A time to weep ... a time to heal
It is mid-May and birdlife blossoms along with the daffodils. Tulips are in bud, and we have arrived at that time of the year when lobsters in Sandy Bay best curb appetites, because traps that were well off shore for most of the season have been shifted to shallower waters. There’s no free lunch for Homarus americanus.
Buoys marking traps on trawl are sprinkled across the bay. If, as in times past, every trap had its own buoy, the likes of champion log-rollers Phil Scott or his nephew Darren “Axeman” Hudson could skip across the inlet without dipping a toe in the water.
In two more weeks the season will be over, and traps along this stretch of the coast will be coming ashore. Stacked neatly several high, one wide, and miles long (if they were end-to-end), these traps have no use for close to half the year – representing millions of dollars of investment sitting idle.
Come the end of their useful life as lobster traps, most end up in the nearest landfill – if not casually tossed overboard. There are exceptions, where enterprising fishermen find another use for at least some wire traps. We came across a prime example last week while exploring.
It was a Friday afternoon, after taking part in a rally organized by Shelburne Regional High School students calling attention to the shockingly short-sighted wholesale clearcutting taking place on publicly-owned forests in the region. On the way home, Tank and I stopped by West Green Harbour to visit timber-frame designer and builder Chris Bird, who buys large timbers from the Scott family mill in Barrington (Stanley, log-roller Phil, Ray, and Rene – see story by George Fullerton in the upcoming July issue of Atlantic Forestry Review). Chris was not in. Tank was ready to head home, but the exploring bug took hold, and his chauffeur turned to see more of W. Green.
We came to Shore Road, and I thought that sounded promising. It was just okay, until we came near the end where, on the left, there was one of the neatest stacks of firewood ever. Real country is where piling up firewood can become far more than simply another annual chore. The doing of it can advance to a passion.
Several years ago, over several months, RD published photos of firewood piled in all sorts of inspiring ways, from extremes of caring to the fanciful. It was a lot of fun. I do not recall seeing firewood piled like bee skeps, well off the ground, on retired lobster traps.
This was unique, fanciful, and meticulously crafted – and it called for a picture, which we took through the open truck window before pushing on. But no, not unique, for around the corner there were more skeps. All were in yards Lunenburg-County neat. Those Germans, you know; put a Dutchman to shame. (This Dutchman, anyway.)
At this point the pavement ended. There was a gravel turn-around, which I negotiated before noting a dozen or more long, dark structures low in the water across what had to be the mouth of Jordan Bay. Without a doubt, salmon farm pens. Then, coming around, I spotted a hand-painted sign on top of a tall, brightly painted buoy the size of a Joe Palooka punching bag – in its day a hazard buoy marking a shoal out in the bay. Now it bore a sign warning of another hazard:
OPEN PEN SALMON FEEDLOTS
THE #1 POLLUTERS OF
COASTAL BAYS AND SHORELINES
Glory be! In the space of a few hours, we were rubbing shoulders with kindred spirits opposed to clearcutting and open-pen fin-fish aquaculture – a couple of pet peeves, alongside fracking, and pumping anything industry doesn’t want into the nearest body of water.
But who were these kindred spirits? I was out of the truck and taking more photos before realizing that it was rude not to say hello, were there anyone around. Probably there was – watching through the kitchen window wondering who in blazes was nosing about.
There was someone around, but not in the house. From a small barn came hammering – carpentering, I figured. Not so. Just inside the door, two men stood at a bench, one chopping frozen mackerel into chunks, the other stuffing the chunks into fist-size orange net bait bags. Cinched tight, the bags were being carefully placed side-by-side in the bottom of a large grey plastic tub. Placed, not tossed as though it mattered little where they fell. This way they could easily be counted by these men who probably knew from experience just how many bags there were to a layer.
Again I was taken back to Lunenburg County. It was 10 or so years ago. Two Corkum boys on the Windsor Road were milling softwood logs through their father Ivan’s water-powered mill. One of the sons – I no longer recall either of their names – was stacking the lumber as they went along, with sticks set precisely perpendicular between each layer to allow air to percolate through the stack. The “stickering” is common. What was not was the young man’s attention to detail, making sure each board and stick was square and even. An oversized pound of butter would melt in envy at the sight of such precise packaging.
Back to the bait shed. One of the two men piped up, “You’re Dirk van Loon. We met you in Liverpool.” Oh dear. The old brain failed me again. Not taking offence, he introduced himself – Ricky Hallett, and his brother David. I now recalled having met the two at an “open house” staged by Cooke Aquaculture – the company that owns the salmon pens lurking across Jordan Bay from the Halletts’ place, and that hopes to greatly expand feedlot operations in Liverpool Bay.
The short time I had with the Hallett brothers on their proudly maintained home turf led me to ask if Keith Colwell, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, had ever come calling. “No,” said Ricky, noting, “he’s raked me over the coals a number of times.”
Those who follow the salmon farming issue likely recall Minister Colwell parroting Cooke Aquaculture claims that very few if any salmon escaped following a storm last year that tore pens apart within sight of Ricky and David’s homes. Fish had to have escaped through visible rents. Those that remained trapped went unattended, starving for lack of food, according to one eyewitness – David Hallett – in a letter to the local newspaper.
As Tank and I set out for home, my dog was no doubt thinking dinner. My thoughts were on the Hallett brothers and so many like them – families going back generations, striving to make a go of it on the land and on the ocean. They have the long view, both past and future. Yet it seems governments give them mere lip service, compared to millions doled out to myopic, cut-and-run exploiters.
Ricky Hallett took his own life two days after the photo on page 24 was taken. Such sad and troubling news. Was it this, was it that? Is there knowing? It is remarkable that Ricky could be so steady over the years, while every waking hour looking out over the bay at those hulking fish pens mocking his measured way. DvL