Chronicle Herald’s love letter to Cooke Aquaculture

OPINION

By Scott Costen

The Chronicle Herald continues to make a strong case for the importance of independent, local media.

In a business story that reads like a paid advertorial, the flagship newspaper of the SaltWire Network whitewashes both industrial fish farming and one of its main practitioners, Cooke Aquaculture.

The article, “Cooke Aquaculture looking to expand sea farming in Liverpool Bay,” was published online last night and appears in the business section of today’s Herald. It was written by Kathy Johnson, whose email address links her to the Tri-County Vanguard, a SaltWire property via the company’s April 2017 acquisition of Transcontinental (TC) Media’s Atlantic Canadian titles.

(SaltWire has since killed off some of these former TC titles, including Liverpool’s Queens County Advance. Some of the other papers acquired in the deal have been amalgamated or have seen their publication frequencies reduced.)

Incredibly, in today’s Herald story, one of Cooke’s key messages is parroted before its spokesman has even delivered it.

Take a look at the lead paragraph:

“Cooke Aquaculture Inc. is looking to expand its sea farming operations in Liverpool Bay as part of the company’s long-term vision and commitment to reinvesting in Atlantic Canada.”

Now read the first sentence in the fifth paragraph, which quotes Joel Richardson, Cooke’s vice-president of public relations:

“’The Liverpool option for sea farming site growth is one part of the Cooke family’s long-term vision and commitment to reinvesting in Atlantic Canada,’ said Richardson.”

Talk about PR gold.

The Herald pumps Cooke Aquaculture’s tires throughout the piece, including this fawning, cut-and-paste closing paragraph:

“Richardson said Cooke’s loyalty to employees helped the company earn a spot again this year on the list of Canada’s Best Managed Companies for more than seven straight years. Cooke has also earned the #1 spot on the 2018 list of Top 10 North American Seafood Suppliers. Cooke ships fresh, sustainable True North Seafood branded products across Canada and to 64 other countries.”

While the Herald included all of Cooke Aquaculture’s greatest hits in its love letter to the seafood giant, several key elements of a proper story are ignored. For example:

  • Two Cooke Aquaculture executives delivered a presentation to Region of Queens Municipality council Oct. 23 about the company’s plans for Liverpool Bay. (Four reporters, including myself, attended the meeting. No one from SaltWire was there.) Councillors raised a number of legitimate concerns about the company’s plans. Their most penetrating questions were answered obliquely, if at all.
  • Kelly Cove Salmon, the Cooke subsidiary that operates the Liverpool Bay fish farm, has a well-documented record of Fisheries Act violations. In 2013 it was ordered to pay $500,000 in fines — “one of the largest and most significant penalties ever levied” — for using an prohibited agricultural pesticide that is toxic to crustaceans. The company used the pesticide to address a sea lice infestation on a New Brunswick salmon farm “knowing it was illegal to do so.”
  • An 11-year study published in July suggests lobster hauls in Port Mouton, Queens County, have dropped significantly due to the presence of a fish farm that was once owned by Cooke Aquaculture. A local advocacy group, Friends of Port Mouton Bay, has opposed fish farming in the area for years.
  • The existing Liverpool Bay fish farm is a stone’s throw away from historic Coffin Island and in close proximity to a beautiful, RQM-owned beach in Beach Meadows.

The Herald clearly takes Cooke’s side of the story hook, line and sinker. Richardson and his bosses must be ecstatic.

At the same time, Queens County residents, fishermen and municipal officials are rendered voiceless. Scientists, marine biologists and environmentalists go unheeded. And readers expecting quality journalism from the Herald are left wanting.

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