"The Atlantic Salmon and the blue whales are both very precious creatures to our nations," said Chief Claude Jeannotte of Gespeg, Quebec. He spoke in Halifax on behalf of these two struggling species Wednesday, July 16.
Jeannotte was accompanied by four other First Nations chiefs from across Atlantic Canada, all from communities dependent on the, "rich bounty of the Gulf," in the words of Chief P.J Prosper, representing the Migmaq of Nova Scotia. Together they spoke against exploratory drilling at the Old Harry Prospect, located in the Gulf of St Lawrence 80 km off Newfoundland's west coast and 460 metres underwater.
The Old Harry prospect is expected to be drilled in 2015 or 2016, according to the oil and gas company Corridor Resources which presently holds an exploratory license in the region.
"We are calling for a [12 year] moratorium on oil exploration and development in the Gulf until an integrated assessment takes place," said Jeannotte. "There must be a distinct process to study the Gulf as one ecosystem. This process must be carried out independently of those petroleum boards whose track records demonstrate that they are more interested in drilling than the environment our people and all Atlantic Canadians depend on."
All five chiefs spoke at a press conference held in Halifax's World Trade and Convention Centre. Meanwhile, concerned citizens from their home communities were sailing toward the Old Harry prospect and staging a seaborne protest against the Gulf's development. Partway through the press conference in Halifax, three fishing boats arrived at Old Harry and reported a successful trip.
The chiefs expressed their concern for the fisheries and tourism industries which rely on the diversity of life in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Among their points were the uncertain impacts of seismic testing on marine life and the lack of knowledge surrounding oil spills - their likelihood and potential damages.
"I want to point out to you one valuable species - the Atlantic Salmon," said Chief Candice Paul of New Brunswick. "If we experience a catastrophe in the Gulf of St Lawrence, like the one that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, we are very afraid that our salmon, which are now already at the edge of extinction, may be whipped out. What will we tell our children?"
The chiefs said it's the responsibility of industry and government to undergo "meaningful" consultation" with First Nation communities about Old Harry, which has not yet happened. If the project proceeds without meaningful consultation, the chiefs said legal action will be taken.
"We demand that this race to drill in the Gulf be stopped," said Jeannotte.