Across from the fishing pier in Pictou, Nova Scotia, smokestacks pump out billowing clouds of white smoke that drift over the choppy water. The Northern Pulp mill sits on one side of the harbor, churning out pulp that’s used to make toilet paper and paper towels. On the other, fishermen who make a living catching lobster, crab, herring and mackerel tie up their boats.
The fishing piers and the pulp mill represent two of the area’s major industries. But recently, they’ve been embroiled in conflict. Late last year, Northern Pulp announced plans to pipe chemically treated wastewater into the Northumberland Strait. Fishermen have argued that doing so would effectively destroy their livelihood, while the company has said that its pipe is designed to minimize the impact on fishing areas.
On Tuesday, a showdown took place after fishermen spotted a boat they believed was doing preliminary survey work on behalf of the pulp mill.
A fleet of fishermen met the vessel about two miles offshore and confronted the crew, then escorted them back to the dock, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.
Allan MacCarthy, a fisherman who has been an outspoken opponent of the planned effluent pipe, was the first to reach the survey boat.
“I said to them, ‘You better get out of here because the ones that are following me aren’t going to be as nice as I am,’” he told the CBC. “I just told the guys in the boat, ‘Your job is not worth this. Get out of here. Get that boat back to Pictou.’”
MacCarthy told the CBC that five other fishing boats joined him to escort the boat back to the harbor while another 20 stood by, ready to get involved if necessary.
When he reached the survey boat, “there was a little foolish talk back and forth,” he told the Chronicle Herald. “But when the other boats started coming out of Caribou, they left the area.”
Northern Pulp told the CBC, “At all times, the safety of employees, contractors and their employees is our first priority. When situations occur, we will seek guidance and work with authorities to ensure the safety of all involved."
A spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told the CBC that officers had been called to the pier due to a “potential for conflict,” but that no offenses had been committed.
By the afternoon, the boat had been hauled out of the water, locals noted on Facebook.
“If they come back there might be another ship wreck on the bottom of pictou harbour,” one fisherman wrote in a comment on a Facebook post.
“I don’t want to see anybody get hurt,” MacCarthy told the CBC. “I didn’t want to see anybody go to jail for Northern Pulp. But that’s the way fishermen are talking, that this is not going to end well.”
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