Responding to oil spills on Fogo Island

Fish harvesters taking part in two-day course

Published on March 6, 2014
Keeping the ocean clear around Fogo Island is the focus of the Marine Institute’s oil spill awareness course which concludes today. — Pilot file photo

Fish harvesters on Fogo Island are getting a crash course on how to protect a resource they highly value from the threat of oil spills.

The Marine Institute’s Safety and Emergency Response Training Centre is conducting a two-day oil spill awareness course, which started Wednesday and continues today.

“These kinds of sessions are really important for places like Fogo Island, where the marine resource is the most important thing that people look to and have looked to since their forefathers arrived here,” said Gordon Slade, a former deputy minister of fisheries who was also the CEO for several years at One Ocean, an organization that aimed to foster connections between the fishing and petroleum industries.

“Protecting the ocean and the health of the ocean is really important to everyone, but particularly important to the people who live on islands and are looking to the ocean for their sustenance.”

The Shorefast Foundation, whose board of directors is chaired by Slade, is hosting the event in collaboration with the Harbour Authority of Fogo Island.

According to Slade, there is a general lack of knowledge in Newfoundland and Labrador about the consequences of marine oil spills and the basics for responding to them.

The offering of the course comes a few months after controversy first began to swirl about oil leaking from a sunken ship located near Change Islands. The Manolis L sank in 1985.

According to The Canadian Press, the vessel had more than 500 tonnes of fuel oil and diesel on board. There have been reports of oiled ducks and other sea birds in the area since it was first noticed last spring that fuel was escaping from the cracked hull.

Canadian Coast Guard officials have since been regularly monitoring the area and are using a cofferdam to capture the fuel. Some area residents have suggested the ship should be drained or taken out of the water.

Slade said the oil spill response course is not being held in response to that issue.

“The idea of doing this came before that occurred at all, really,” he said. “It’s difficult to arrange these things. You have to have the fishers who are not fishing at the time to be able to do it, so you have to do it in the late fall or winter. This turned out to be the best time to get a dozen fishermen together.”

The public will also get to learn about the subject through a Friday evening presentation by well-known Memorial University research professor Bill Montevecchi. That event is scheduled to take place at the Church of the Holy Spirit Parish Hall at Fogo Island Central starting at 7:30 p.m.

“This area, I call it the Fogo Island archipelago, which has so much in the way of wildlife and birds in particular,” said Slade, who noted there has been a resurgence in the bird population since the start of the cod moratorium.

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