Profit Above, Wealth Below

Northumberland_Strait_fish_farm.pngAs I sat in the overflow room listening to the representatives of Northern Pulp defend themselves against the many questions of the MLAs from the Agriculture and Fisheries Standing Committee on Feb 16th, I watched the faces of the fishers sitting around me and felt their helpless frustration at the plans to pipe effluent from the mill out into the Northumberland Strait.

Sometimes agriculture and fisheries find themselves at odds and it seems as if they shouldn’t even share a portfolio in the government.  Yet as I sat in the meeting, the connection between agriculture and fisheries was never more clear.  

When the Northern Pulp representative was asked by Peter Bevan-Baker about the possibility of changing the pulping process from bleach kraft to other options, he responded that “any other use of the fiber would be a waste of natural resources”.  Evidently, by “natural resources”, he meant one natural resources in particular; the lumber used to produce the pulp.  It is astounding that he completely failed to recognize the water of the Northumberland Strait as a resource in itself or the value that ecosystem provides, let alone the products harvested from it.  Although perhaps not at all astounding when the Strait holds little value to Northern Pulp, other than a dumping ground.

This discussion was what prompted my thinking on the similarities to agriculture and soil.  Too often in agriculture we think only of what we can measure, see and sell; the products of the soil. And too often we base the value of our farms on that alone. So too, in fishing we think of what we can harvest from the waters so we can sell the products to fund growing businesses and pay bills.  But in ecological agriculture the phrase “profit above, wealth below” is a reference to that caring for the soil in order to reap the benefits of that care. The very same with our waters.  If we fail to care for the water itself, there will be nothing to harvest from it.

The ‘profit above’ is a result of the work of those who steward the soil or water, but the ‘wealth below’ belongs to all of us and it is not solely the responsibility or reward for those who work with it.  It’s past time to place real value in the quality of our soil and water and begin to see that manifested in the policies surrounding it.  Above all,  we have to stop making excuses and allowances for corporations who fail to recognize the value and not the ‘cost’ of a true natural resource like our surrounding waters.  

Sally Bernard is the Shadow Critic for Agriculture & Fisheries for the Green Party of PEI