About 300 people gathered at a “rally” and information session held Sunday in Upper Tantallon in opposition to Cermaq Canada’s proposed industrial-scale salmon farm expansion into Mahone Bay and St. Margaret’s Bay. The event was organized by the Twin Bays Coalition, a group that recently coalesced in response to the government granting the global-aquaculture giant — a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation — an Option to Lease in both South Shore bays. The company also has Options in the Chedabucto Bay region near Guysborough and St. Mary’s Bay near Digby Neck.
Cermaq is proposing a $500 million expansion to develop 20 open-pen Atlantic salmon farm sites, two hatcheries and a processing plant. To justify a Nova Scotia operation, it says it needs an 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.
Cermaq is currently in the “scoping phase” of the province’s new regulatory process, one that critics say may not be as rigorous as they’d hoped—which was the subject of a recent Halifax Examiner investigation. As part of the information collection and sharing phase, the company is required to hold at least one public meeting near potential site locations.
The information session was also held in advance of four of Cermaq’s “open houses” to be held in three communities on the South Shore, including Chester, Blandford, and Hubbards.
The “rally” featured a number of panelists, some who have had first-hand experience with the risks associated with open-net pen fish feedlots in British Columbia, including Bob Chamberlin, former Chief Councillor of the Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation.
Chamberlin is from Gilford Island in the Broughton Archipelago, where he said there’s been a “remarkable and painful decline in the health and abundance of wild salmon stocks in the rivers” since the fish farms arrived 35-40 years ago. He described places that would have seen tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of wild salmon that are now only seeing salmon numbers in the hundreds.
“There is no way that any out-migrating wild juvenile salmon can get out to the ocean without passing a barrage of fish farms. There’s no way they can get to the ocean unmolested,” he said.
Chamberlin said one of the main threats facing these juvenile salmon is sea lice, and that the proliferation of fish farms along the route of the migrating wild salmon, what he called “the superhighway of salmon,” has resulted in an increased density of the parasite, which live in the upper water column.
Chamberlin said after years of wild salmon decline in the Archipelago, a transition plan is now in place to “get rid of” 10 out of 17 farms.
As previously reported here, as early as November of 2018, Cermaq and Mowi Canada West (formerly Marine Harvest) — the two companies that operate farms in the Broughton Archipelago, a collection of small islands on the coast of BC — had been in discussions with First Nations and the BC government to come up with a plan to “transition” up to 17 farms from the area over a four-year period ending in 2023. By September of 2019, Cermaq and Mowi had signed a monitoring and inspection plan with three First Nations, including Chamberlin’s Kwikwastu’inuxw/ Haxwa’mis, giving the Indigenous groups oversight during the process to create a “farm free migration corridor” for wild fish.
Chamberlin said the groups will be doing “independent science and monitoring” and will make its own decisions regarding the outcome for the final seven farms.
Chamberlin also warned about one of the industry’s lice control strategies, which is the use of in-feed emamectin benzoate, known commercially as SLICE, a neurotoxin that interrupts the growth cycle of crustaceans, including sea lice.
“I know you’re famous out here for a rather large crustacean, which I know I’m bringing home with me on Tuesday. They deliver that drug with pellets that go into the water.” Chamberlin was obviously referring to lobster, and said some of the neurotoxin will be making its way into the environment via the uneaten pellets as well as through the feces, and could have an impact on lobsters.
Chamberlin also pointed to piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) — a disease that, according to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans been present in wild and farmed salmon in BC since 1987 and possibly as early as 1977. In addition to death, the disease can affect the heart, spleen, and cause internal lesions and hemorrhaging in the organs. He said the wild Atlantic salmon in Nova Scotia are already considered a species-at-risk, and are at further risk from viral outbreaks at these proposed farms.
Another panelist from BC echoed Chamberlin’s concerns about the virus. Bonny Glambeck* is with the Clayoquot Action Society based in Tofino, BC. She said an infected fish farm can release as many as 65 billion viral particles per hour and with the fish farms “choking” the salmon migration routes, and with fish breathing through their gills, “it’s easy for wild fish to pick up this virus and get infected. Glambeck also pointed to the effluent from fish processing plants as being a potential source of the virus.
