Saving Salmon
Saving Salmon
Inspiring the next generation of Atlantic Salmon conservationists
 

A plea to the people of New Brunswick

 

Don’t let it happen. The Sisson Mine is a disaster we can’t afford. 

 

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by Tom Cheney with Photography by Nick Hawkins


Every summer I go trout fishing on the Nashwaak river. Actually, I mostly go fishing on one of its tributaries. It’s a relatively healthy system, with no major dams and cold, clean water. I know a couple of good spots and even on a bad morning I still usually hook a fish or two. 

In June there are lots of seatrout around, but I enjoy catching the smaller resident fish just as much. I play them quickly, land them gently in my net, and hold them in the water for just a moment before they swim free. They are beautiful and innocent, and my brief encounters with them always fill me with a simple but profound happiness. 

Generations of New Brunswickers have hunted, fished, foraged, and enjoyed the Nashwaak watershed. Why are we creating the potential for our children to be robbed of their natural heritage? 

It won’t be too long before my children will be old enough to learn to cast flies for trout. More importantly, they will be old enough to learn the magic of wild fish in healthy ecosystems. I envisioned myself teaching them those lessons on that little tributary of the Nashwaak. Now that vision is in danger because someone has decided that wild fish and their habitats are expendable — or at least exchangeable for a few jobs. 

I’m not going to list all the ways that, simply by its construction, the Sisson Mine would be an ecological disaster. You can look those up. Nor am I going to tell you the consequences of a tailings pond failure. We all remember Mount Polley. 


In August 2014, a massive breach at the Mount Polley Mine site sent 24 million cubic meters of waste water into nearby rivers and lakes. Canada has the second worst mining record in the world. During the last decade there have been seven known mine tailings spills in Canada, only one less than reported in China, which tops the list.

Tailings dams are… unforgiving systems, in terms of the number of things that have to go right. Their reliability is contingent on consistently flawless execution in planning, in subsurface investigation, in analysis and design, in construction quality, in operational diligence, in monitoring, in regulatory actions, and in risk management at every level. All of these activities are subject to human error.
— Mount Polley Expert Panel, IEEIRP 2015, p. 119

My plea today is that you ask yourself how we’ve let such an atrocious proposal get as far as it has. Generations of New Brunswickers have hunted, fished, foraged, and enjoyed the Nashwaak watershed. Why are we creating the potential for our children to be robbed of their natural heritage? 

It’s because we’ve been told over and over — so many times that we actually believe it — a story about natural resources and economic prosperity. That story is simple: the destruction of our natural resources may be unfortunate, but it is a necessary condition of ‘progress’ and ‘economic development.’ More and more New Brunswickers are seeing that this story just isn’t working for us. Maybe it’s time to tell a new one.

There are ways to develop resource industries that don’t involve the permanent destruction of biodiversity and wildlife habitat. And there are paths to economic prosperity that don’t even require resource development. We can have it both ways. And you don’t need to look far to see examples that prove the point. 

When the Sisson Mine’s proponents tell us that the project is a good way — or the only way — to economic prosperity, they’re relying on us to believe that tired narrative. They’re asking us to keep believing there are no better options. It’s time to stand up and prove them wrong.

New Brunswickers are intelligent, creative, and dynamic. We deserve work of which we can be proud — not just jobs for us today, but for our children as well. We deserve to be in charge of our own economic future. We live in a beautiful province with precious natural resources. There’s a way to have a healthy economy that protects our resources rather than destroys them. 

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New Brunswickers are intelligent, creative, and dynamic. We deserve work of which we can be proud — not just jobs for us today, but for our children as well. We deserve to be in charge of our own economic future.

The Sisson mine is projected to operate for 27 years. After that it will leave a hideous scar in the earth, ruined fish and wildlife habitat, and countless other ecological tragedies. Those jobs will be gone too. The mine’s opponents see that it’s not worth it — especially when there are better ways to create work. They’ve freed themselves of the weight of old narratives and are demanding a brighter, more sustainable future. 

I should say that trout aren’t the only thing I catch in the Nashwaak river. Every year I hook salmon parr — a surprising number of them. A small and endangered population of wild Atlantic salmon continue to spawn successfully in tributaries of the Nashwaak. If the right people work hard enough, and the right factors fall into place, they could rebound. There’s no reason they can’t. 

Hope like that fuels conservation work — hope that one day my children might fish not just for trout in the Nashwaak, but salmon as well. I have hope for the salmon, and also for the province of New Brunswick. But I need reasons to keep that hope alive, and the Sisson Mine isn’t one of them.


ACT NOW

You can help protect the waters we love from the Sisson Mine. Environment and Climate Change Canada is accepting comments from the public until May 3, 2018. Click the button below to sign a pre-written letter prepared by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. (You can also add to or edit the letter.) It only takes one minute to add your voice!