By Andy Moir

Brought to us by Cooke Aquaculture

Pretty much everyone knows what those Cooke Aquaculture sites are going to do to St. Mary’s Bay. The fishermen know. So do most of the residents who have looked at the literature. Certainly the DFO scientists and Provincial scientists know. And you can bet Cooke Aquaculture knows full well what will happen to our waters.

On November 22nd, there was a presentation at the Freeport Fire Hall by two people who have spent a long time researching the impact of open-net salmon farms. They’ve seen a lot of them in their own back yard – New Brunswick.

By the time Inka Milewski and Matt Abbott finished their presentations, there was renewed feeling of anger in the room, over how a big multinational corporation like Cooke’s, with the full backing of our Provincial government, can come in and destroy fishing grounds, reap huge profits, and when they’re all done, leave an environmental mess that will take decades to clean up.

Following are some of the highlights of the presentation:

First, marine biologist Milewski showed a series of slides she had taken over in Shelburne harbour, from bottom where a small Cooke Aquaculture site had just been removed. She used a scientific term to describe the conditions they left on the bottom. The less technical terms are sludge, or gunk, or crap. Or dead zone.

Despite the fact that the area where the cages were located is in hard, hard shape, the only tests our Province requires will show that the site will be pristine in a matter of months…because all the company has to do is prove that the sulphide levels have gone down, …and they will. That doesn’t mean anything that should be living on the bottom can live there, because there is much more to a polluted site than the level of sulphides in the gunk. And the variety of life that should be able to live on healthy bottom won’t be returning for years, perhaps decades.

But the provincial regulations don’t require that the bottom be healthy, or able to support all the life forms that used to live there. The site just can’t have an overabundance of sulphides…and even at that, they only test the top two inches for sulphides, even though the gunk, or sludge, or crap from the salmon farm could have built up to many feet or even yards deep over the years.

So when someone from the Province tells you we have strict regulations, you can honestly tell them they are lying, and that they should be ashamed of themselves. And that they have allowed Shelburne harbour to be turned into a cesspool…the same as they have done in Westport, and they know full well it will happen in St. Mary’s Bay.

There was lots of other science stuff. Milewski says she knows DFO and provincial scientists know all of this stuff, and that they know open-net fish farms are bad news…but the government scientists are afraid to say anything or they’ll be out of work. She cited at least one case where a government scientist was forced to change his recommendations because of pressure from the fish farm industry and the scientist’s political bosses.

Matt Abbott, who works for the NB Conservation Council, told me an interesting story. He said a New Brunswick scientist wanted to test the impact of fish farms on lobster. He wanted to put some lobsters in cages around fish farms, and then test them over a period of time to see what impacts were. DFO refused to give him a grant…he was asking for a measly $1000, plus some lab time. Clearly, the managers of DFO don’t want anybody to know what happens to lobster raised near open-net fish farms.

He also said we’ve probably all heard the propaganda coming from the fish feedlot industry – that fish farms are actually good for the lobster industry…that catches have been up in New Brunswick. Well, catches are up, but not around fish farms. In fact, they have fallen, and fishermen have been forced to go further off shore to bring in the catch. In some places, the fish farm density is so great that you can’t set traps, and it is impossible to carry on other traditional fisheries, such as scalloping. Catches may also be up because fishermen are better at fishing lobster; there are more lobster to be caught because there are fewer predators, etc, etc. For Cooke’s to claim catches are up because of fish farms is at best an admission that they don’t understand marine ecosystems.

Some other points that Cooke’s like to make that were debunked:

  • “It will bring jobs”. Well, where are they? And what is the real cost? And how many jobs that already exist are being displaced by the low-income jobs of feeding caged salmon?
  • “Pesticides are medicine”. Pesticides are chemicals that kill, and that includes killing lobster.
  • “We are heavily regulated”. Actually, Cooke’s told a New England newspaper it wants to expand into Nova Scotia because this Province has so few regulations, compared to Maine.
  • “Aquaculture will feed the world”. Salmon farms feed the-well-to do. When was the last time you heard of farmed salmon being shipped to the starving people of the sub-Sahara? It hasn’t happened, because there isn’t a 52 per cent return on investment for open-net salmon farms by feeding the poor.

It was an interesting evening. Makes me understand what that Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Nova Scotia movement is all about.

Originally published in Passages, St. Mary’s Bay, Nova Scotia