Monday, April 29, 2002 Back The Halifax Herald Limited

Harbour fish habitats threatened, scientist says

By Amy Pugsley Fraser / Staff Reporter

Industrial infilling and development could threaten the habitats of fish that have thrived in Halifax Harbour for the past 10,000 years, a group learned Sunday at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography.

"Prehistoric people relied on the fisheries in Halifax Harbour," Jim Ross told about 100 people who gathered for the last presentation at a BIO open house.

It's the first time in four years that Canada's largest oceanographic facility has hosted an open house.

There were so many visitors - some staffers estimated that 35,000 went through the building over the four days - that many tour guides were encouraging people to return when it wasn't so busy.

"We have a summer student who gives tours through the week," one staffer told a long trail of people snaking their way through the building's corridors.

Even at closing time, people were still lining up to check out the viewing tanks and displays and tour the Hudson, BIO's research ship.

The most popular room hosted the "dead shark on ice" - a small shark caught off Sambro. Even around 400 A.D., "people would spend the summers fishing and collecting shellfish in Halifax Harbour," Mr. Ross told a group gathered in the main auditorium.

Today, Halifax Harbour is closed to shellfish harvesting due to high fecal coliform levels.

But a map of fish habitats in the harbour shows an abundance of mussels and clams in the waters between the two bridges.

In addition, the deep waters of the harbour are home to lobster, cod, haddock, herring and bait fish as well as recreational fishing favourites like salmon, gaspereau, pollock and smelt.

Mr. Ross admits he's even sampled a few of them.

"I have eaten fish out of Halifax Harbour - sea urchin, lobster, cod," he said in a brief interview after his presentation.

The practice of fishing for food in the harbour continues today, he says.

"Just go down in late summer to the A. Murray MacKay Bridge. There's always one or two boats there with people fishing for something to eat."

Despite the high fish population in the harbour, fish habitats could be at risk from the wharfs, breakwaters, walls and infilling that come with harbourside development.

Mr. Ross, who has worked as a senior habitat manager at BIO for several years and has also advised the federal government on aquaculture, encourages waterside property owners to find out their responsibilities before they bring on the excavators.

"The key is to enter into discussions with regulators at an early enough stage so that habitat values can be incorporated into your plans and projects."

"Most developers know that," he said, adding that he likes to give talks to educate the public.

"We're only given so much fish habitat and when it's gone, it's gone."

Copyright 2002 The Halifax Herald Limited