By Scott Costen
More than 100 opponents of fish farm expansion in Liverpool rallied at Fort Point Lighthouse Park today.
Organized by Protect Liverpool Bay, the noon-hour protest featured a live band, which led attendees in the singing of an anti-aquaculture song. Many people carried handmade signs and several spoke to the audience by microphone, encouraging others to register their opposition to ocean-based fish farms with provincial officials.
Cooke Aquaculture, through its subsidiary Kelly Cove Salmon, obtained a six-month option to lease from Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Sept. 7. This allows the company to explore potential locations for additional salmon pens in Liverpool Bay.
The company’s existing operation in Liverpool Bay is located near the seaside community of Beach Meadows. Cooke officials recently said the four-hectare site contains some 400,000 salmon held in 14 different open-water cages.
The Fort Point rally was attended by people from across South Queens. “I’m so happy to see the turnout and I know it’s only going to gather momentum,” said Beach Meadows resident Anne Laws, one of the event’s organizers. A smaller group of opponents drove to Halifax to protest outside the provincial legislature, she said.
Richard Clattenburg, a Western Head resident who fishes out of Moose Harbour, said fish farms represent a threat to his livelihood. “Being a lobster fisherman, we notice it in the lobsters,” he said, noting he’s observed a decrease in local lobster sizes and an increase in deformed specimens. “We want to protect our fisheries and protect our oceans.”
Port Medway resident Dan Sinclair, one of many attendees wielding signs, said he has no problem with land-based aquaculture. But he referred to Cook Aquaculture’s pitch to the community as “snake oil.” He said the economic case for expansion in Liverpool Bay has not been made and the environmental risks are too great.
Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland was at the Fort Point rally. She went on record as being opposed to increased fish farm activity in Liverpool Bay, citing the potential negative impacts on tourism and traditional fisheries. “I oppose this going in Liverpool Bay,” she said. “I have a job to support my people and my people are against it.”
Masland said she has written the fisheries minister about the situation and will make her voice heard if Cooke proceeds with an application for new sites in Liverpool.
In October, Cooke made presentations about its expansion plans to Region of Queens Municipality (RQM) council and the South Queens Chamber of Commerce. It also held a “community open house” in Liverpool, a requirement under the province’s new regulatory framework for aquaculture licensing.
“We have informed the public that we will be taking the time necessary over the coming months to perform the scoping and community consultations for the sea farming site expansion option in Liverpool Bay that has been granted,” said Joel Richardson, the company’s vice-president of public relations, in an email to the Observer. Local residents are encouraged to submit comments or questions through a corporate website, he said. “All input will be thoroughly reviewed and researched by the company as we consider the expansion.”
Cooke is also considering the formation of a community liaison committee. This would allow residents to “provide ongoing input and learn more about the company’s operations in Liverpool and Nova Scotia,” Richardson said.
In a recent story by CKBW, provincial fisheries minister Keith Colwell expressed confidence in the new aquaculture licensing process, which leaves decisions in the hands of the arms-length Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board. He encouraged residents to submit comments to the board via its website.
The direct economic benefit of hosting additional fish farms is unclear. Cooke officials told RQM council last month the current Liverpool salmon farm provides 10 local jobs. However, it has repeatedly declined to say whether any new jobs would be created if the company’s expansion plans are realized.
This lack of clear financial benefit has helped motivate two former RQM mayors to speak out against expansion. Current RQM mayor David Dagley recently said he and council are undecided on the issue.
Protect Liverpool Bay has raised a number of concerns about fish farming in general and Cooke Aquaculture in particular.
At the Nov. 13 RQM council meeting, members cited a well-documented $500,000 penalty imposed on the company in 2013 for illegally using an agricultural pesticide on a fish farm in New Brunswick. They also pointed to Washington state’s decision earlier this year to eliminate open-pen fish farms following an incident involving Cooke operations. An estimated 263,000 farmed salmon were released into the Pacific Ocean as a result of the incident. Cooke was fined US$332,000.