At least one Nova Scotia fisherman is willing to consider the future possibility of a fishery and oil drilling rigs coexisting on Georges Bank. The joint U.S.-Canadian moratorium on drilling was established in 1988. The ban was extended eight years ago and will expire in 2012.

Hubert Saulnier, president of Local 9 of the Maritime Fishermen’s Union (southwest Nova Scotia), emphasizes that he’s not saying he’s in favor of such coexistence, simply that he wants to take a good hard look at it.

A fisherman who lives and works out of Saulnierville, Saulnier campaigned for the drilling ban 10 years ago. But times — and the fishery — have changed, he says. “The fishery isn’t what it was ten years ago,” he adds. “And I’m concerned about jobs down the line.”

A leading environmentalist, however, is not willing to consider such coexistence — not now, not four years from now, not ever. Mark Butler, policy coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, sees no reason to even consider lifting the moratorium.

Noting that he has been in contact with U.S. fishermen from Gloucester who share Georges Bank, Butler said that the arguments originally put forward to establish the moratorium still hold true.

“There are plenty of other areas available for drilling so there’s no reason to drill Georges Bank, which is still a productive fishery,” Butler said, adding that the majority of fishermen he has talked to on both sides of the border support the ban. He also maintains that the fishery “is as rich and productive as it was then years ago.”

Butler added that there have been three major oil spills in the last three years in Atlantic Canada,

The coexistence debate was revived by Richard Hurlburt, Nova Scotia provincial Minister of Energy, at the annual general meeting of the Conservative Party in February.

For his part, Saulnier says he’s planning a trip to Norway to see how coexistence has worked there and adds, “I’m learning not to say ‘never’ ever again. Basically, I just want to take a look. Maybe it is too risky, maybe not. Anyway, we’ve got four years.”