, , ,

Cooke Aquaculture farm capacity could reach 1 million fish

Opposition grows as public comment deadline approaches

The Nova Scotia government appears to be ready to approve a 20-year lease for a 50-acre fish farm in Shelburne’s inner harbour, provoking great concern among local citizens and others.

New Brunswick-based multinational Cooke Aquaculture subsidiary Kelly Cove has made an application to renew a lease and license allowing them to install an industrial-sized salmon fam on a site which DFO has previously questioned as suitable for fish farming. The site sits adjacent to a “dead zone” on the harbour bottom, a result of tons of waste from a previous salmon farm fouling the bottom.

Citizens have until August 19 to voice any concerns they might have with the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. One local resident wrote to the government calling the public comment process “restrictive and challenging for the average person,” and wondered if the process was made difficult “to intimidate people so that they can’t provide their input.”

Although the “public input” web page shows a map of the proposed salmon farm, there is no record of the application from Cooke/Kelly Cove.  

The current government has stated that they intend to follow the recommendations of the Doelle-Lahey Report, which concluded “that the aquaculture industry in Nova Scotia, particularly marine-based salmon farming, has a social licence problem.” The Report discussed the need for transparency in regulation and stated that the government “must take the concerns of those who live in coastal communities seriously and at face value,” something that critics says is not the case.

New Brunswick marine biologist Inka Milewski has conducted several studies of the marine environment under fish farm cages in Shelburne Harbour and has reported that open pen net farming results in the destruction of 90% of “benthic” life under tha cages and significant damage to surrounding bottom.

The proposed site has the capacity to host more than one million fish, who would deposit fece waste on the bottom equivilant to that produced by more humans than the population of the entire Town of Shelburne.

The public consultation process for the lease application has been deemed extremely flawed by some critics, who say that it does not come close to the “social license” provisions of the 2015 Doelle-Lahey Report, which has been adopted in part by the Liberal government. 

That said, dozens of concerns about the 50-acre site have been registered with the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, including:

  • The harbour has limited current-flows.
  • Years ago, Environment Canada classified the inner section of this harbour as closed to harvesting shellfish
  • Previous aquaculture sites in this inner harbour turned out to be an environmental failure.
  • Aquaculture operation in Shelburne’s inner harbour is so poor that it has created dead zones on the sea floor as fish wastes and uneaten feed have piled up on the harbour floor; fish wastes in the water column have spread outwards past the cages, causing harbour waters to bloom with nuisance algae and boulders in the harbour
  • License approval would not address “the significant and unacceptable negative environmental and social problems with open net pen fish farming” cited in Doelle-Lahey and does not meet the social license provision of Doelle-Lahey, i.e., providing “a net benefit to Nova Scotia coastal communities- a consistent foundational element of the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (EGSPA), and the recent One Nova Scotia Commission’s “Now or Never” ‘Ivany’ report.”

Other issues forwarded to NSDFA include:

  • the sub-lethal effects that pesticides like Salmosan® may have on lobster have not been fully studied. It is known that lobster can die hundreds of meters from where Salmosan® is used but what is the effect farther away, on lobster that don’t quite die?
  • antibiotics are added to the feed and then sprayed into the ocean. Who in their right mind thinks this is environmentally sound? Seagulls eat it, some of it gets outside of the cages and wild fish eat it, perhaps even lobster are eating antibiotics and are going to market in that condition.
  • antibiotics are prescribed to be taken consistently until the bacteria is eliminated. The salmon, the wild fish and the lobster that do not get the full dose are prime locations for the development of resistant bacteria. This is reckless and may have human health consequences.

Some residents have complained to the NSDFA that industrial fish farms diminsh property values in adjacent properties. Reasons offered include:

  • chewed up bits of dead salmon being washed ashore along with grease that covers everything when a mass mortality takes place. 
  • there is no proper plan for a clean, environmentally sound disposal of mass mortalities at these sites. 
  • invasion of privacy that could destroy the quality of your home-life.
  • natural view of the water and coastline being shattered by the cages
  • sound of the work boats and barges operating all day everyday.
  • noise of the feed barge engines running 24hrs a day
  • noise from the generator that runs 24hrs a day all winter
  • noise from their feed blowers and the high pressure net cleaners
  • screeching of hundreds of seagulls as they go after the fish feed as it is blown into the air or when it lands in the water outside of the cages
  • the smell of the diesel engines from the boats, barges and generator
  • the elevated stench of an unnatural number of fish being held in one place for years on end eliminating feces that is not marine friendly because of the foreign food they are being fed.

Complaints were also lodged about resources wasted due poor husbandry practices:

  • Port Wade (2012) over 100,000 smolts died in their first few weeks in theocean
  • Newfoundland (2013) up to half a million salmon destroyed due to Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA)
  • Shelburne Harbour (2012) up to one million salmon destroyed due to ISA
  • St Mary’s Bay (2012) Suspected that up to 500,000 salmon died or were lost in February
  • Nova Scotia (winters 2014 and 2015) tens of thousands of salmon died from superchill

Cooke Aquaculture salmon farms in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Chile have regularly been visited by contagions of sea lice and ISA, resulting on compensation to Cooke from the federal government in recent years of $30-50 million. 

Cooke Aquaculture has been criticized also for their lack of good “corporate citizenship.” Just months ago, Cooke announced that it no longer had any intention of constructing a salmon processing plant in Shelburne, a key element in a $25 million loan package from the Nova Scotia government. At the funding announcement, Cooke promised 350+ full-time, well-paying jobs in Shelburne, which have now suddenly evaporated.

In 2012, Glenn Cooke and two senior Cooke Aquaculture executives pleaded guilty to federal charges from the Department of Environment for illegally dumping dozens of litres of deadly Cypermethrin pesticide in the Bay of Fundy, resulting in the deaths of thousands of lobsters in the area.

One often-criticized element of the aquaculture licensing scheme in Nova Scotia is that the only income received by the government of Nova Scotia from a 50-acre site are minimal “leasing fees”, but the potential profits of – cited by DFO as 52% of investment – are staggering. The Shelburne Harbour site could produce $75 million or more net income for Cooke over the life of the lease, with all tax benfits going to New Brunswick from the billion-dollar fisheries giant.   

Citizens have until August 19 to voice any concerns they might have with the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture