Fact or Fishin’ – Every Herring for Himself

Cape Sharp Tidal is a partnership formed between NS Power’s parent company, Emera Inc and OpenHydro. Their aim is to demonstrate they can “successfully grid-connect in-stream turbine arrays that produce energy silently, invisibly and without environmental harm.”

Flashback to early summer 2016. People were wary. Thousands, including those in the fishery, First Nations, NGOs, environmental and conservation groups, were on high alert. Each sector had its own bank of knowledge based on its own experience and they needed to know their concerns were being heard. Meaningful consultation with the stakeholders who would be most impacted was just not taking place. It was advertised that it took place and was even ‘extensive’, but if you ask the groups affected, you will hear a different story. As a result, the situation had both Emera and the NS government openly admitting they did not have the social license to proceed with the Minas Passage turbine project.

In June 2016, 500 randomly selected Nova Scotians were surveyed by Corporate Research to explore public knowledge and perceptions about tidal energy. One of the scenarios presented was:

‘The Cape Sharp Tidal Project is a demonstration project to determine if tidal energy can be generated in a clean, safe, affordable way in the Bay of Fundy. Do you believe that a small tidal test program is a reasonable way to determine if it is possible to generate clean and renewable energy, while protecting the environment?’

It turns out that 90% of these randomly selected respondents agreed; a small tidal test program is a reasonable way to test the concept’s viability in a clean and environmentally safe manner. Sounds good right? And who could possibly find fault with testing something in an environmentally safe manner? Unfortunately, those stakeholder groups, with the wealth of knowledge and the most to lose, knew full well that ‘a small tidal test program’ certainly wasn’t as simple or as risk free as the pretty picture that was being painted for the general public.

Despite the concern and many unanswered questions the project was given the go ahead and the turbine was deployed on Nov 7/16. And ceremoniously, on Nov. 22/16, with the flip of a switch, the 1,000 tonne 5 story turbine on the floor of the Minas Passage was officially connected to Nova Scotia’s electricity grid. On Nov 22/16 CBC reported “Both companies (Emera and OpenHydro) stressed that monitoring has shown there has been no harm to fish or mammals in the bay since the turbine was installed.” Thierry Kalanquin, an OpenHydro executive, elaborated saying, “We have demonstrated that we have absolutely no environmental impact. Zero. There is no fish going through the turbine right now.” He was later that day asked how he based his claim and he said “We have a lot of sensors and we are following a lot of what is happening here in this building. (Referring to the substation in Parrsboro). “We can say there is no fish going through the turbine right now. We can say no mammals are going through the turbine now and there is no damage to the environment. Of course we need time to prove this.”

Well that all SOUNDS pretty good, but how do we really know for sure what effect the turbine is having? Even the Minister of Environment, Margaret Miller, wouldn’t make the claim Kalanquin did. When asked on Dec 9/16, she said “Not at this point. We haven’t seen any of the results of any of the tests yet.” DFO also confirmed that day they hadn’t yet received any data from monitoring devices. But there is ONE thing we do know for sure. The day the turbine went ‘live’ is the day people started reporting thousands of dead herring washed up on the shoreline. Is there a connection? Who knows for sure. The jury is still out and further testing is being done on the herring. But they continue to wash ashore. And people have lots of questions.

People want to know just how much noise this turbine is generating, because depending on the decibel levels and frequency, the results can be fatal and result in direct mortality. Herring have ‘swim bladders’ which are critical to their buoyancy. Sound can actually rupture these bladders because of pressure fluctuations. It can also cause something called an ‘avoidance reaction.’ A lay person might think this is a good thing if sound keeps them away from the turbine but here’s the catch. Avoidance reactions can severely deplete a fishes energy reserves so much so that it can reduce their gonad development. Yes, fish have gonads. And when there’s a problem with them it can directly affect their reproductive success, which therefore has a direct impact on the population level. When asked on Dec 6th, Cape Sharp Tidal said ‘Monitoring sound is one of the cornerstones of our environmental monitoring program’. They go on to explain how they will capture this info. They also say ‘It’s possible the turbines aren’t even detectable–but we need the scientific information from the hydrophones to confirm either way.’ So, the turbine is actually in operation but it’s not known if the sound being emitted is a problem for the fish or not? As was substantiated just this past April, a demonstration project undertaken by Big Moon Power Canada in the Minas Passage had a devastating impact on the fishery and in particular the spring herring run. The fish left the area. Because of the noise. And even though there was a huge outcry from the fishermen, nobody from industry or government followed up with any investigation. It’s interesting to note that right now, on our West Coast, environmental groups are poised to file a lawsuit alleging the government failed to mitigate the impact of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline project on the resident killer whales. It seems the sound from the increased oil tanker traffic has been recognized as a big problem. Also, according to a written study of human impacts on the marine environment “Stressors on the Marine Environment: Physiological and ecological responses; societal implications” (Solan, Whitely), an OpenHydro tidal turbine was found to have produced sound levels of 165 – 175 dB, running at half the water flow of the Minas Passage. Design and location may play a factor, but this range is far from silent. If the turbine turns fast, it stands to reason it would be louder. To put this in perspective, a rock concert is about 120 dB.

