Cooke Seafoods scores an easy win in the case of fish farming

Cooke Aquaculture has won approval to expand the boundaries of its salmon farm outside of Digby, NS

This was the first fish farming case to be heard by the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board, a new regulatory body created by the provincial government to provide more transparency and accountability around aquaculture.

The decision legitimizes what has been going on at the site for nearly two decades.

The 20-cage salmon farm has been operating outside of its original rent limits – and much smaller – for 18 years.

The county government was aware of the situation for most of that time.

Cooke, through its Kelly Cove Salmon subsidiary, did not ask to add more fish, cages, or equipment.

County protected from questions

The board said the expansion had no effect on the eight factors the regulations require for consideration. These are their impact on local fisheries and other water users in the area, the environment, navigation, the sustainability of wild salmon, community and local economic development, their impact on nearby aquaculture operations, and the optimum use of marine resources.

“Since there are no new equipment, species, harvesting methods, yield or structural change associated with the project, there can be no impact of the border expansion on any of the factors,” the council wrote in a resolution issued Friday.

During the hearing, the Nova Scotia government was shielded from questions about why it had allowed a salmon farm to operate outside the confines of its lease for so long.

The Board closed the line of inquiry.

“Nothing can be gained by invoking the evidence as an attempt to criticize the enforcement branch of the Ministry of Environment or the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture,” Chairman Jean McKenna said during public hearings in November.

Environmental groups have denied their status

Environmental groups opposed to fish farming refused to stand the application, which included three days of public hearings in Yarmouth, NS

The board said they had no direct interest in the case.

“It is necessary to point out that the role of this board is not to provide a platform for public opposition or support for open pens aquaculture in general. Instead, we should look at this implementation (KCS/Rattling beach farm) in relation to this website and the impact, if any, to change the rental limits.

Environmentalists claimed the three-member panel risked being a rubber stamp allowing governments regardless of fish farm expansions.

But the board found that the company had been trying to adjust the boundaries since 2008. The county has repeatedly put off its efforts.

Cook is “happy” with the result

“We are pleased with the outcome of this request and look forward to participating in this process for other applications we have before the ARB,” Cooke said in a press release issued after the decision.

“Kelly Cove has been operating under this contract since 2004, and the site has been an active aquaculture operation since 1994. Our application was to bring all anchors and equipment within the confines of the lease, without any changes to equipment or location or increased production.

The review board also rejected allegations that the fish farm had infringed on Mi’kmaw’s rights and the adjustment of boundaries had led to a duty to consult with them.

Both positions were confirmed by the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative, also known as KMKNO. It is the negotiating arm of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mikmau Presidents.

The Board concluded that there was a “non-duty” to consult.

“The mere redrawing of the bounds of the lease cannot be seen to have any possible detrimental effect on the rights of First Nations. And if we are wrong in this respect, we conclude that the consultation was at the very bottom line of the schedule, and the notice sufficed to fulfill this duty “.

“We also note that the alleged influences by KMKNO are vague and ill-defined regarding potential negative impacts on indigenous rights. For example, it does not explain how this ongoing process impeded traditional harvesting and the exercise of traditional rights.”

Environmentalists’ claims scrutinized

The council was also skeptical of the claims made by environmentalists.

Greg Heming, the property owner who claimed to live 2.5 kilometers from the site, was granted intervention status. Cook’s lawyer later showed Heming lived 14.5 km away.

Hemming became an agent for opponents and one of his witnesses was scientist Jonathan Carr, vice president of research at the Atlantic Salmon Consortium.

Carr acknowledged that the company had made improvements to the fish farm, but said there was not enough information to determine if it had a negative effect on wild Atlantic salmon.

It didn’t affect the board because it looked at the farm’s effect on salmon.

“The Board has heard of an abundance of evidence that even prior to (and since) the regulatory and legislative change, this site was well managed and, indeed, has strong mitigation efforts in place,” the board wrote.

“Mr. Carr has provided no evidence that the dimensions of the Rattling Beach farm as it stands now, without any change in its infrastructure or production, would have any effect on any of the local salmon populations. He did, however, show the potential for a risk to salmon by having Any salmon farm. We find that appropriate mitigation is in place to deal with potential damage.”

Environmental groups to speak out

A coalition of environmental groups opposed to opening up fish farming in mesh pens has scheduled a media meeting Tuesday to “break the decision, the NSARB process, and what it means for the future of Nova Scotia’s massive industrial expansion plans.”

Cooke has announced plans to expand its operations in the county. A more significant application from the company is heading to the Aquaculture Review Board at some point.

The company is seeking approval for a major expansion that will add 46 pens and increase production capacity to 1.8 million salmon at its Liverpool Bay site.

Simon Ryder-Burbidge of the Ecology Action Center said he was not surprised by the board’s decision.

“This was their first hearing, and they are clearly very limited by a limited mandate,” Ryder Burbidge said in a written response to CBC News.

“It makes you wonder why all of the participants had to spend so much time, energy and money on pre-approving an already existing boundary line. We hope that we will have the opportunity to address such issues during the upcoming aquaculture regulatory review.”

The province is in the midst of a review of rules related to aquaculture.

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