to put together a group but said they won’t be satisfied until Donkin Mine makes changes.

“I won’t be satisfied until there’s no seismic (testing) or barging or interference with the marine life,” Billard said.

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Many at the protest have fishermen in the family history for generations, Tracy Murphy, who has fished 15 years but with a family history of 90 years on the ocean. Murphy said if Donkin Mine barges its coal, there will be an area eight kilometres out into the ocean they will not be able to fish anymore.

“Fishermen will have to move over to Glace Bay to sustain themselves.”

Murphy said barges could tip over and there could be contamination and leaks.

“As these barges cross to Sydney or wherever they are going, it could really ruin our industry.”

Campbell said in a statement to the Post later in the day that they were happy there was a peaceful resolution to the events of Tuesday morning.

“All parties have agreed to meet and continue the conversation. We remain committed to continuing to work through the liaison committee to bring further understanding and allow for greater dialogue.”

sharon.montgomery@cbpost.com

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