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Cooke Aquaculture executive Nell Halse with salmon pesticide

HEAT IS ON

Cooke Aquaculture appears to be turning on the heat in its bid to have its Kelly Cove subsidiary put two industrial-sized salmon farms in Jordan Bay near Shelburne, NS, despite warnings from local lobster fishermen and others that it could damage or destroy a valuable lobster nursery in the Bay.

“We’re dealing with biological timelines,” Cooke spokeswoman Nell Halse told Chronicle Herald reporter Bruce Erskine Tuesday. Federal fisheries, transportation and environmental departments are reviewing the proposal currently as part of what is referred to as an environmental screening.  Many citizens and fishermen have submitted documents to federal and provincial authorities recommending a halt to any further fish farm approvals until serious science issues can be resolved. A recommendation will be made from federal authorities to the province, which will decide if the development proceeds.

FUTURE OF THE COASTLINE
"When the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture makes his decision regarding the lease applications for salmon farms in Jordan Bay it will be a decision made without consulting the fishermen who live and work in our community," Marilyn Moore of Mayday Shelburne County told SCT.  "It will also be a decision made without responding to any questions regarding the potential impacts of pollution and pesticides on our lobster fishery and our economy." Sindy Horncastle of Mayday Shelburne County lives on Jordan Bay and has spent hundreds of hours researching the possible effects of the industrial farms on the area, including meetings and discussions with most of the fishermen in the area.  "An approval of these farms will be a decision made with the knowledge that Jordan Bay is a shallow bay with low tides and with currents that flow inland and is a recognized lobster nursery," Horncastle said. "In other words, this decision will set a precedence for the future of the coastline of Nova Scotia."

Halse told Erskine that getting approval in late January or early February would allow fish to be put in the open-pen farms by April or May.

A similar screening process occurred last summer, when fishermen and citizens in St. Marys Bay near Digby overwhelmingly protested the placement of another two large farms in another crucial lobster habitat. The province approved the farms despite widespread opposition from local groups and fishermen. Those farms were stocked in July, later than the company expected, Halse said. Just prior to that, the province also approved a major expansion of large farms in Shelburne Harbour, again despite lengthy and elaborate submissions regarding the dangers of fecal waste to the surrounding habitat as a result of inadequate water flow surrounding the cages.

Both the St. Mary’s Bay and Shelburne approvals by provincial aquaculture and fisheries minister Sterling Belliveau are currently being challenged in court on the basis that Belliveau did not perform adequate due diligence in approving the sites. The Shelburne case was heard in Halifax in mid December and is likely to see an opinion by mid-February. The St. Mary’s Bay case also includes a constitutional challenge and has court hearings scheduled for March.   

NO SCIENCE ON HAND
Sterling Belliveau has repeatedly told fishermen and concerned citizens that he had valid scientific evidence on hand assuring him that harm would not be caused by the multi-acre, open net pens used to grow Atlantic salmon in batches of 300,000 to 1,000,000 per site. In a recent response from two Jordan Bay lobster fishermen for copies of the data for their region, Belliveau’s staff said there would be a minimum charge for the information of thousands of dollars. In response to a formal freedom of information request in 2010 for science data relating to risks to lobster habitat, Belliveau’s staff admitted that they did not possess one sheet of scientific data. Belliveau’s staff said that such data is held by the federal departments of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada, that they had never been allowed to view the data, but that they believed that it showed a lack of risk to lobster habitat.

KILLING FIELDS

One of the concerns which has consistently arisen regarding the placement of industrial salmon farms on or near sensitive marine habitats is the use of a variety of pesticides to combat the prevalence of sea lice which sooner or later affects most salmon farm populations. There have been sea lice outbreaks in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Norway, Scotland and Chile. The sea lice war is fought with in-feed chemicals, hydrogen peroxide baths and pesticide dousing. Recently, Cooke aquaculture and its executives have been charged with 33 federal counts of dispersing a banned lethal pesticide near lobster pounds in the Bay of Fundy resulting in the death of thousands of lobsters. The serious charges could result in years in prison and/or millions of dollars in fines.

That case has been adjourned until March 15 at the request of company lawyers who want more time to examine all of the evidence, much of it technical. "The legal issues against the open net pen salmon farming industry are not limited to New Brunswick, as additional Nova Scotia large open net pen expansions are currently facing legal challenges as well as environmental issues and social upheaval," says Rob Johnson, sustainable seafood and aquaculture coordinator for the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre. "Whether these industrial fish farms are in the interest of Nova Scotia coastal communities has certainly been called into question, and expansions should not proceed until the inadequacies in the regulatory framework and community consultation process has been addressed."

Halse told the Herald the New Brunswick legal matters don’t affect Cooke’s business plans in Nova Scotia, which include the development of a hatchery in Digby, a processing plant in Shelburne and the expansion of a feed mill in Truro. It is believed that Cooke has applied for a $35 million package from the Nova Scotia government to assist in the expansion and Halse told a tourism group in June that Cooke had secured government financing and it was just a matter of "sorting out some details".

CRITICAL MASS
The "critical mass" of salmon needed to justify an expansion which Cooke says would include 350-450 new, year-round, full-time jobs in the region is estimated at nine million fish. This would necessitate the placement of large farms in many of the bays and harbours in the region.  The expansion would more than quadruple the current finfish aquaculture jobs in the province.    

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