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$140 million to Cooke, Gray, others in recent years
Some community and conservation groups say they are alarmed at the significant public dollars that have been spent on subsidizing poor fish farming practices in Atlantic Canada.

In the last two decades, according to public records, almost $140 million taxpayer dollars have been spent on “compensating” open-net pen fish farms in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland for fish infected with ISA or infectious salmon anemia.

One of the major incidences occured in Shelburne Harbour in 2012 at a Cooke Aquaculture site near McNutt’s Island. The government-mandated slaughter of up to one million salmon resulted in a pay-out to multi-national aquaculture giant Cooke. That firm has annual revenues exceeding $500 million.

Failed industry model

“Our government has been handing over millions of dollars of our taxpayer’s money to “compensate” these companies for entirely predictable disease outbreaks which are endemic to their industry model. We can’t help but imagine what coastal communities could have achieved had this money been invested instead in sustainable industries that do not threaten our wild fisheries or environment,” says Raymond Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre in a release Wednesday.

The compensation is now provided to the aquaculture industry by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. In early 2013, for the first time in Canada’s history, the CFIA no longer required destruction of the infected fish and allowed fish to be grown out and sold without any labeling indicating that the fish were diseased. The sale of diseased fish at Sobeys, Loblaws and other Canadian and US food stores has raised the concerns of activist groups across Canada. drawn the ire of 

“This is completely irresponsible,” says Fundy Baykeeper Matthew Abbott. “We have no idea of the impacts on wild fish species, and it sends a complicated message. On one hand many millions have been spent to pay for fish eradication and compensation and then suddenly it is just fine to have these fish in the water and to sell them to unsuspecting consumers.”

ISA returns to Chile, Norway
The regularity with which ISA infects fish in Nova Scotia, Newfoundladn and New Brunswick is mirrored everywhere industrial fish farms are allowed and promoted by local governments. Just this week, the Chilean and Norwegian governments announced that ISA infections have returned to stocks there. In 2007, the massive Chilean salmon industry came close to collapsing overnight, with the loss of millions of fish and more than 20,000 jobs. Cooke Aquaculture also has large farms in Chile and is pursuing an agressive expansion strategy there.

Time for review
A full review of the public funding both to research and development, subsidization of businesses and bail outs from poor farming practices is requested. A recent report from the Auditor General of Nova Scotia questioned the investment of the Nova Scotia government in Cooke Aquaculture as there was little accountability for the 25 million dollars and no conditions ensuring that the funds be used to benefit Nova Scotians. 

“With few conditions placed on the use of public funds, there is little incentive for the salmon feedlot industry to improve their poor practices,” says Scott Nightingale, acting president of the Salmonind Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. “This is simply unacceptable to Canadian taxpayers. Continuing to support the open net pen salmon feedlot industry through these subsidies is also counter-productive to the restoration of wild salmon populations.”

Direct compensation funds to R&D
“If the government wishes to invest in salmon aquaculture on behalf of Canadian taxpayers, then it should re-direct these so-called “compensation” millions towards research and development of closed-containment systems which would effectively eliminate the many problems associated with the deeply flawed open net pen model.”

The Nova Scotia government is currently hosting an arm’s length regulatory review that is expected to be completed in December 2014.