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salmon cages on Jan. 04, 2014 Port Wade, NS, shrouded in ice

New Brunswick multi-national has troubling record on fish health

Thousands of fish at three Cooke Aquaculture industrial fish farms have died and a so-called super chill is suspected, the provincial government said Tuesday.

Fishermen and other observers near Cooke Aquaculture’s sites in the Annapolis Basin, Shelburne Harbour and Jordan Bay have been reporting to SCT substantial mortalities at those industrial salmon farms for more than one week and provincial officials confirmed the reports in a news release Tuesday.

A fish health veterinarian visited the Annapolis Basin and Shelburne Harbour sites and is expected to visit the Jordan Bay site in the next few days to investigate the cause of death, Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell said in a statement.

“Our provincial fish health veterinarians investigate mortality events to rule out diseases of concern,” he said.

Ice damage collapses fish cages

Ice damage collapses fish cages

The department said a preliminary investigation has found a super chill happened, meaning sustained cold temperatures dropped the temperature of the water to the level that fish blood freezes — around –0.7 C.

Tides in late February and early March also tend to be high, the department said, contributing to to lowering temperatures in sea cages by flooding more shallow areas than usual. Low air temperatures cool the water and receding tides flush the cages with super chilled water.

The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture said super chills happen every five to seven years and the deaths do not pose a risk to the environment.

Troubled history

Cooke Aquaculture has had a troubled history in the past decade relating to fish health and government and community relations. After informing the current government recently that the firm was reneging on its commitment – based on a $25 million loan and grant program from the former NDP government – to build a salmon processing plant in Shelburne in 2015, Cooke was told by premier Stephen McNeil to honour the agreement or return the $9 million paid to date. McNeil said in January, “We expect the company to fulfill the terms and conditions in the original agreement.” A government spokesperson told SCT in August that Cooke had already received $18 million of the $25 million committed by the Dexter NDP in 2012.

Three years or more behind schedule
Cooke Aquaculture officials are saying now that they cannot built the processing plant before 2018 and are placing the blame on a temporary moratorium on new salmon farm leases. They now claim that they need three million fish in the water before committing to the terms of the 2012 agreement.

Cooke says lack of Shelburne work force now to blame for no fish plant
In a Chronicle Herald story this week (Cooke Aquacutlure conundrum splits Shelburne), Cooke PR flack Nell Halse said Cooke’s revised plans for Shelburne had to do with “the available labour market” in the area. “After all of the bulls- – – about 400 jobs here in the past three years, and tearing us apart neighbor against neighbor, that’s just like blaming the victim of a crime,” said one former Cooke supporter. “If they don’t give the money back, they should go to jail.”

In the same paragraph in the Herald story, Halse intimates that, because of the increased automation of Cooke’s operations, fewer workers would be needed.

History of diseased fishodes of ISA infection and sea lice contagion in their stock, including a major episode in Shelburne in 2013, resulting in the slaughter of close to one million salmon and similar episodes in Newfoundland fish pens. Cooke has experienced ISA and sea lice outbreaks in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. They were recently ordered by the Chilean government to slaughter hundreds of thousands of diseased fish in Cooke subsidiary open net pen cages in that country.

A Cooke employee said at that time that he thought the ISA outbreak in Shelburne resulted from diseased fish being introduced from the hatchery.

Three Cooke execs now felons
Three senior Cooke executives pleaded guilty in 2013 to federal charges for illegally dumping poisonous insecticide into waters near salmon pens to cure a massive sea lice infestation.

The Aquaculture Regulation Review Report recommends that the moratorium remain in place until new regulations are in place. No timeline has been set for government action on the new regulations.

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