Salmon aquaculture in Atlantic Canada began as a relatively small, family-owned operation off the coast of south western New Brunswick, an economically depraved area of the Maritimes, over 30 years ago.
It’s one claim to fame was the Point LePreau nuclear facility, which has witnessed its own malaise through the years.
Pen-reared, ocean operations produced jobs so both the federal and provincial governments of the day began to pour money into these ventures.
The regulations were few and far between for this new bonanza, as everyone got on the band wagon.
Well, not everyone.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation began to have misgivings about these open-pen operations, especially when diseases began to appear and escapements were not a rare occurrence.
The fear was these fish would compete with wild salmon for food in rivers emptying into the Bay of Fundy. At that time Atlantic salmon were in most of these rivers.
Thirty years later, most of these rivers are dead when it comes to Atlantic salmon.
During this time the small operations also disappeared, taken over by Cooke Aquaculture.
Cooke expanded from its former base in south western New Brunswick to Nova Scotia.
Provincial governments of the day were swayed by the promise of jobs, jobs, jobs.
It didn’t take long for howls of protest to emerge, especially from residents who lived adjacent to these mega-open pen operations. Fishermen who saw part of their fishing grounds disappear and environmentalists who pointed out the risky practice of eating a product farmed with the use of chemicals from the day of its birth.
Cooke Aquaculture announced a few years back big plans for south western Nova Scotia — a major processing plant for Shelburne and a hatchery for Digby. This would come about with the help of $25 million from Nova Scotia taxpayers.
The plants haven’t materialized and last year tonnes of salmon were lost in Shelburne due to cold water. It now seems that 2018 will be the date when the plants are in operation.
With this industry already mechanized and more mechanization on the way, those job figures may never materialize.
Meanwhile, the federal government — during these years — has devoted a lot of their research funding into aquaculture at the cost of the lobster and ground fishery and other research projects in the Maritimes. While a lobster sampling project for south western Nova Scotia couldn’t get funding for more than one year, aquaculture operations got much more when it came to funding from the feds.
The same thing happened on the West Coast.
When protests became so loud that even the Nova Scotia government picked up the vibes, it did what all governments do in this situation — commissioned a report on the industry.
The Doelle-Lahey Report was much awaited and to a lot of people’s surprise, it did not recommend a stop to open-cage operations but said the risks and impact of such operations can be significantly reduced through effective regulation.
The report recommended a policy approach that addresses the risks through responsible development and robust regulation rather than prohibition.
One of the main planks of the lengthy document is that there should be a pervasive emphasis on openness and transparency, both in the licensing and leasing process and in the monitoring of compliance by licenced operations and the enforcement of regulations.
Here’s what Doelle-Lahey had to say about the relationship between the industry and the general public: “Transparency should start by ensuring that comprehensive and easy-to-understand information on the regulatory framework is readily accessible to anyone who wants it. This will address the real frustration and irritation we heard from many, including some in the industry, about the difficulty they had experienced in obtaining clear information about matters such as the steps in the regulatory process, the obligations on applicants for leases and licences and of operators once licensed, their opportunities to participate in the regulatory process, and the actions the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture can or will take to ensure compliance with the regulations.”