Fishing family using their wits and spunk to protect ocean environment

Erica Porter has fished the Minas Basin with her dad since she was 16

GOOD PEOPLE ARE STILL DOING GOOD THINGS. It’s a truth worth remembering in days like these; days overflowing with news of bad people doing bad things.

Darren Porter, his 24-year old daughter Erica and her brother Hunter are good people fighting a good fight. They are doing it from a 21-foot aluminum motor boat on the waters of the Minas Basin in Nova Scotia. They have turned themselves into the Marine Institute of Natural and Academic Sciences. Their goal its to keep life alive in the Minas Basin.

Darren has fished the basin waters, and the rivers leading into the basin near Windsor. N.S., all this life. There is nothing he doesn’t know about tides, currents, fish species, habits and habitats. He cares about it all. He wants everyone to care—before it is too late to make a difference; before it is too late to save ourselves and the planet.

Darren has fought many battles, over many years. But, he has few wins. He is “just a fisherman” up against scientists, bureaucrats and “the business community.” Still...

When Darren knows the tide and water temperature are right for the gaspereau to make their run, he calls a department of agriculture staffer, who can open the gates in the Windsor causeway to let the fish leave the basin and enter the Avon River to spawn.

“If it’s convenient for them to listen to me they open them, if it’s not they don’t,” he says.

“All I can do is make the call and hope the fish get a chance to fulfil their life cycle.”

Data, data and more data

A new causeway will likely make matters worse for the fish. Darren led the fight to see that it doesn’t. But lessons from the past have taught him that winning will take more than deep practical knowledge, common sense and spunk. It will take what scientists and bureaucrats love—data. Darren has decided to bury them in it.

Darren has turned data gathering into a family business. His son, Hunter, and daughter, Erica, have long fished with him. They know and love the basin too. “It’s so full of life, it’s not just muddy water,” says Erica.

Erica has been fishing full time since she was 16 years old. She worked 509 four to 12-hour shifts on the Minas Basin last year. Always being careful to protect her high-fashion, long green manicured fingernails in rubber gloves.

None of the Porters have fisheries science degrees. But they do have lifetimes of experience and a sturdy 21-foot aluminum boat. They figured it was all they needed to become the Marine Institute of Natural and Academic Sciences.

It was a no brainer for Darren: “I said to myself, ‘I can either bitch and complain about the damage that is being done to this place or I can do something about it’.”

Darren wanted to get scientists on side. He knew he would need data—good, reliable, accurate, verifiable data—to get them.

Big business players in the basin, like those seeking to harness its immense tides to produce electricity, want data too. But they also want community buy-in.

So the Porters went to Big Moon Power, which is developing a tidal electricity generating technology in the basin, and got 40 receivers capable of listening for the pings from tagged fish.

From there they’ve teamed up with a variety of groups who all want to learn more about the basin. Those groups brought funding for more fish tagging and 130 receivers placed around the basin.

The Porters are responsible for checking 80 of the receivers kept on the ocean floor on the family’s custom/home made moorings, fabricated from used tires collected at area autobody shops, filled with waste concrete from local plants. The receivers are duct taped to a piece of rebar with a welded hook embedded in the concete. It all works.

Another day on the water

“High tide in Diligent River is half an hour,” Erica, calls out to her dad, over the sound of the outboard.

Darren nods. “Not enough time to make it to that receiver off the Cumberland County Coast before the tide drops. We can come back this afternoon when the tide changes and go for that one.”

Erica smiles thinly. “I did have plans for this afternoon, but now I have new ones,” she says.

Darren turns and points the boat to make for Halfway River, Hants County. Once there Erica wrestles with the boat’s hydraulic hauler to lift a buried receiver from the bottom.

Towering on the shore behind her is a wall of plastic and metal garbage in the shadow of the former Minas Pulp and Power plant. It was exposed when a causeway placed across the Halfway River to support a railway gave out a few years ago.

More data collection

Six days a week, the Porters set gill nets and eel traps off the Halfway and two other rivers in this area of the passage, known as the Southern Bight, for their other science project.

They are collecting data for a study funded by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal to measure fish presence off rivers allowed to flow unimpeded (the Cogmagun), fully blocked by a causeway (the Avon), and the rebuilt causeway across the Halfway River that is considered only partially obstructed because of the culvert running through it.

The Porters are so busy collecting data they didn’t fish their weir this year at all.

They don’t know yet whether they’ll be fishing it next year.

What they do know is that they’re helping those who live on land better understand the immense migrations of life passing underneath their keel.

“When I pull one of those (gaspereau) nets on a first quarter or last quarter moon, the amount of fish is biblical,” said Darren Porter.

“We don’t look at this place and see muddy water, we see an artery of life. If you knew what we know about what’s here you’d protect it too.”

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