It all started with a one person protest by Beach Meadow resident, Brian Muldoon, on the side of the road. Now, it has grown into an opposition movement that has seen more and more people continue to come on board as Queens County residents oppose Cooke Aquaculture's expansion plans in Liverpool Bay.
As of September 7, Kelly Cove Salmon farm, a subsidiary of Cooke Aquaculture, moved into in a six-month scoping phase allowing them to do more research on the feasibility of the site to expand their operations. Currently about 400,000 fish sit in 14 pens in Liverpool Bay.
On October 23, Cooke Aquaculture presented its plans to the Region of Queens Municipality council and the South Queens Chamber of Commerce.
A rally organized by the recently formed, Protect Liverpool Bay group, took place November 26 at both Fort Point Lighthouse, with about 100 people coming out to show their support. People came holding wooden signs and many spoke to try and rally more people to speak out in opposition. There was even a singer/songwriter who performed an anti-aquaculture song with a five-piece band.
Muldoon said support continues to grow.
"I don't think the government is going to stand behind us on this one and I strongly believe it has to be a movement from the people," he said.
"It's not like one of those debates or protests where you get 50 per cent for or against it. I would say there is 99 per cent of people against it," added Muldoon. "I don't think our government is going to stand behind us on this one and I strongly believe that it has to be a movement from the people, the people that care about our oceans, shoreline tourism and our local economy.
"That's why I started on the street corner; to educate people," he said. "People don't realize what's under those nets. I didn't realize what happens underneath those nets. When you Google fish farms and you Google everything about them, there is no positive. There is the antibiotics and pollution from feces there that just don't wash away, it has to land somewhere."
John Grant, the Cooke Industrial Research Chair for Sustainable Aquaculture Ecosystem Modelling and Benthic Processes, previously told LighthouseNOW that there had not been any negative impact on the coastline from Cooke's aquaculture operations.
"Both the provincial and federal governments do regular testing and monitoring. We're operating in a very sustainable and highly environmental regulated sector."
Among those at the Liverpool rally was Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland who heard the group's concerns.
"I have been hearing from constituents who have been calling, popping into my office and sending emails," she said. "They are very, very concerned about the proposed expansion, so I went down to the rally just to see what people are saying and I was surprised by the number of people that were there during the day. They are very passionate about this proposed expansion."
Added Masland: "I am opposed to this based on my constituents' response and I was also looking at it from a social licensing perspective. I asked, what is the economic benefit that is going to come back to us as a host community and I haven't been able to get that answer and I can't get an answer as to how many jobs there is going to be."
Masland said that Cooke's efforts in dealing with the public have not been enough, despite the open house that the company held in Liverpool a few weeks ago. She said in her opinion more time should have been allocated for people to ask questions, and that the debate should have have been recorded.
"To me it felt more like a trade show that I was at, with all of the water bottles being given out – the swag bag sort of thing."
Masland adds that Cooke and the government needs to be more transparent with the residents.
"What is the government asking from Cooke Aquaculture during that scoping phase? What kind of science data are they asking for? What kind of economic benefit data are they asking for," she said. "Let the people know, first of all, what the government is asking and number two, when all that information is collected from Cooke and presented to the review board I believe that Nova Scotians should know and right now, that information is not being made available.
"I truly believe if you are transparent then people will believe that you are credible."
Masland encourages people to continue with their emails to herself and to Cooke, asking for more transparency and expressing their concerns. Once the six-month scoping phase is up, Cooke Aquaculture will present its case to a three-person review board, who will review their submission and then they will also look at public submissions as well.
Masland says that there is just too much to lose on this deal.
"We have a very lucrative lobster and tourism industry that we can not put into jeopardy and my concern is that with the proposed expansion and the size of what they are looking at, it could be detrimental to both of these industries and we can't risk that."
Anne Laws, also a resident of Beach Meadows and a member of the group, said that she didn't realize the damage that fish farms caused until she talked to Muldoon, who encouraged her to do some research.
"I'm very new to learning about these open net fin fish farms. Once I started reading, I was like, oh my God, this is a sad state of environmental damage," she said. "The pathogens that pollute the water and the beaches is unbelievable...and this may double, triple or more if they expand. I have two kids.
"They don't have to clean up. I can hardly believe it," she said. "They say they want to bring jobs to the area. They couldn't even tell us how many that expansion would bring in, but whatever the number, these jobs would be costly when you look at the environmental cost. No one is picking that up."
The Protect Liverpool Bay group is planning a march December 15 at noon starting at the tourism booth.
"We are not slowing down on this, we are only to continue to organize and educate," said Lawes.