EAC raises concerns over first-ever open net-pen salmon farm expansion hearing | Ecology Action Centre

EAC raises concerns over first-ever open net-pen salmon farm expansion hearing

(YARMOUTH / MALIKIAQ) - Nova Scotia’s new Aquaculture Review Board (ARB) will start their first-ever open net-pen salmon farm expansion hearing on Monday, Nov. 15 to decide the fate of Cooke Aquaculture’s Rattling Beach site in the Annapolis Basin. This precedent-setting hearing is the first in a series of applications that would, if approved, move Cooke closer to the 30,000 tons of farmed salmon they have planned for Nova Scotia’s bays. A production goal that would more than triple the millions of fish already grown in open net-pens around the province.    

Leading up to the hearing, ARB members rejected three out of four applications for intervention from the Ecology Action Centre (to be represented by East Coast Environmental Law), the Healthy Bays Network—a community-based coalition representing more than 10,000 members across the province—and the St. Mary’s Bay Protectors. 

“We’re really concerned that the ARB won’t be able to make a comprehensive assessment of the Rattling Beach site when so many important voices are left out of the room,” says Simon Ryder-Burbidge Marine Campaign Coordinator with EAC. “The EAC, ECELAW and several members of the HBN were part of the Doelle-Lahey process that initially conceived of the ARB. The whole point was to make space for more public participation. We’re not going to see that here.” 

In another complication, Cooke has already been operating in expanded territory outside of the Rattling Beach lease area for years with the knowledge of provincial regulators. A number of groups and individuals have called on the Province multiple times to bring Rattling Beach and four other out-of-bounds sites into compliance, alleging that proper processes for expansion approvals under the Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act (FCRA) never took place. 

“Rather than fixing the problem when it was first identified, the previous Minister bent his government’s own rules and looked the other way to accommodate an industry profiting in public waters, without any accountability to the public,” explains Ryder-Burbidge. “We all have questions we’d like to ask regulators about why the ARB is retroactively approving sites that have already been expanded – but we won’t get the chance.” 

Recent changes to the FCRA will expand the ARB from a membership of three to ten and allow board members to engage in multiple hearings simultaneously. This has led to anxiety around the health of marine environments, access to fishing grounds and public participation in coastal communities, with residents worried that the Province is prepared to rush salmon farming proposals through the ARB before existing regulatory issues have been worked out. The five-year aquaculture regulatory review process required by the FCRA is now more than a year overdue. 

“We’re really concerned about the impact of expanded open net-pen salmon farming operations on wild salmon and lobster fishing grounds,” says Ryder-Burbidge. “We've got net pens coming out of the water entirely in B.C. and N.S. it looks like we’re getting ready to speed up industry expansion. It’s tough to see the new government moving in this direction after promising to consult communities first.” 

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Additional information:

The Aquaculture Review Board (ARB) was initially conceived in 2015 as part of a sweeping change to Nova Scotia’s aquaculture regulations, following the publication of the government-commissioned Doelle-Lahey report, A New Regulatory Framework for Low Impact/High-Value Aquaculture. Board members were first appointed by former Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell in early 2017 and they have hosted only a single hearing since that time, approving a Yarmouth County oyster farm proposal in November of 2020. No interventions or public complaints were raised in that case. 

Doelle-Lahey initially recommended the establishment of an independent review board to hear cases for the revocation of existing fish farming licenses when multiple and persistent grievances came forth from communities. The Province’s implementation of the new regulatory system was criticized for several diversions from Doelle-Lahey at the time, including omissions with regard to transparency, public inclusion and ministerial discretion. 

Photos of Rattling Beach salmon farm available upon request. 

Media Contact:  

Simon Ryder-Burbidge  

Marine Campaign Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre 

sryderburbidge@ecologyaction.ca 

(343) 363-1070 

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