‘There’s no reason not to’: More Nova Scotia lobster plants commit to pollution control

If you walk along one of Nova Scotia’s many shorelines, you will see rocks, seashells and mounds of seaweed. But some of these beaches are also riddled with colored rubber bands, ropes and plastic fragments.

According to Angela Riley, founder of Scotian Shores, a local business dedicated to cleaning up the province’s shorelines, the province’s largest industry is also responsible for much of the pollution found near the ocean.

Many of the strips and plastics that end up on the beach are the by-products of lobster fishing, storage and processing – the system that brings lobsters from the ocean to the plates of people around the world.

“Yesterday we cleaned up 300 pounds of trash, and today in the exact same spot there are probably 10,000 strips in the seaweed,” Riley said. « Sometimes it feels like there are millions. You pick up the algae and hundreds of them fall down. It’s crazy. »

Angela Riley holds bags full of lobster strips she and her team salvaged from a beach cleanup. (Submitted by Angela Riley)

After seeing the problem grow, Riley began contacting some of the lobster processing plants that seemed to have the most debris on the beaches around their facility.

She says she comes from a fishing family and understands the industry, which makes her want to work with lobster processing plants to reduce pollution flowing from their pipes.

“It looks really, really bad for our lobster fishery,” Riley said. “Everyone is quick to blame the fishermen because they are an easy target, but we find that it seems that the majority of [the bands and plastics] actually come from processing plants. »

« We do everything we can »

Earlier this year, a company joined Riley’s ideas to reduce its environmental impact. Atlantic ChicCan Seafood of Clark’s Harbour, Nova Scotia, appears to have been the first to install screens and socks on its discharge pipes.

Since then, other companies have joined us.

lobster plant
When processing plant workers sort lobsters by weight, the plastic bands and tags can fall to the ground and then be washed away when cleaning the facility. (Robert Short/CBC)

Johnny Goodwin, the maintenance technician for Long Point Lobster and Seafood, also in Clark’s Harbour, had been using screens to keep debris out of the plant for years.

But when his company built a new facility this year, he also decided to install screens on the drains and mesh socks on all the pipes that drain water from the facility.

« We’re doing everything we can to reduce our footprint and keep this area clean, » Goodwin said. « I live on an island surrounded by beaches. I love walking on beaches, I don’t like seeing debris and trash that could easily be picked up or captured. »

Goodwin got in touch with Riley on TikTok, where he was posting videos of his new techniques. Riley asked to come to Clark’s Harbor and see what he was working on.

« I just wanted her to…see what I have and see if there’s anything wrong with it, basically, » he said. « She practically gave me her blessing and tried a few tests with lobster groups on things I had done, and it all captured perfectly. »

A plastic mesh net is visible next to the plastic debris it has collected.
One of Johnny Goodwin’s pipe socks is shown with some of the debris it collected recently. (Submitted by Johnny Goodwin)

Half a dozen plants using socks

Goodwin said Long Point Lobster and Seafood handles a million pounds of lobster per season, and at any one time there are between 100 and 2,000 cases full of lobster floating in the holding tanks. This means that approximately 6,000 gallons of water per minute flow through the facility.

The water then has to flow back into the ocean and can carry rings, plastic tags and other debris with it.

He said it took him about 30 minutes to solve this problem, and he noticed that about six other factories in his area were doing the same thing.

But the simplicity of the solution made him wonder why not all facilities in the province use the same technique.

« It makes you think… ‘Why does it have to be like this? ‘” Goodwin said. « And it’s not, it’s really not…I’ve got six pipes covered in socks and it cost maybe $40 and about half an hour of labor. There’s no no reason not to. »

A mesh sock is depicted on a discharge pipe
Goodwin said he made extra socks and would swap them out when he was full. (Submitted by Johnny Goodwin)

Request a policy change

Riley said that while some plants may think they don’t have a significant impact on the environment, tapes and plastics are detrimental.

« So when they decompose, they break down into micro-plastic type things, so animals eat them, and then they get full and starve to death, » she said. « We’ve had reports of loons trying to feed them with their babies. And then sometimes in the swamps we see them growing around different grasses. »

She said that while some facilities are receptive to her concerns, her suggestions are not always well received. When she sees a company making positive changes, she says it’s « uplifting. » But she wants to see new regulations put in place.

« One plant knows how many in Nova Scotia won’t make a huge difference, » she said. « So we need something that’s going to go too far, like a change in policy, to say ‘enough, we’re not going to allow that to happen anymore.' »

Government Response

The Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture said there are regulations in place that require the area surrounding businesses to be kept clean.

« Anyone observing litter or waste associated with seafood processing facilities should report the information to the Department of Natural Resources and Renewable Energy, » department spokeswoman Marla MacInnis said in an email.

Asked if Nova Scotia would follow provinces like New Brunswick that require processing plants to reduce the release of any contaminants into the environment, MacInnis said the province is looking into the matter.

« We are currently reviewing the New Brunswick regulations to help us determine how best to make more meaningful changes to this issue here in Nova Scotia. »


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