Facebook to start laying cables in fishing grounds off Nova Scotia

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Installation of a transatlantic undersea telecommunications cable for tech giant Facebook on the seabed off southern Nova Scotia is set to begin as early as this week.

The Canadian portion of the route will take the cable through fishing grounds and the Fundian Channel, an area being considered for designation as a Marine Protected Area due to its deep-sea corals and sponges.

Nova Scotia fishing groups say their comments were ignored, including a suggested route that would avoid major fishing areas.

“Consultation here was largely non-existent,” said Kris Vascotto of the Atlantic Groundfish Council, which represents major fishing companies in the region.

He said industry discussions with project consultants began in August 2021 and ended after about a month.

“Then it was radio silence,” Vascotto said. “We anticipated that there would be further discussions, either with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans or with the proponent itself, and that is why we were so surprised by the communication we received at late last week advising us that a vessel was coming into the area and that gear is to be removed from the area to facilitate the laying of the cable.”

He said the original routing hasn’t changed.

Supply boat to clear the way

Sailors were warned to stay at least one nautical mile away from cable-laying vessels from mid-February through March.

The Maersk Clipper offshore supply vessel will begin the installation by clearing the route of ghost fishing gear and other debris on the bottom.

Fishermen are told to pull their gear within half a nautical mile on either side of the road.

The CS Decisive, a cable-laying vessel, will lay the 3.8 centimeter wide fiber optic cable, which will be buried in some places and left on the seabed in others.

Alcatel Submarine Networks, a subsidiary of Nokia, is in charge of the installation.

The offshore supply vessel Maersk Clipper traveled to Nova Scotia to work on the cable laying project. (Courtesy Mac Mackay/Shipfax)

The project received Canadian government approval in December. This included a “letter of advice” from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the implementation of appropriate measures to avoid and mitigate harm to fish and fish habitat.

DFO declined to release the letter to CBC News or explain what it expects from the company.

“For confidentiality reasons, the ministry is unable to release information related to project applications/reviews without the proponent’s permission or a formal freedom of information and confidentiality request,” said DFO spokeswoman Alexandra McNab in an emailed statement.

Cable will have minimal impact on fishing

Alcatel spokeswoman Rachel Van Oppen said the company and its partners have coordinated with Canadian authorities.

“The cable route and installation methodology have been adjusted to minimize both environmental and fisheries impact. In the Fundian Canal, the cable will be buried using low impact technology to protect it from any interaction with fishing gear,” Van Oppen said in a statement. Radio Canada News.

The 6,600 kilometer Friendship telecommunications cable will cross the Atlantic from Lynn, Mass., to Bordeaux, France, and Cornwall, England.

Facebook owns 80% of cable. Other project partners include Microsoft and Vodafone.

Fiber optic cable is a significant advance in the movement of data, said Jean-Francois Bosquet, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“The cable is quite impressive because it will allow huge speeds. It is a new technology in terms of cables and it will allow us to exchange information very quickly between Europe and North America”, a- he declared.

Bosquet said the cable “will not disrupt the ecosystem.”

Vascotto said the fishing industry is concerned about liability in the event the cable is damaged by fishing gear. He said there are parts of the seabed on the road that are hard and rocky and difficult to dig.

Although Alcatel said the cable would be buried in the Fundian Canal, Vascotto said DFO was telling a different story.

He said officials had told the industry that to protect the coral bottom they ordered the Friendship cable to be laid above the seabed.

DFO declined to clarify the guidelines it gave for installation in the Fundian Channel.

Concerns about the cable route

“So what happens if someone interacts with this cable? What happens if someone creates a fault in the cable? That’s where our minds turn: we can -being lost an active fishing area due to a cable that we didn’t know was coming and were not actually consulted or accommodated during the planning process,” Vascotto said.

Fisheries and Oceans said the proponent, not the government, is responsible for consultation with industry.

DFO said the company received First Nations and industry contacts in 2020, “as well as detailed information on fishing activities and sensitive benthic features (such as corals) in the area, and advised the proponent to involve these groups in the proposed project”.

“There are dozens of inactive and active cables in Atlantic Canada and it is likely that other areas of interest and/or [Marine Protected Areas] have cables inside,” McNab said.

If the Fundian Channel were ever designated as a Marine Protected Area, cables could be prohibited or restricted based on potential ecological impacts on the area’s conservation objectives.

“However, under international law, coastal states must allow the laying of submarine cables within their exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and are limited to imposing controls on routing for environmental protection purposes. only,” she said.

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