But back to our issue. People also want to know if there are working cameras on the turbine. If they can’t actually see collisions with the blades, how can it be claimed there is zero environmental impact? When asked if there are working cameras on the turbine, Cape Sharp Tidal says ‘In terms of cameras, we have an active sonar device (Tritech Gemini) mounted on the turbine to monitor ocean life interactions with the turbine. In many ways it acts better than a camera because it can “see” 60 metres in front of the turbine, a 100-metre span and almost the entire water column. The device detects organisms and tracks their movements and behaviour as they approach the turbine to determine what, if any, interactions they have with it. We’ve also mounted an additional camera facing the rotor following extensive engagement with the fishing community which asked for one. Given the amount of sediment, the turbidity of the environment and the depth (40 metres) it’s possible we won’t be able to see much.’ So, the turbine is operating and nobody can see what’s happening down there?

The statement ‘We’ve also mounted an additional camera facing the rotor following extensive engagement with the fishing community which asked for one.’ is also interesting. And misleading. Yes, a camera that can actually see collisions WAS in fact requested by the fishing community. What Cape Sharp Tidal has neglected to mention is the camera on the turbine is actually NOT the one recommended by the person they specifically asked to make the recommendation. After months of researching camera technology, he made his recommendation based on the knowledge and suggestion of the international scientific tidal community. The (much less expensive) camera currently on the turbine was not recommended simply because he knew it would be inadequate. And he told them so. Further, it was also requested the camera equipment be tested in the environment it would be used in prior to start-up of the turbine. Apparently, this was not done as it appears the camera is unable to see what it was intended to see – collisions.

It’s claimed, ‘The best evidence that we have on in-stream tidal is from other deployments around the world, where there hasn’t been a single recorded incident of fish, mammal, sea birds collision’. The unmentioned part, from the 2016 Annex IV State of Science is “It’s also important to note that the technologies and instruments for observing collisions aren’t well developed.” Well if a camera is UNABLE to record a collision; is it fair to advertise there hasn’t been a single recorded incident? It’s akin to me saying ‘I’ve never lost a patient on the operating table’. Another ‘true’ statement but given that I was never in a position to lose a patient, it’s highly misleading. And given that the camera being used on this turbine is inferior to the one recommended, it could very well be that there won’t be a single recorded collision on this turbine either. Doesn’t mean they aren’t happening though.

Information posted on their website says ‘The sonar will track organisms if they are in the vicinity of the turbine, and give us much more meaningful data about their behaviour around the turbine.’ Perhaps. But the purpose of the sonar is not to capture what is most important environmentally – what is actually colliding with the blades. It’s known the true purpose of the Gemini sonar is to mitigate risk to the structure of the turbine by monitoring things like ice, submerged debris, and large vertebrates (whales). The sonar faces away from the turbine to scan in front of it. The only device that could possibly monitor collisions is the inferior camera facing the blades.

It’s also hard to fathom how an agreement was ever made allowing them to commence operations yet not have to report their findings for months. They advise – ‘We are still in the early commissioning phase of the project, and have just begun collecting data from all our monitoring equipment. The preliminary data will be analyzed and interpreted by a third party, and results included in our first monitoring report. Every quarter, we will be issuing a report to regulators. We’ll also make that available to stakeholders and the public. You can find it and other information on our website in the spring. www.capesharptidal.com. Well frankly, it’s not very reassuring when the thing is operating now, tens of thousands of fish are, coincidentally or not, dying mysteriously, people have questions and no data is being shared, or even required to be shared. For months.