As for sea lice, Glambeck said it’s a growing problem for the industry and it’s using “inceasing chemical warfare” to control the parasite. She pointed to documents her organization obtained through Freedom of Information that revealed that Cermaq got an emergency permit to use a new insecticide on their farms in Clayoquot Sound, one that’s not approved for use in Canada. “[The chemical] is so toxic that you cannot eat the farmed fish for up to 350 days after the fish has been treated,” she said.
Glambeck said Cermaq is now using a new technology, the Hydrolicer, which “sucks the fish out of the farms and puts them through a power wash to get the sea lice off and puts them back into the farm.” Glambeck said this just causes a lot of stress in the fish, which likely makes them more vulnerable to disease.
Glambeck said the touted employment benefits in the industry are also overstated. She said that Cermaq has 14 sites in Clayoquot Sound, and a processing plant, and there are 50-100 people employed at any given time, though she said “they’re always very cagey about those numbers.”
“Nobody [from Tofino] wants to work for Cermaq, so about two-thirds of their workforce comes in by shuttle bus every day from a three-hour drive across the island to fill those positions,” she said.
Chamberlin said, “I don’t think we should be allowing another industry to come in at the expense of our environment, our way of life, our traditions as people and community.”
Chamberlin also raised this key question: “Why are you allowing this industry here when it’s changing fundamentally in British Columbia?” He’s referring to the Liberal promise to phase out open-net-pen salmon farms in BC, and why this isn’t being applied to the east coast.
Another panelist, David Devenne, mayor of the town of Mahone Bay, said Mahone Bay (the body of water) is not deep enough for Cermaq’s proposed farms, that require a minimum depth of 25 metres. He said most of the bay is 16m deep. On January 30, the town council of Mahone Bay unanimously passed a resolution opposing Cermaq’s expansion proposal.
Devenne expressed his opposition to the farms, citing problems with escaped fish, disease, and the fecal matter pollution, that he says equates to 50,000 homes.
“I strongly suspect that Cermaq is listening to the concerns of the citizens; I’m just not sure that they’re hearing those concerns,” he said.
Vince Boutilier is a lobster fisherman in Lobster Fishing Area (LFA) 33. He fishes from New Harbour into St. Margaret’s Bay and has been fishing for nearly four decades. He said Cermaq’s proposed fish farms threaten the lucrative lobster industry, which he said in this district alone supports 2,000 direct jobs. He also said that many in the lobster industry are shouldering huge amounts of debt — a lobster licence alone can fetch well over $500,000 — and anything that threatens the health of the species has reverberating impacts on the fishers and their families.
Boutilier also said some of Cermaq’s potential sites are located in lobster nursery areas — habitats where the benthic or sea bottom characteristics are ideal for juvenile lobster. “Each individual site will cause significant damage to the lobster bottom in that area,” he said. “Over a few years, not right away, all the water under those sites will become dead… the amount of damage that will be done will be directly related to each individual site.”
Colin Sproul is a fifth generation lobster fisher and VP of the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association. He said there’s always been a clash between corporate interests and those of the inshore small-scale fishers in this province and that the economic benefits to remote regions of the province from the lobster fishery, either directly as a result of 26,000 jobs, or indirectly, far outweighs what the aquaculture industry delivers.
“We hear so much about the corporate responsibility of aquaculture in Atlantic Canada, but it’s also evident that they more than once illegally dumped chemicals which are lethal to lobster larvae, to try and deal with lice on their farms, not just feeding them the poison but dumping them into the water column, and they were fined and convicted of it and still continue to do it. That’s not good faith with the fishing industry, that’s not an example of co-existence.”
Sproule pointed to “a crisis in ethics of governance at Nova Scotia’s universities” and “compliant scientists” and industry-funded research as being partly to blame for the success of the fish farm lobby in Atlantic Canada. “All science which will affect public policy must be publicly funded and publicly targeted,” he said, “so that regulators can make informed decisions for the good of all Nova Scotians.”
Twin Bays is just one in a number that have formed in the province over the years in opposition to fin-fish farms. The group is advocating for land-based closed containment systems, like this one that already exist in Nova Scotia.
Meanwhile, for its Options in Chedabucto Bay and St. Mary’s Bay, Cermaq has until March 28 to complete its feasibility and engagement work and decide about whether it will proceed with an application; the Mahone Bay and St. Margaret’s Bay Options are set to expire on July 9, 2020. The company says it is consulting with the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia “through a parallel process in all four areas.”
* Glambeck was misidentified in an earlier version of this article.
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