Fish farm expansion a threat, not an opportunity

OPINION

By Scott Costen

Ten local jobs.

That’s the direct economic benefit of the fish farm located in Liverpool Bay.

Four hundred thousand salmon, hatched offsite, then introduced to our waters and penned in 14 different artificial enclosures, where they consume factory-produced feed.

That’s the environmental reality of the four-hectare operation.

If you want to know who’s winning in this equation, look no further than Cooke Aquaculture’s presentation to Region of Queens Municipality (RQM) council yesterday. The company announced plans to expand its current location in Liverpool Bay and add some new ones. The aquaculture business must be pretty lucrative.

Company officials told council that Kelly Cove Salmon Inc., the Cooke Aquaculture subsidiary that operates the Liverpool fish farm, wants to expand to provide the masses with a healthy, protein-rich diet. It’s as if the profit motive doesn’t even exist.

“We need to find a way to feed a growing population,” vice-president of global marketing Andrew Lively told council. “Aquaculture is by far the most efficient way to produce a healthy protein.”

“The Cooke Family of Companies,” as the seafood giant bills its international operations, certainly gets full marks for efficiency.

It has its own processing plants, feed production facility and net-making and repair site. Many of these are right here in Atlantic Canada. Cooke even has its own trucking company, Shoreland Transport, to get seafood from the Maritimes to markets in the United States and central Canada. “Our advantage over everybody else in the world is the freshness of our product,” said Lively. “We can get product to market faster and fresher than anybody else.”

In addition to all these corporate advantages, Cooke even has Martha Stewart in its corner.

“You’ve got to have the odd celebrity on your side,” Lively told council. “Martha Stewart and I have been out to a few sites. She eats our product and she actually sells our product. She serves it to her guests at her birthday, when she has her birthday in May, so she’s been a very good supporter of ours.”

Yes, folks, Cooke has a lot on its side.

What it doesn’t have is undisputed science behind fish farming, a clean environmental track record, or a compelling sales pitch for Queens County.

While there are some studies (many of them industry-sponsored) that consider fish farming to be relatively benign, there are others that say it’s a threat to other marine life. A recent study concerning the Port Mouton fish farm is a case in point. It suggested aquaculture there has had a significant and ongoing negative effect on the local lobster industry. I spoke to several lobster fishermen directly and they said the study’s findings were consistent with their own experiences.

That’s just one study, in one location, of one inhabitant of the ocean. What are the impacts on all the other forms of sea life? What effect do fish farms have on the pristine shorelines we hold so dear in Queens County? The truth is, we simply don’t know. There hasn’t been nearly enough research to allay the varied concerns aquaculture presents.

One concern that has been well-documented is Kelly Cove Salmon’s environmental track record. While it appears the company has committed itself to greener technologies in recent years, there is no ignoring corporate transgressions of the past. The most notable of these saw Kelly Cove fined $500,000 by a New Brunswick court in 2013 for a number of Fisheries Act violations, including the application of an agricultural pesticide that was not permitted for marine use and was known to be toxic to crustaceans.

Finally, there is the question of how Queens would benefit from having more fish farmed off its shores. Based on the Cooke Aquaculture presentation to RQM council, the answer appears to be “not much.” Indeed, there was no promise any land-based facilities would be built. And there was no indication of how many new local jobs might be created, although more than 10 would seem optimistic.

Ultimately, there was no real sales pitch of any kind. It was all corporate sizzle and no (salmon) steak.

You see, Cooke doesn’t need RQM council’s permission to expand the Liverpool fish farm. That decision rests solely with the provincial government. And, according to its own website, the province hasn’t rejected an aquaculture application since 2015.

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