FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021
(Halifax / Kjipuktuk) - The Healthy Bays Network (HBN) watched with keen interest as the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board (ARB) hosted the province’s first-ever fish farm expansion hearing last week.
Within the next two months, the Board will decide whether a Cooke Aquaculture salmon farm at Rattling Beach in the Annapolis Basin should be formally approved for expansion. Kelly Cove Salmon (KCS), a Cooke subsidiary, applied to the Board in 2016 to expand their lease territory at Rattling Beach from ~8ha to ~29ha. KCS representative Jeff Nickerson confirmed that the company has already been operating in this expanded territory since their initial acquisition of the lease site back in 2004.
Months prior to the hearing, the Board rejected three intervention bids on behalf of the HBN, the Ecology Action Centre, and the St. Mary’s Bay Protectors; three out of four total applications. During the hearing, the Board was unwilling to discuss the provincial government’s inaction on the boundary issue, as testimony pertaining to Cooke’s 17-year lease violation at Rattling Beach was largely disallowed. The Board also rejected any examination of the historical and ongoing enforcement capacity of the regulators, namely the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA) and the Department of Environment.
The HBN is very concerned that the ARB process appears designed to selectively reject critical pieces of evidence relevant to fish farm siting and expansion decisions, protect regulators from scrutiny, and exclude widespread public participation. We are urging Minister Craig to open up the five-year regulatory review on aquaculture as required under the Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act, now more than a year overdue.
“We can’t just sweep 17 years of lackadaisical regulation under the rug and expect everybody to move on,” says HBN Chair Brian Muldoon. “We’ve been calling on the Province to fix this boundary issue for years, and the previous government simply refused to enforce their own regulations. DFA may not want to talk about it, but communities aren’t going to forget.”
In another revelation, KCS recognized that the gear currently on site would not fit within the original lease boundary at Rattling Beach, and that the size of the operation would have to be reduced by about 80 percent if the Board were to reject the company’s expansion application. That would mean cutting the number of pens on site from 20 to four, and cutting the number of fish from ~660,000 to ~120,000.
“Under any functional regulatory system, we would be discussing the expansion of a much smaller fish farm right now,” says Derek Purcell, Director of the Twin Bays Coalition, an HBN member group. “Instead, Cooke has been allowed years of carte blanche operation well outside their lease, and we have industry and Provincial lawyers telling the Board that ‘there’s nothing to see here’. It’s a bit insulting, to be honest.”
A recently expanded ARB, two ongoing sea lice outbreaks in the Annapolis Basin, and long-term Cooke plans to triple the number of farmed salmon produced in Nova Scotia provided an ominous backdrop for the Ratling Beach hearing. Communities are anxious to see consultation on aquaculture, as promised by the PC election campaign, to sort out lingering regulatory issues and begin a process of transition away from open net-pen aquaculture like that occurring in B.C.
“Look, when Cermaq came to town with their expansion plans, Nova Scotians were very clear that open net-pens aren’t welcome in this province,” says Geoff Leboutiller, HBN Vice Chair. “With an expanded ARB, a backlog of fish farm expansion applications, no regulatory review and no consultation outside of industry, it’s starting to look like we’re moving in the wrong direction. We need our new government to step up, listen to communities, and fix things that past governments broke.”
For more information, please contact:
Brian Muldoon, Chair
Healthy Bays Network
Geoff Leboutillier, Vice Chair
Healthy Bays Network
Derek Purcell, Director
Twin Bays Coalition
The Ecology Action Centre is a participating member of the Healthy Bays Network.
Although the ARB was conceived more than five years ago, this is only the second hearing conducted so far. The Board was initially introduced in 2015 as part of sweeping regulatory reforms on aquaculture after years of community discontent over open net-pen salmon farming. The 2014 Doelle-Lahey panel, tasked with developing a new regulatory framework, recommended an independent Board to consider the revocation of existing fish farm licences after multiple community grievances were filed against a specific operation. The DFA ultimately instructed the Board to rule on all new aquaculture development and expansion applications instead.