Online forum airs grievances over Salmon Aquaculture Review Board decision

The Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board was facing a slew of grievances on Tuesday over its decision to approve a boundary change for a salmon farm in Digby County.

“We believe the Aquaculture Review Panel has taken a giant leap forward in describing the issue before it,” said Derek Purcell, director of the Twin Bays Coalition, a St. Margarets citizens’ group. Bay and Mahone Bay.

“The operator’s request states ‘we are requesting a boundary change to reflect the location of the farm for 15 years,'” Purcell said in an online forum on Tuesday.

Purcell said the review panel was ‘narrow-minded, short-sighted and not acting in the interests of coastal communities’, describing the request as only requiring a response to the impact that the amendment limits would have taking into account the eight factors set out in the aquaculture license and lease regulations.

“The operator’s request not only appeared to be self-incriminating, but also opened the door to the filing of evidence supporting this incriminating interpretation…evidence alleging wrongdoing on the part of the operator and the government” , Purcell said.

In his written decision Released Friday, the three-member review panel chaired by retired attorney Jean McKenna said Kelly Cove Salmon, a subsidiary of Cooke Aquaculture, “acknowledges that it is operating outside the boundaries of its lease,” and that’s why the Rattling Beach Salmon Farm site on the Annapolis Basin came before the board.

“He (Kelly Cove) has been trying to mend his ways since 2008 and his efforts have been repeatedly delayed by the province,” McKenna, Michael McKinnon and Richard Patterson said in their decision.

At the application hearing in mid-November, Kelly Cove business development manager Jeffery Nickerson confirmed that his existing lease would only allow for three to four cages and the farming of 120,000 salmon at the farm in Digby County, but the company currently operates 20 cages holding 660,000 salmon in pens on a 29 hectare site.

The Kelly Cove Salmon aquaculture operation at Rattling Beach, near Digby, Nova Scotia. — Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd. Photo

The board, in its summary of facts, said that “parts of the farm infrastructure were located outside the original lease boundaries, including some cages or parts of cages and the mooring lines”.

The dimensions of the lease were created in 1993 and the province has since raised no issues with the number and range of cages on the lease, or with the stocking density or quantity of salmon, the council said.

The council stressed that the boundary change would not change the current size of the open pen operation.

The council also said in its decision that its role “is not to provide a platform of general opposition or support to open pen aquaculture”, but rather to consider the application in relation to the site. specific to Rattling Beach. The board further explained that St. Mary’s Bay Protectors, Ecology Action Center and Healthy Bays Network were denied intervenor status at the hearing because their interests opposed marine pen aquaculture in general. .

If the interpretation of the application, taking into account only the eight factors set out in the Aquaculture License and Lease Regulation, had been made public before the hearing, “we would have seen that the approval was predetermined and that there was no interest in hearing evidence relating to government or operator conduct,” Purcell said.

Karen Traversy of the East Coast Preservation Association said the review board, when envisioned, was meant to be an independent body that could hear citizen complaints about compliance issues and provide a means for members of the local community to share their direct experience of fish farming with government.

Coffin Island Fish Farm in Liverpool Bay.  -- Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd.  Photo
Coffin Island Fish Farm in Liverpool Bay. — Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd. Photo

“Instead, what we achieved with this first hearing, essentially a ratification of an already existing border expansion, was a process with such a narrow focus that the valuable input of coastal communities was significantly limited,” he said. said Traversy.

“These are public waters but yet the voice of the public has been tightly limited.”

Brian Muldoon of Protect Liverpool Bay said the review board should be dismantled, overhauled and reconstituted properly so that proper industry regulations can move forward.

Gwen Wilson of the St. Mary’s Bay Protectors recalled a ‘no harm, no fault’ comment from the government earlier this year about fish farms acting outside the limits of their leases.

“That’s a pretty bad way to assess the kinds of things that are going on in our waters,” she said.

Kris Hunter from the Atlantic Salmon Federation said it “should be on the government and the proponent (Kelly Cove Salmon) to demonstrate that the operation would have no impact on wild Atlantic salmon and the environment”, but that was not the case in the audition process.

Sarah McDonald, an Ecojustice lawyer who represented local resident and writer Gregory Heming as an intervenor in the four-day hearing on the application, said the board concluded that the provincial Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture was under no obligation to consult affected Mi’kmaq communities. on expanding borders.

“Not only is this legally incorrect in my opinion, but I would say it is appalling that the DFA could avoid its constitutional duty to consult First Nations by tacitly allowing Kelly Cove to complete its expansion before going through the application process. required, and then to retroactively claim that the expansion of the lease will have no impact on Indigenous rights,” McDonald said.

Simon Ryder-Burbidge, marine campaign coordinator with Ecology Action Center and moderator for Tuesday’s session, said the provincial ministry is currently conducting a mandatory review of aquaculture regulations, a review that is overdue. about a year.

“It gives us an avenue to try to bring some of the lessons that we have learned and some of the concerns that communities have with the aquaculture review board process and with the regulatory system more generally into the discourse. public and hopefully an option for a change for the better,” Ryder-Burbidge said.