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Sea lice, ISA virus, illegal pesticide use, farmed salmon escapes plague aquaculture industry

The dramatic push in the past 24 months to increase its holdings in Nova Scotia has been made clearer by recent comments from a senior official with the the New Brunswick-based,  multi-national Cooke Aquaculture, which boasts close to one half billion dollars in annual revenue from industrial fish farms in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Maine and Chile.

Cooke vice president of communications Nell Halse told award-winning reporter Richard Haines of the Gloucester Times in a story about possible expansion of the U.S. aquaculture industry that, as with other firms, the company seems resigned to finding growth opportunities elsewhere — in less politically charged and developed waters. Halse told Gaines that …”development is simply easier farther away from people and Maine’s gold standard permitting.”

Cooke Aquaculture has has a storied history as a major player in salmon fish farming in their home ground of New Brunswick, with some claiming that the waste, feed pollution and pesticide runoff from the dozens of salmon feedlots that they have installed in the bays and harbours there will pollute the once-pristine waters for generations to come. “They have a poop-and-run policy, as far as I can see,” says a source familiar with their operation in New Brunswick.

Cooke fish farms in New Brunswick have been named in news reports as having suffered outbreaks of sea lice infestations, which a government scientist described as a “major crisis” in the industry. Noxious chemicals used to treat the sea lice have been declared as ineffective, as the small crustacean has developed resistance to previous treatment methods.  Cooke and other fish farms have also been suspect in the escapes of hundreds of thousands of farmed salmon into the waters surrounding the large open net cages.

Cooke was among a small number of farms raided this spring by federal officials in an investigation of illegal use of dangerous pesticides in the lucrative lobster fishing grounds surrounding their multi-acre fish farms. There were reports of widespread lobster deaths as a result of the illegal chemical use.

The company’s expansion into Newfoundland and Nova Scotia have been troublesome at times and there has been vigorous community opposition to recent expansion plans and there are  currently two legal actions in place protesting the approval of additional leases for factory fish farms in St. Mary’s Bay and Shelburne. More legal action is expected by some familiar with what many consider the muddled aquaculture policies of the struggling Nova Scotia government.

Lobster fisherman Sheldon Dixon told CBC Television recently that said he believes the farms in St. mary’s Bay will create residue that will harm the bay’s bottom and one of the province’s most profitable lobster fishing grounds if the projects proceed. He told a crowd gathered at the provincial legislature that about 3,000 traps operated by 60 fishermen would be displaced by the new sites.  SEE CBC  STORY HERE

In 2008, Cooke purchased a Chilean salmon farm operation when farm prices plummeted during the horrific salmon anaemia virus outbreak, which resulted in the wholesale slaughter of millions of infected salmon and the displacement of one-half of the Chilean salmon farm workforce. In April of this year, the Chilean government issued a warning about another possible ISA infection developing in at least twelve farms in Chile. 50% of the suspected farms are owned by Cooke.