A salmon fish farm at Rattling Beach operated by Cooke Aquaculture. Photo: Cooke Aquaculture

A group of community organizations opposed to open-net finfish farms in Nova Scotia have pooled their resources and formed a new organization they say will amplify their voice.

In a media release Monday, the newly created Healthy Bays Network (HBN) said Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture regulations have been written for industry, and the voices of Nova Scotians that need to be heard “are about to get a whole lot louder.”

The HBN is voicing its opposition to Nova Scotia’s Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture granting New Brunswick-based seafood company Cooke Aquaculture subsidiary Kelly Cove Salmon Limited a new long-term (20-year) lease and a 10-year operating licence for its existing salmon farm site in Liverpool Bay. These are standard leasing and licensing terms under the province’s existing aquaculture regulations. 

As CBC reported last month, Cooke is seeking provincial government approval to expand its 14 current pens in Liverpool Bay by an additional 46 pens, increasing capacity to 1.8 million salmon. 

The HBN is also concerned by Cooke’s plans to significantly expand the Bayswater operation on St. Margarets Bay. 

On April 9, following a months-long campaign that included community meetings, lawn signs, rallies, and municipal and political endorsements, finfish farm opponents in several Nova Scotia communities celebrated multinational aquaculture corporation Cermaq’s abandonment of its plans to put hundreds of open net pens in the province’s waters. 

“For a few hours, it seemed like Nova Scotia might join BC and other jurisdictions worldwide by getting the net pens out of the water. Then New Brunswick seafood giant, ​the $2.5B ‘family-owned corporation’ Cooke Aquaculture, announced its plan to fill the gap,” notes the HBN media release, adding their fight was “clearly not over.”

The groups opposed to open net pens that are now part of the new network include the St. Mary’s Bay Protectors, Protect Liverpool Bay, the Twin Bays Coalition representing Mahone and St. Margaret’s Bays, and the Association for the Preservation of the Eastern Shore. The alliance is also supported by the Ecology Action Centre, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, and the Nova Scotia Salmon Association.

“We continue to be opposed to open net pen technology being used in our bays because there’s a wealth of problems with it,” Geoff Le Boutillier of the Twin Bays Coalition said in an interview Wednesday.

He said while land-based, closed-containment, zero-emission fish farms filter waste products to use as fertilizer and are chemical-free, by contrast ocean-based farming is unsustainable.

“It’s very profitable because nature itself cleans all that stuff away, the fish poop. They put chemicals in the open net pens which drift through the nets, passing fish and all kinds of marine-based wildlife passes through or around the nets and they are affected by it,” Le Boutillier said. 

“And the poop itself is carried away on currents, sometimes many, many kilometers away. So the footprint of those net pens is huge and not just the lease itself.”

In an April 30 media release posted to its website, Cooke Aquaculture expressed its gratitude for the province’s decision to approve the renewal of Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd.’s marine aquaculture licence and lease in Liverpool Bay. 

“Earlier this year, NSDFA (Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture) approved the renewal of two other existing Kelly Cove Salmon farm sites located at Hartz Point in Shelburne, and Brier Island in St. Mary’s Bay, Digby County,” the release noted.

The company also highlighted that the renewal procedure included a performance review “based on the technical and biological assessment of the farm and a public comment period,” adding that the province concluded claims being made about impacts to the local tourism industry and lobster populations were unproven.

“We are pleased that the Coffin Island site lease in Liverpool Bay has been renewed by government regulators which recognizes our strong environmental performance and best management practices,” Cooke Aquaculture spokesperson Joel Richardson said in the release. “These approvals confirm that the claims individuals are spreading are fiction.”

The newly formed HBN alliance said it plans to not only organize impacted communities, but has a mandate to alert Nova Scotians to “the effects of open net pens, the shortcomings of our regulatory regime, and present realizable options for sustainable aquaculture.”

“We’ve seen that it’s possible to awaken people, urban Nova Scotians, to the importance of a Pictou pulp mill. If we can do that, we can do this,” Le Boutillier said.

He believes the newly formed alliance will benefit their cause because of the wealth of expertise and access to resources ranging from legal advice to “political smarts.”

“By pulling them all together you end up having all the requisite disciplines and you can plan strategy,” Le Boutillier said.

“I think this whole COVID-19 era is an opportunity for us to really look at the things that we value and when we come out of this, as we come out of this, look at greening our economy and look at making a transition to more responsible management of our resources from what we were doing pre-COVID-19.”

Regardless of where we live in the province, he believes we need to recognize the fact that our ocean is a shared public resource and “we don’t want to screw it up.” In this era of climate change that’s shifting the way we think about fossil fuels, he said we should also be thinking about vigorously protecting the health of our oceans and coasts.

“It’s really hard to make the case to Halifax because nobody’s putting fish farms to my knowledge in Bedford Basin. So people say, ‘Well, that’s a rural issue.’ But the economy of the province itself does rely hugely on tourism and our seafood industry, these are backbone industries,” Le Boutillier said.

“If we don’t protect those resources, if we endanger them, then that’s a really stupid move. It’s stupid for the people of Halifax and it’s stupid for the people of Pubnico. And so we need to take an enlightened approach.”

Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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  1. The rest of the world is moving to land based fish farms. Typical backward back room deals from Nova Scotia politicians.