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February 14, 2013 – 11:25 — SCT and news sources

Bays and harbours in Nova Scotia are “simply overwhelmed” by tons of waste released from fish farms, according to Nova Scotia Environmental Monitoring Program for Finfish Aquaculture – 2013, a report released Thursday by marine biologist Inka Milewski, under the auspices of the Atlantic Coalition for Aquacutlure Reform.

According to a news release from ACAR, seven years after the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (NS DFA) issued their first and only report on environmental monitoring at aquaculture sites in the province, an updated report indicates that open pen finfish farms are having a negative impact on the environment.

ACAR is comprised of community, conservation, fishing and environmental groups from the four Atlantic Provinces concerned with the environmental and social impacts of open pen salmon aquaculture and interested in finding responsible alternatives to the current industrial aquaculture practices.

According to the new report, there was a significant increase in the number of finfish monitoring stations exceeding provincial monitoring guidelines compared to the 2006 NS DFA Environmental Monitoring Program (EMP). Overall environmental quality at open pen finfish sites had decreased since the 2003-2005 period covered by the 2006 report.

The access to relevant and reliable science data regarding the potential effects of aquaculture on the marine habitat has been one of great contention over the past two years, with Aquacutlure minister Sterling Belliveau refusing to release science data he says his department possesses and premier Darrell Dexter telling SCT to look on the government website for Norway. Belliveau’s staff says they are “checking into” a request by SCT for any finfish monitoring reports from 2007-2012.

Milewski’s updated report prepared for ACAR, is based on environmental monitoring data obtained from NS DFA and covers the period between 2006 and 2011.

“The results indicate that Nova Scotia’s shallow bays and harbours are simply overwhelmed by the large volume of waste released from fish farms and there is inadequate flushing to disperse the waste,” said Inka Milewski, a marine biologist who prepared the report for the Coalition.

“It should come as no surprise to anyone that fish farms in Nova Scotia are reporting diseased fish. Poor environmental quality at open pen sites not only impacts marine life in the area, it impacts the health of fish grown on the farms,” said Milewski.

Government says exponential growth in polluted sites

One chart in Milewski’s report shows the incidence of “grossly polluted” fish farm sampling stations in Nova Scotia grew from one in years 2003-2005 to 31 in years 2006-2011 and the incidence of “polluted” sampling stations grew from 11 to 76.

ACAR members are once again asking that a moratorium be placed on any new aquaculture applications and that production on all approved, but not yet stocked, sites be suspended until the province reviews its existing aquaculture development strategy and a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is conducted on open pen finfish aquaculture. The Coalition made a similar request in a letter to Premier Dexter last year.

“This report supports the need to move the industry from open pen to land based operations where fish wastes can be treated” said Lewis Hinks of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.“We cannot continue to use our coastal waters as sewage dumping grounds.”

In the 2006 EMP report, NS DFA committed to using the data collected in the 2006 report to assess risks associated within the province’s aquaculture industry, but no assessment has been done.

“Good public policy is based on good data and science,” said Susanna Fuller with the Ecology Action Centre. “Since the province is in the process of developing a new regulatory framework for aquaculture, NS DFA’s past failure to monitor or to enforce the EMP should be key to determining what is needed for proper regulations.”

Milewski told SCT that, should the province desire to have accurate data of the effects of finfish aquaculture from fish farm sites from throughout the province, it would be quite possible. “All they would have to do,” she said, “would be to commit to funding a study.”

Read the letter from ACAR to premier Darrell Dexter

Download NS DFA 2006 EMP report