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MP, Fisheries Minister still don't understand impact

posted Sep 18, 2012, 6:12 PM by SOS SaveOceanScience
September 18, 2012 - St.Croix Courier - Letter to Editor

TIme is marching on for those who have received notices their jobs will be cut at the St Andrews Biological Station.  In our efforts to reverse these cuts, Save Ocean Science members met with John Williamson who indicated he believes the library holdings should stay in the purpose-built facility here in St Andrews and not be moved to Halifax.  We have also asked him to help us set up a meeting with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Honourable Keith Ashfield, as his office has not responded to our requests.

The library and its holdings are the foundation of fisheries research.  Many of these holdings are not available electronically.  Many date from the first years of the the Station which opened in 1908 and are still referenced.  Work is currently underway to pack up the library holdings.  We understand that the federal government is looking at options to store these holdings in Halifax, either to build onto the existing facility at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, or to rent space, leaving a climate-controlled library facility empty.  Everything must be packed up and moved by March 31, 2013.  Given this, we believe there is some urgency to meeting with the Minister as soon as possible.  

In a Canadian Press article by Jennifer Ditchburn on 16 September, John Williamson, the MP for New Brunswick Southwest, minimizes the impact of Federal budget cuts on the Saint Andrews Biological Station (SABS) by characterizing them as "not as bad as the local media and opposition suggested - three lost staff and people understand." Clearly Mr. Williamson doesn't understand!  New Brunswickers, who have rallied under the banner, Save Ocean Science, to oppose the cuts, do understand that the real issue is the loss of independent scientific capacity.

For over 100 years SABS has made a crucial contribution to the health and safety of the Bay of Fundy fishery. These latest cuts will threaten the ability of the Station to continue this vital role.  The unique library and archive will be closed and the the toxicology and contaminants section will be eliminated. This is in addition to the loss of capacity represented by the fact that since 2007 6 scientists have not been replaced following their retirements. In short, the scientific capability of the Station is suffering from a slow but steady erosion that will, ultimately, present an unacceptable risk to the future of a safe fishery and aquaculture industry.

If, as Mr.Williamson claims, these cuts are about balancing the Federal Budget, how does he explain that the newly opened (March 2012), $62M purpose-built facility will not be fully utilized?  How does moving the unique collection and archives from its state of the art library to a storage facility in Halifax make any fiscal sense?

The message that the grassroots, non-partisan Save Ocean Science group has been trying to get through to Mr. Williamson and to Minister of Fisheries Ashfield is that we are concerned about the negative impact of these cuts on the scientific capacity of the Station and DFO and the risk that these cuts present. Fishing and aquaculture are major components of the Atlantic economy and independent science is vital to their continued viability. If, because of these cuts, a pest or disease threatens these industries, it will cost the Feds far more money than they will have saved by these ill-considered reductions to SABS.

Caroline Davies
Save Ocean Science (SOS)