Mi’kma’ki / Nova Scotia – The Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board (NSARB) has rejected the Ecology Action Centre’s (EAC) bid for intervenor status in the next fish farm expansion hearing at Liverpool Bay, scheduled for Feb. 5-9, 2024.
The hearing will determine whether the multi-billion-dollar Cooke Seafood empire will be allowed to expand its salmon farming operations in Liverpool Bay through its Nova Scotia subsidiary, Kelly Cove Salmon. If approved, the development would more than quadruple the number of salmon produced in the waters around Liverpool from about 400,000 today to 1.8 million.
“The rejection of the Ecology Action Centre’s intervenor bid fails Doelle-Lahey recommendations to expand public participation in decisions on controversial fish farm development applications, especially in consideration of environmental impacts,” says Simon Ryder-Burbidge, senior marine coordinator with the EAC.
“This is by far the biggest open-net pen salmon farming expansion in Nova Scotia in decades, and the hearing is going to proceed without an environmental voice in the room. The expansion carries a huge amount of ecological risk to our public waters, and the voices of concerned Nova Scotians beyond Liverpool have been effectively shut out. This needs to be fixed by the province."
In a procedure that has not been explained by the Board, the applicant (Cooke) was allowed to review and comment on whether intervenor applications should be accepted or rejected. The Board agreed with Cooke’s opinion that the EAC should not be allowed to intervene in the hearing. This is the second time the Board has ruled to keep the EAC out of a fish farm decision.
“This decision is just one manifestation of the problems with the Aquaculture Review Board structure right now,” says Ryder-Burbidge.
“Residents have to pay thousands of dollars for legal counsel to compete with Cooke’s lawyers, and the province is pouring time and money down the drain on a process that’s not really serving anybody involved.”
The Liverpool community has openly opposed the Cooke development for years, evidenced by a 5-3 downvote at the Queen’s council in 2019. The Region of Queens has since been granted intervenor status for the upcoming hearing.
Other successful intervenor applications were granted to the the Protect Liverpool Bay Association, a group of 23 Liverpool-area fishers and the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn representing Acadia First Nation. The South Queens Chamber of Commerce and several concerned residents were rejected alongside the EAC, totalling five approvals and seven rejections altogether.
An expansion at the proposed scale would result in the loss of existing fishing territory and amplifies the risk of ecological harm caused by escaped farmed salmon, sea lice, disease outbreaks, chemical treatments and the amassing of deceased fish, feed products and fecal matter.
“Coastal communities have been very clear that the open-net pen fish farming industry is not going to achieve social license in this province,” says Ryder-Burbidge.
“Successive governments have wasted almost 20 years and millions of dollars trying to make fish farming work, often at the expense of the alternatives like shellfish aquaculture. Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Kent Smith has the next opportunity to turn this sinking ship around, and it starts by reforming the Aquaculture Review Board through Nova Scotia’s aquaculture regulatory review.”
In September 2022, in consultation with community partners, the EAC provided the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture (DFA) with recommendations to improve the ARB and other aquaculture regulations through the regulatory review process. Thus far, few recommendations related to the ARB or open-net pen finfish have been adopted into DFA plans.