A resident posted a suggestion on the Facebook site of Michel Samson, Minister of Energy, under one of his many posts on the turbine. Since there is a crisis with the herring that fish experts are unable to explain, and since the only known ‘new’ thing introduced to their environment was the turbine, might it be worthwhile to turn it off for a week and monitor the herring to see if the kill continues? The resident’s post was simply deleted. Not acknowledged. Deleted. When a second attempt to post the suggestion was made, it was deleted again. And why is this not a valid suggestion and given due consideration? In an Oct 20/16 Supreme Court of NS decision, the Honourable Justice Jamie Campbell wrote: “[59] When dealing with the environment of the Bay of Fundy there is just no room for error. That looms large in any assessment. Its future goes far beyond any discussion of ‘convenience’. What is involved here, however, is a test site for which there have been safeguards put in place. The turbines can be removed during the 12 hour course of a single tidal cycle.”

Darren Porter, of the Fundy United Federation, has been intimately involved in the tidal power project for years. He is a weir fisherman in the Minas Basin, a subject matter expert for the Fundy fishery and has collaborated with government, scientists and tidal power proponents. He has spent countless hours sharing information and working with industry experts to ensure any tidal energy projects can coexist safely with the fishery, free of charge. He is the person who was asked to recommend what sort of camera should be used. And now that the turbine is in, and they have no further use for him, his concerns are being ignored. On behalf of the Fundy United Federation, he wrote Michel Samson, the Minister of Energy on Dec 1/16. He asked a very simple and direct question:

“This single question I’m asking here is not in regard to the Gemini sonar that is mounted on the turbine, it is regarding the video camera mounted facing the blades, and not the video camera facing the feet of the turbine. If transparency is supposed to be key to this project, we would like this question answered. Is the video camera facing the blades working? By ‘working’ we mean is the camera giving a visual picture of the turbine operation of any or all of the tidal cycle night and or day, fast flows and or slack tides.”

The Minister’s response is pictured below.

According to the agreement in place, within one month of deployment a status report was to be provided detailing the status of all monitoring equipment. The turbine was deployed on Nov 7, so as of the date of his letter, Minister Samson would know if the camera was working or not. Yet he didn’t answer with a yes or no.
So, the unanswered questions remain. Adding to all of this, just recently, rumour has it the camera is not even working. The herring die-off that started the day the switch was flipped continues. They claimed if their device has significant adverse effects on population levels, they will remove the turbine. Considering what’s happening today, that statement begs the question. What does ‘significant adverse effects on population levels’ really mean? We have no evidence the camera intended to monitor collisions is working. We have no evidence indicating the level of sound being emitted. The herring are continuing to die and nobody can explain it.

Other countries experiment with tidal energy but not at the expense of their natural resources. In Wales, last December, a turbine was placed in Ramsey Sound and connected to the grid in a similar experiment – to provide more information on tidal energy. It was turned off just three months later – not because they were seeing any negative impact – they turned it off because of a fault in the sonar used to detect marine mammals. The ability to monitor was actually part of their license and if they couldn’t monitor, they couldn’t continue to operate. Quite a bit different than Nova Scotia where not only is a turbine allowed to operate but no monitoring results have to be disclosed for months AND we have fish inexplicably dying by the tens of thousands.

Understandably, our government wants this project to be a success and no doubt there’s a lot of pride associated with this project. But someone, please explain at what point does the ‘significant adverse effects on population’ alarm get sounded? When all the fish are dead? And why can’t the turbine be turned off for a period of time to see if that has an impact. After all, as the Corporate Research survey summarized, ‘ Of all factors evaluated, protecting the environment, generating a clean/renewable energy and ensuring a viable fisheries are deemed most critically important when developing tidal energy.’ Surely ruling out any association between the turbine start-up and herring kill should be a priority. Let’s get our priorities straight here.

Someone, somewhere, needs to step up, put aside their pride, and admit that maybe, just maybe there’s a problem and do the right thing.

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– Cathy Belliveau

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