By Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press
Nova Scotia is putting an end to all underwater commercial treasure hunting along its coast in a move aimed to prevent the loss of the province's marine heritage.
The government said Wednesday it would introduce legislation in the fall to repeal the Treasure Trove Act.
Enacted in 1954, the law governs treasure hunting on famed Oak Island on the province's south shore. The scope of the original act was subsequently expanded to cover the licensing of shipwreck salvage operations off the coast.
Under the current rules, treasure hunters are allowed to keep most of what they find. But they are required to hand over 10 per cent of non-precious artifacts to the province.
David Salter, a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources, said the intent of the new Oak Island Act is to ensure that everything that is found beneath the sea stays in Nova Scotia.
He said individuals and groups will still be allowed to dive on wrecks, but only for archeological and historical purposes.
"Anything that is found would become property of the province," said Salter.
He said some outstanding licenses would still be granted to applicants who meet policy guidelines for treasure hunting, but that all activities would come to an end Dec. 31.
Salter couldn't provide a precise figure, but said there aren't any more than a "handful" of outstanding licences.
The new legislation would incorporate elements of the existing Special Places Protection Act, which carries penalties for those who would remove artifacts without a heritage research permit.
Under the act, anyone in violation can be fined up to $10,000, while a company can face a fine of up to $100,000. The province also has the authority to seize anything found during an excavation.
"This just makes it (legislation) more streamlined and clearer that the purpose is essentially to preserve these heritage objects here in Nova Scotia," said Michael Noonan, a spokesman for the Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage.