The Halifax Examiner attended all three of Cermaq’s “open houses” on the South Shore, recorded nearly five hours of Q&A, and reports here on some of the key concerns raised by area residents. This is the first of a two-part series.  

Between 2014 and 2017, not long before taking the position of Sustainable Development Director on the east coast for Cermaq Canada, Vickie Savoie was the manager of aquaculture development in the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA), in charge of a highly contentious regulatory review process and one of the architects of the province’s new regulatory framework.

This disturbing revelation, hidden in plain view, came at about the 10-minute mark of a question period held at the standing room only event in Hubbards, where more than 150 gathered at the third stop of Cermaq’s “Hello Nova Scotia” tour on the province’s south shore — a folksy attempt by the global aquaculture giant to “consult” the small, rural, coastal communities that would be affected by its salmon farm expansion plan. The firm is part of Cermaq Global, formerly a Norwegian state-controlled salmon producer purchased by Mitsubishi Corporation in 2014 for $1.4 billion, with operations in Norway, Chile, and British Columbia.

Last year the province granted the company an “option to lease” in a number of areas including two locations in the Chedabucto Bay region near Guysborough, St. Mary’s Bay near Digby Neck, Green Bay to Mahone Bay, and St. Margaret’s Bay. Cermaq is currently in the “scoping phase” of the process, to “collect information” and “share information,” and is required to hold at least one public meeting near the potential site location.

Cermaq’s Option to Lease locations: Chedabucto Bay, St. Mary’s Bay, Mahone Bay, and St. Margaret’s Bay.

Last week, the firm held information sessions in Chester, Blandford, and Hubbards, where it had planned two sessions but ended up cancelling one.

The topic of Savoie’s affiliations was raised at the Hubbard’s meeting when former MLA for Chester-St. Margaret’s, Denise Peterson-Rafuse began to read off the positions that appear on Savoie’s linkedin page — one of them with the Centre for Marine Applied Research (CMAR), a group that Savoie established and promoted, to “focus on areas of research and collaboration and propel [the province’s] aquaculture growth strategy forward.”

In response to Peterson- Rafuse, Savoie said that prior to launching CMAR, she was employed by the province as the manager of aquaculture development, and played a key role during the regulatory review as well as during the drafting phase of the new framework.

I am passionate about aquaculture development in Nova Scotia. I have devoted my career to advancing [it] and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with this company. I chose to work with Cermaq and I chose to work on this project because of my passion for Nova Scotia and this industry that I’ve devoted my career to.

You may recall, that in 2013, in response to a groundswell of public opposition to open net pen fish farms, the governing NDP announced a moratorium on new sites and appointed the Doelle-Lahey Panel to come up with recommendations to make the regulatory system more rigorous. As I reported here, the panel recommended a “fundamental overhaul” of the system, something critics argue never really materialized.

So as Cermaq now considers an expansion to Nova Scotia, it is navigating through the province’s new regulatory framework, one that Savoie herself helped construct in a previous life working for the government.

The question is: When she was managing the “overhaul” of the regulatory system, and considering whether to implement the Doelle-Lahey recommendations, was she motivated by a responsibility to the public and ocean ecosystem health, or was she just shilling for her next pay cheque?

Because if there was anything uniting the three South Shore meetings, it was the deep sense of unease, not only about Cermaq’s checkered history in other places it farms fish, but also about whether the proposed expansion is already a done deal. Were the community meetings just window dressing in a regulatory process designed by industry proponents to ultimately favour the company’s interests above all other considerations?

David Kiemel (left), managing director of Cermaq Canada and Vicki Savoie  (far right), company’s director of sustainable development (east coast) at the Hubbards “open house.” Photo: Linda Pannozzo
David Kiemel (left), managing director of Cermaq Canada and Vicki Savoie  (far right), company’s director of sustainable development (east coast) at the Hubbards “open house.” Photo: Linda Pannozzo

What is Cermaq proposing?

Many who attended the South Shore open houses, including me, were expecting to see maps of the proposed lease boundaries for the sites within Mahone Bay and St. Margaret’s Bay. Cermaq spokesperson Amy Jonsson told me in an email prior to the meetings, “We will be sharing what we have found so far with regards to feasibility at the upcoming community meetings for initial sharing.”

But nothing about site locations or feasibility was on offer at any of the meetings last week. In fact, not much more information was revealed than what had already been available for months.

“You don’t say where in the bay it’ll be, but that’s very critical. Where in the bay are you going to put football fields worth of farms?” asked one resident from the Mahone Bay area.

In response Cermaq’s managing director, David Kiemel described a “theoretical” farm with ten cages arranged in two rows of five, moored to the sea floor. In an email, Jonsson described what we’d be seeing in Nova Scotia as ten “polar circle” pens per farm site. Kiemel didn’t specify a number of fish per farm but said it would depend on fish age and size.

“What normally happens is you start with smaller units and as they grow you split the fish down to the cages you have on a particular site until the fish are carried through to harvest. That’s a standard practice.”

Kiemel continued:

The exact locations of the farms, simply put — even though we are out talking to the community — we don’t know because some of the gentlemen that are here today are part of the team to collaborate and consolidate the information that we need from a biophysical point of view to understand, on top of all the other reasons why or why not a farm should go there related to a lot more than environmental data, to make that decision. So we can’t share where we think the best spot could be because we’re just not there yet in the process. 

Cermaq is proposing a $500 million expansion to develop between 15 and 20 open-pen Atlantic salmon farm sites, four hatcheries and two processing plants. [1]Detail about the breakdown of Cermaq’s proposed $500 million investment was not presented in any detail in Cermaq’s Request for Options to Lease, or at any of the community meetings I attended, … Continue reading To justify a Nova Scotia operation, it says it needs a minimum annual production of 20,000 metric tonnes of fish — an amount that’s roughly equivalent to what the company currently produces in British Columbia. According to provincial and federal data, this expansion would increase the number of salmon farms in this province from eight to 28 and would more than double the current levels of production. [2]According to NSDFA data, total finfish production in NS in 2018 (the most recent year data were available) was 8.2 million kg. Federal data is from National Aquaculture Public Reporting Data.

The company says siting will depend on the local conditions, including tides, ocean floor conditions, current speed, oxygen levels in the water, and storm and ice occurrence, as well as other uses including recreational and commercial fishing. But the first consideration, before all else, is depth. Cermaq requires a minimum depth of 25 metres to accommodate the 23-metre deep cages.

According to Savoie, the company hired Strum Consulting in Bedford to collect the biophysical data required for the farm siting.

Shawn Duncan is a consultant with Strum, and he was at all the open houses. Duncan said he’s involved in collecting the baseline data. “Cermaq has to do the site selection process first, looking at water depth and they’ll provide us with some preliminary locations and then we start moving them around based on some other information we’ve collected.”

Using what’s called an acoustic doppler current profiler, Strum is collecting information on tides, currents, and directions of currents. “We try to do that over a six-month period, it helps us to design the anchoring systems for the cages and understand the movement of water, the flushing, those kinds of things,” Duncan explained.

When it comes to depth, Duncan said they need more than what’s available on a standard hydrographic map. “We’ll be going around doing single-beam bathometric surveys and that will give us very detailed water depths, right down to the centimetre essentially, so we can build a nice profile of the bottom to see how much water we’re dealing with. The other thing we do is run side scan sonar that gives us an image of the bottom so if there’s obstructions, or traps, or shipwrecks, we’ll be able to see that.”

I asked Duncan, assuming the company goes ahead with an application to government, will there be another opportunity between now and July — when the lease options in the two South Shore bays expire — for the communities to see and comment on the exact lease boundaries?

“Cermaq will be back,” he responded. “Once we have sites selected there will be another round of open houses with presentations to say, ‘Here’s what we found, here’s where we think the cages are going to go.’ So the idea is to keep bringing more information back. It’s really early days and it’s really at the conceptual level right now and they have that large option to lease site but within that site they’re just trying to see where it makes the most sense to put those cages in.”

I asked Jonsson the same question about whether there would be another round of public meetings when the exact lease locations are determined, and she was less committal. “Once we have the potential sites determined we will share them,” she said. “We are assessing future community meetings and will share them once we have the dates.”

Blandford “open house” organized by Cermaq Canada as part of the regulatory requirements. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

When it comes to numbers of fish, Kiemel told the Chester audience that Cermaq’s average farm site in BC holds about 550,000 fish in 10 pens, but it wasn’t clear whether he was including fallow sites in the averaging. According to DFO data, in 2018, Cermaq had 28 facilities on the east and west coast of Vancouver Island, and 10 were fallow (no fish stocked).

Information provided by Jonsson indicates farms here will contain 900,000 fish — about 90,000 fish per pen. But Jonsson said Cermaq is planning to have year-long fallow periods and not all the farms situated in a bay would be active at the same time. For instance, in St. Mary’s Bay the company is looking for four farm sites in total, with “the commitment” that only two farms would be in operation at any time. In Chedabucto Bay, it’s looking for six farm sites, and plans to only operate three at any given time.

I asked Jonsson specifically about how many fish could be stocked in each bay at any one time, and she said, “It just depends on — if we were to proceed — how many sites we would have, divide that number by two, and then multiply by 900,000.”

So, if there were six farms sited in St. Margaret’s Bay, for instance, and only three were active at any given time, that would mean there could be as many as 2.7 million fish.

Jonsson also said Cermaq is planning land-based hatcheries to “have the ability to grow our fish out to a larger size than we currently do here in BC.” She said by only having fish out in the water for 12 months, as opposed to BC practice of 18 or 24 months, it will “minimize risk from ice and weather.” She said by transferring the fish at 450 grams (compared to 100 grams in BC) the fish will “better able…to adapt to water temperatures and resist any pathogens which may be in the waters.”

Since everything still seems to be up in the air in terms of number of farm sites, number of fallow sites, and therefore the number of fish, I turned to the Cermaq literature just to get a sense of the physical size of what’s being proposed.

One “typical” Cermaq farm covers a surface area of 40 ha (nearly 100 acres) and has an “impact zone” double that size (80 ha). Therefore, assuming all 20 farms get “sited” and spread evenly over all four bays, the area requirement could look something like this: five farms per bay would translate to a surface area space requirement of 200 ha (500 acres), or the equivalent of 378 football fields in each bay. The impact zone on the ocean floor from five farms would be 400 ha (nearly 1,000 acres), or 758 football fields.

Lobsters and dead zones

Vince Boutilier fishes lobster out of New Harbour on the western side of St. Margaret’s Bay. He was at the Blandford meeting and spoke at length about how Cermaq’s farms might impact the lobster and his livelihood.

“Nobody knows St. Margaret’s Bay and Mahone Bay like the lobster fishermen,” he said, “We’re experts.” Boutilier explained how there were areas in both bays that were juvenile lobster nurseries and that maintaining the health of the benthic habitat — the ocean floor — was crucial for the recruitment of the species.

People don’t understand why we’re so opposed to this: vegetation on the bottom is critical to lobsters. If vegetation dies or ends up with a thick film of feces or unused pellets, there’s going to be no more lobsters there; they’re going to have to go elsewhere. It’s not going to be just the site that the pens are above, it’s going to go over a much broader area. Each individual site is going to be different because of the tide and water flows. Over a period of several years, it’s going to keep on spreading out and expand that dead zone…We count on our bays and inlets to make a living…We’re going to take a hit. You’re going to wound the industry…We don’t know how much we’re going to be wounded, but we’re going to be wounded.

Another overwhelming sentiment at all the meetings was that the number of jobs being promised by Cermaq was not worth the risk posed to the lobster industry. It was a sentiment well founded in facts.

The company says the proposed expansion will create between 250 and 300 direct full time jobs. When spread over the four proposed bays, it would amount to roughly 75 jobs per region.

When you compare the number of jobs related to commercial fishing and processing in Nova Scotia with work related to aquaculture, it’s a no-brainer. According to Statistics Canada, in 2018 there were nearly 13,000 jobs in the fishing industry, 4,800 jobs in processing, and only 240 jobs in aquaculture. [3]Data from Stats Canada, Fishing-Related Employment by Industry and Province, 2016-2018.

At the meeting Savoie conceded: “I completely agree, when you look at other activities or industries, it’s our foundational piece before we would ever apply anywhere [that] we would not detract in an area. It’s not a trade-off between one industry and another, it’s about adding value.”

But the literature on the subject is clear. Fish farms create dead zones, which isn’t good for ocean life, period. It was an issue raised by residents at all of the open houses. In Chester, for instance, an audience member asked about the volume of waste that would “build up under and around the farms, in some cases feet deep,” he said. “The life that exists under these pens is non-existent. I’m curious to understand what your science says about that,” he asked.

In response, Lance Stewardson got up to relay some of his experience with benthic monitoring, something he’s been doing for 14 years in British Columbia. Stewardson was there as part of the Cermaq team and is the co-founder of the BC consulting firm Mainstream Biological Consulting, which does benthic monitoring for aquaculture companies. Stewardson says a “small amount” of feed, as well as feces, scales, and build up on the nets, all ends up on the ocean floor. He says in his experience he’s seen the debris “inches deep” but “never feet deep.”

Yardstick standing upright in waste layer, up to 32-inch mark, Port Mouton Bay. Courtesy Kathy and Dave Brush

Stewardson explained that as organic debris builds up it starts to decompose and it starts using up oxygen, changing the sediment from oxic to hypoxic. “The types of organisms that exist at that oxic-hypoxic interface starts to decrease … As the sediment changes from oxic to hypoxic, the bacteria that start to break down the organic material — the aerobic bacteria no longer can do it because there’s not enough oxygen — so anaerobic bacteria start to do it and they produce free sulfide, and we measure that.”

In other words, the level of free sulfide is used as an indicator of how much biodiversity has been lost. At a certain sulfide limit, which appears to depend on the jurisdiction, the farm site has to cease production, and go fallow. But Stewardson says that as they fallow the sites the biodiversity recovers.

“As that organic debris decomposes, the boundary comes back and those organisms come back. It’s a matter of production planning and how the companies plan in order to keep that level so they can re-enter fish. Companies that don’t change their plan are chronically in a position that they can’t use their farm because it won’t pass benthic monitoring.”

Stewardson says that in BC they are required by federal regulation to measure sulfide levels 30m from the cages and 125m from the cages, but he says in Nova Scotia the regulations, which are provincial, are different.

Lance Stewardson, co-founder of the BC consulting firm Mainstream Biological Consulting, which does benthic monitoring for aquaculture companies. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

When I asked Bruce Nunn, spokesperson for the DFA, how the province plans to ensure that healthy benthic conditions are maintained here during and after each growing cycle he replied: “It is a requirement under the Aquaculture Management Regulations (32(1)) that an operator maintain oxic conditions.” I pressed Nunn about the maximum allowed levels of sulfides, where they are tested in relation to the cages, and how often. I am still awaiting a response.

According to Savoie — who should know since she helped develop the province’s new regulatory framework — any potential application “must demonstrate that the conditions of that site do have the appropriate recovery for your proposed production levels.”

In other words, a company has to be able to show that once it does create a dead zone underneath its cages — which isn’t a matter of “if” but “when” — the condition can be reversed by a fallow period, at which time the cages can be restocked with fish.

“I completely agree that siting and taking that information into account first is the most important determinant for the success of benthic recovery — you have to have the appropriate conditions and that’s the work we’re conducting right now,” she said.

When it comes to the untreated waste released by fish farms, a figure that has circulated widely in the media is that a typical 200,000-fish salmon farm, with fish averaging 5kg per fish, (1,000 metric tonnes) releases fecal matter roughly the equivalent of 65,000 people. I referenced this figure myself here but curious about where it came from, I tracked down the source to an article published two decades ago titled “Urban Legends and Fish Nutrition,” written by Ronald Hardy in Aquaculture Magazine. Hardy is a professor at the University of Idaho and at the time the director of its Fish Culture Experiment Station. Hardy told me that a year later he revised his calculation in a second article, when new information came to his attention, significantly lowering the fecal equivalent for 200,000 fish from 65,000 people to 2,670 people.

I asked Jonsson about whether Cermaq had derived a per person equivalent for the feces produced at its farms and she replied:

No, we do not have a quantity of waste produced as a person equivalent as that is like trying to compare oranges to row boats — not even apples. Salmon are incredibly efficient food converters and have very low amounts of solid waste (only 15% of their waste is solid). It also isn’t like human waste in that it doesn’t have pathogens, etc. We have made a comparison in the August issue of the Hello Nova Scotia newsletter to grazing cattle for a more reasonable comparison.

As previously mentioned, according to Cermaq, the typical impact zone from one of its fish farms is 80 ha (198 acres). This means that if there were four active farms in a bay, the impact area would be spread over 320 ha (800 acres). Cermaq estimates that one of their farms would produce 42 metric tonnes of waste per month, and when spread out over the impact area, would amount to 17 kg per hectare per day.

“For context, an average cow in the field creates about 30 kg of solid waste per day and there’s usually more than one cow per hectare.”

Fortunately, Hardy is still at the University of Idaho and now teaches in the Aquaculture Research Institute. I contacted him to see if he thought it was correct to compare the waste from salmon farms with cow manure. Hardy replied:

[A]bsolutely not. The rate of passage of food through a salmon or trout is around 24 hours, although in cold temperatures it could be up to 48 hours. There is little fermentation or microbial degradation of food in salmon guts. Nutrients are removed from food and indigestible material, mainly fiber, connective tissue and bones, plus some odd ball sugars found in soy, is excreted.

Contrast that with a cow where fermentation of fiber and other plant material takes place in the rumen. A cow is essentially a living fermenter. That’s where the methane comes from. The bacteria in cows converts plant material to bacterial protein, etc., and bacterial protein is what provides nutrients to the cow. Cows don’t actually digest hay and grass.

So, comparing cow to salmon feces is totally inappropriate and misleading.

“Is it more accurate to compare salmon feces to that of a human,” I asked. “No, still not a great comparison,” he said.

Hardy explained that humans are monogastric animals, with a single-chambered stomach, like dogs, cats, and horses. There is still too much fermentation in monogastric animals. “Maybe poultry” would be a better comparison, he offered.

Applying Hardy’s more conservative 2001 estimate to what Cermaq is proposing for Nova Scotia, where each active farm would be stocked with roughly 900,000 5-kg fish, one farm would produce the fecal equivalent (in terms of weight) of 12,000 people; five farms, 60,000 people. [4]This is Hardy’s reply in full: “Digestibility of dry matter in salmon feeds is no less than 75%; protein is 85% and fat is 95%. Feed conversion ratios for salmon are about 1.1. If you raise 1,000 … Continue reading

Hardy said that today with “advances in feed formulation and efficiency of nutrient retention, the current values are at least 20% better than before, and maybe even higher.” So, five farms could produce the fecal equivalent of 48,000 people.

The Raging Grannies arrive at the Chester “open house,” singing to “Old Macdonald has a farm.” Photo: Linda Pannozzo

The sea lice epidemic

A number of South Shore residents attending the Cermaq open houses had come with questions seeded at a recent information session held by the Twin Bays Coalition, an event that I reported on here. At that session, a number of panelists spoke on the threat sea lice poses on juvenile salmon stocks in BC.

You may recall Bob Chamberlin, the Former Chief Councillor of the Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation, who said the proliferation of fish farms along the route of the migrating wild salmon in BC resulted in an increased density of the parasite. Chamberlin warned that using in-feed pesticides was one of industry’s control strategies, but that the neurotoxin of choice (SLICE) interrupts the growth cycle of all crustaceans, not just sea lice.

At the same session, another panelist, Bonny Glambeck, the founder of the Clayoquot Action Society based in Tofino, pointed to documents her organization obtained through an Access to Information request that revealed that in 2018 Health Canada’s Veterinary Drug’s Directorate issued Cermaq an “emergency” permit to use an in-feed powder with the active ingredient lufenuron on its farms in Clayoquot Sound. Lufenuron is a pesticide not normally approved for use in Canada.

The documents, uploaded here, reveal the company was desperate since the sea lice plaguing its fish had developed a resistance to the pesticide they normally used and they had run out of options. [5]An example of this closer to home occurred in early 2012, when Federal charges were filed against Cooke Aquaculture of New Brunswick, alleging illegal use of pesticides to fight a stubborn case of … Continue reading

Glambeck told the gathering that one of the conditions of using the drug was that treated fish “must not be slaughtered for use in food for at least 350 days after the latest treatment.”

At Cermaq’s Blandford meeting, one audience member who had attended the aforementioned information session wanted to know if all this was true.

“Is it true that Cermaq received an emergency permit to use a new insecticide on their farms in Clayoquot Sound, one that’s not approved for use in Canada? And that this chemical is so toxic that you cannot eat fish for 350 days after the fish has been treated?”

David Kiemel responded: “We did use what you said we used. However, we never used anything that means our fish are unsafe for human consumption.”

Despite Kiemel’s assurance, this condition, that “treated fish must not be slaughtered for use in food for at least 350 days after the latest treatment with the drug,” is clearly stated in Health Canada’s authorization document uploaded here.

At the Chester meeting, when the sea lice issue was again raised, Savoie assured the crowd that the company was proposing to use non-chemical treatments at its farms in Nova Scotia, should the project go ahead.

Kiemel explained the company was now trying to “manage” the sea lice problem on the west coast (as well as in Chile and Norway) “proactively” using a barge called a hydrolicer, which uses a mechanical technique to remove sea lice involving pressurized sea water.

“Fish are pumped on board, there’s a positive and negative pressure exchange with water, no heat, no chemicals, no therapeutics. All the lice are captured and all the lice eggs are captured,” he explains. “This is the method we have chosen for our business.”

When I asked government spokesperson Nunn about what methods of treating sea lice are permitted in this province, he said sea lice “infestation has not been an issue” here, that vet records are maintained for seven years indicating “no sea lice treatments have been required.” Again, I pressed Nunn, “In the event we do have sea lice, what is permitted (or prohibited” here?” I’m still awaiting a response.

Aspotogan Peninsula resident Petra Toering at the Chester “open house.” Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Sacrificing wild fish for farmed ones

At the Blandford meeting, one resident said he was “surprised” to hear the Cermaq team talk about its BC experience “as if it was a good example.” He noted the long history of conflict and controversy that surrounded the fish farms and their effect on wild salmon stocks, specifically concerns about sea lice and diseases like piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) — a subject we’ll be returning to in Part 2 of this series.

“In 2019, the International Year of the Salmon, the spawning return in the rivers of BC were the lowest in Canadian history,” he said. “The science… [has] linked that in large ways to your fish pens and to the disease…spread from those fish pens. I’d like to hear your response to that.”

Kiemel replied:

I guess this is where there’s going to be agreement to disagree. There’s enough literature out there on both sides of the fence, to be frank, to form your own opinion on what you believe to be true.

The challenges facing the wild salmon on the west coast, as mentioned before, are huge. We have changing ocean conditions. We see it…I mentioned last night, I started 21 years ago on the west coast and I can tell you the environment we farmed in, 15, 17 years ago, is not the environment we farm in today. Those larger scale changes that are impacting the wild Pacific salmon are almost sometimes too big to comprehend.

Our industry, through the degradation of public trust that we’ve talked about here today, allows us to sometimes — and I’m just going to say it — become a scapegoat for something that really does take a broader conversation to take place, to understand where the efforts should be made to solve the real problems.

And that’s my opinion. I respect yours, sir, and I respect the others in this room. Everybody’s entitled to their own. It’s just a really complex issue for that particular species and at the moment, there is a portion of the population that believes we are a problem, where we would say otherwise.

But for many, the fact that the Trudeau Liberals pledged during the election to phase out open-pen finfish farming on the west coast by 2025 — a promise they’ve since backtracked on — points squarely at an industry that had clearly overstayed its welcome there.

“Why, what are you doing wrong on the west coast?” asked one Chester resident?

“Things tend to get a bit silly come election time,” replied Kiemel. “What we’ve seen is the language develop to reflect a responsible plan by 2025.”

“But why, why, why? What are you doing wrong on the west coast?” the audience member pressed.

“I would be foolish to stand up here and try to determine what goes through a politician’s mind when an election is being run,” says Kiemel.

“Shit happens”

You don’t have to search long on the internet to locate a plethora of stories about how the business of raising fish seems to increasingly result in killing them: from superchills, to deadly algal blooms, to farm damage from storms and hurricanes.

“You want to raise fish here so they can all die?” asked one Chester resident. “With climate change what do you think you’re going to do in this province? You’re going to raise fish? No, you’re going to kill fish.”

Kiemel replied: “Mortality happens on salmon farms. We have a dedicated team of professionals, but shit happens, it’s farming, it’s not easy.”

About a half hour later, a Chester Basin resident spoke about coming from a long line of fisher folk, and took issue with Kiemel’s attitude. Julie Chiasson:

I came here tonight with an open mind to hear how you’d respond to what you did in those areas [in BC] and to hear, quite frankly, that… “shit happens” is not really fair to the people in this room who make their livelihood fishing. We are a working shoreline, we have fishermen that make their livelihood off of our coast and we really need to know how are you going to assure us that when this “shit happens” that you have a process in place that you have done your due diligence to make sure that you can handle that so we can protect our fishing rights?

Kiemel was apologetic. “First off, you called me on that, and I’ll wear that. That was inappropriate and I’m sorry that it was taken the wrong way.” He went on to say that Cermaq is “working to reduce” risk.

“What I meant [is] things can go wrong, the environment is a challenging place to farm… for us it’s about doing the leg work now to ensure we are in the best informed position from an environmental and biological point of view that we are certain this could work.”

Kiemel explained that getting a salmon egg to the point of selling it is about a seven-year investment: “To take the egg to a market-sized fish takes about three years. The fish that spawn to produce the egg…is between three and four years old…So when we’re talking about these decisions and this process we’re in, these are big decisions to make, and I just want to ensure that I relay the seriousness in how we review the criteria when it comes to making these decisions because the risk would be too high not to, for all the reasons you mentioned and more.”

Part 2 of this series will focus on piscine orthoreovirus (PRV), a virus affecting farmed and wild salmon. It was a concern that was raised at all the community open houses. 

Cover photo: Shoreline along St. Margaret’s Bay near Hubbards, one of the bays in which Cermaq has an Option to Lease. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Linda Pannozzo is an award winning author and freelance journalist based in Nova Scotia.


1 Detail about the breakdown of Cermaq’s proposed $500 million investment was not presented in any detail in Cermaq’s Request for Options to Lease, or at any of the community meetings I attended, but in an email, Jonsson provided me with an itemized list of the “from egg to plate” $500 million investment: 300w, 250w” sizes=”(max-width: 577px) 100vw, 577px” />
2 According to NSDFA data, total finfish production in NS in 2018 (the most recent year data were available) was 8.2 million kg. Federal data is from National Aquaculture Public Reporting Data.
3 Data from Stats Canada, Fishing-Related Employment by Industry and Province, 2016-2018.
4 This is Hardy’s reply in full: “Digestibility of dry matter in salmon feeds is no less than 75%; protein is 85% and fat is 95%. Feed conversion ratios for salmon are about 1.1. If you raise 1,000 mt of salmon, you will require about 1,100 mt of feed (ignoring the freshwater phase before stocking in marine pens). At least 75% of this feed is digested and absorbed by the fish, leaving 275 mt of undigested material as fecal excretion. Of this, most is starch or other non-digestible carbohydrates and some is non-digestible protein, mainly scales, skin, connective tissue and bony material. This is not the same as human fecal waste. Multiply 275 mt by 20 to get the 20,000 mt farm amount and you have 5,550 mt of fairly benign undigested nutrients of which a small amount is protein (nitrogen) and a smaller amount is phosphorus. The remainder is mainly plant material and, as I said, some bony fish tissue.
5 An example of this closer to home occurred in early 2012, when Federal charges were filed against Cooke Aquaculture of New Brunswick, alleging illegal use of pesticides to fight a stubborn case of sea lice — a move that ended up killing hundreds of lobsters in the Bay of Fundy. The company eventually pleaded guilty to the charges and was ordered to pay $500,000.

Linda Pannozzo is an award-winning author and freelance journalist based in Nova Scotia. email:; Website:

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  1. Linda:

    Another fine job and excellent reporting. We are fortunate to have access to your quality journalism. Keep it up; keep asking and reporting on the tough issues.

  2. “First off, you called me on that, and I’ll wear that. That was inappropriate and I’m sorry that it was taken the wrong way.”

    These spokespeople really gotta get their condescending shit together. The man is not sorry for being flippant but rather he was sorry it got interpreted the wrong way. In other words it’s the audience’s fault for not interpreting his remarks as charming and folksy – speaking in the vernacular.