I am no more of a marine biologist than George Costanza, who famously pretended to be one in an episode of Seinfeld. (“The sea was angry that day, my friends.”) But even I can see that fish farms need to be studied and regulated more closely.
This is particularly true given what we’re learning about the aquaculture site in Port Mouton Bay.
In my latest story for LighthouseNow Progress Bulletin, I report on newly released findings about the fish farm’s impacts on the local lobster fishery. During the course of an 11-year study, market lobster hauls dropped an average of 42 per cent when the aquaculture site was active. Catches of egg-bearing, or “berried” lobster, decreased by an average of 56 per cent.
The province’s head of aquaculture disputed some of the claims made in the study, which appears in a respected scientific journal. He said that legislative changes made in 2015 will help correct some of the potential issues with the site, which has been in place since 1995 but inactive for the past three years. He also said that fish farms and the lobster industry can thrive simultaneously and even side-by-side.
But if you listen to the fishermen who have worked the waters off Port Mouton for decades, you’ll hear a completely different story. You’ll learn the fish farm is a real and present danger, not only to commercial lobster fishing, but to a way of life.
Several fishermen expressed frustration over never knowing who actually owns the Port Mouton aquaculture site. The licensed company is Ocean Trout Farms Inc., but it appears to be an arm of a larger corporate entity called Cold Water Fisheries.
I did some digging, but came up fairly empty. I identified only one shareholder and he’s the CEO of Cold Water Fisheries. The other private shareholders are fish farm phantoms, unknown and unseen. The company will review the study, consult with government and be a responsible steward, the CEO told me. As far as I’m concerned, that and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee.
In addition to Port Mouton, there are two other aquaculture sites in Queens County. There’s one near Coffin Island, not far from Beach Meadows Beach. It is operated by Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd., which appears to be a subsidiary of Cooke Aquaculture.
Kelly Cove Salmon does not exactly have a spotless record when it comes to proper management of fish farms. In fact, five years ago, it was subject to a financial penalty that was “(the) largest ever imposed in New Brunswick for environmental violations under the federal Fisheries Act.”
The third and final aquaculture site in Queens is land-based. It is located in Brooklyn and licensed to Finleaf Technologies Inc., an arm of cannabis producer Aqualitas Inc.
To me, ocean-based fish farms seem unnatural and problematic. In addition to grave environmental concerns, they also present legitimate aesthetic issues. Indeed, why are these things located so close to two of our best and most popular beaches?
There are a lot of unanswered questions about fish farms, not just in Queens, but throughout the Maritimes. And while I don’t know much about marine biology, I do know one thing. When it comes to the waters around us, I’ll trust a local fisherman in jeans and a baseball hat far more than an out-of-town businessman in a suit and tie.