NORTHPORT – Stewart Blair can’t understand why much of the shoreline near his home has been closed to clamming for nearly three decades.
The Northport resident has heard federal officials say the beach is closed because of contamination and he’s suspicious that it’s closed because the federal Fisheries and Oceans Department wants it that way.
“Part of the shore has been closed since the late 1980s, but no one seems to know how it’s contaminated or how often they do their testing, or event what the results are,” said Blair, who is also a lobster fisher out of Northport. “People want to dig clams there and they can’t.”
A portion of the Northumberland shoreline from Seagrove to Cameron Beach has been closed for 30 years. Other sections were closed in 2016 because of the presence of fecal coliforms.
Cumberland-Colchester MP Bill Casey said he has heard the concerns and has spoken to Fisheries and Oceans. He said the closure is valid because of high fecal coliform counts indicated in regular monitoring of the area.
“This poses a significant hazard to human health,” Casey said.
The MP said no single source has been identified, but in similar cases contamination has been attributed to improperly maintained septic systems and agricultural runoff. He said the density of cottages, homes and farming activity along the coast would make it difficult to pinpoint the sources or to put a remedy in place.
“When there is contamination, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is obliged to respond to the information they have,” said Casey.
Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin said she has received complaints from area residents wanting to dig clams, but can’t seem to get a straight answer from federal officials.
She wants to set up a meeting between residents and representatives from the municipal, provincial and federal governments. She has been unable to do so.
Chris Roberts, manager of marine water quality for Environment Canada, said the water is monitored five times a year at five locations in the Amherst Shore and Lorneville area and testing is finding the results are deteriorating – especially after rainfall.
“We’re seeing increases well above the standard for fecal coliforms,” he said. “There’s no obvious source. That shoreline is no different than other locations in the Maritimes where you have large collections of cottages.”
He said Environment Canada tests water quality while the Canada Food Inspection Agency tests the clams for the presence of contaminants.