Ferry Solution Needed for Bay of Fundy / Nova Scotia Needs to Readjust Aquaculture Priorities

Federal Fisheries Minister Hunter Tootoo may be asked to get into the transportation business if the ferry mess in southwest Nova Scotia isn’t solved in the immediate future.

It may cost Canadian taxpayers millions to correct what the Tories did to the system before they were relegated to Never Never Land, but what else is new.

The New England marketplace is a key player for fresh fish and seafood produced in western and south western Nova Scotia — both as a consumer and as a hub to ship the product globally.

Getting the product to the Boston area on time and in prime condition is the key to the success of the fishery in these coastal communities and up to last summer, the system worked due to the presence of the Princess of Acadia, an aging ferry-passenger ship plying the Bay of Fundy between Digby, N.S. and Saint John, N.B.

A replacement was needed and acquired by Transport Canada.

Guess what — the new ship is totally unsuited for the role it was intended to play.

The Fundy Rose was purchased by Ottawa for $44.1 million and looks great and will please the tourist plying the bay for three or four months each year. However, it is unable to carry as many semi trucks as the old Princess of Acadia and a scheduling snafu now forces truckers to abandon the service and drive all the way around the Bay of Fundy — at the cost of an extra driver, fuel and wear and tear on the equipment.

Under the old service, trucking companies could pre-book crossings. This has been removed, so it’s first-come, first-served on a ferry service which can carry nine less trucks than the vessel it replaced. During the summer months, RVs will quickly gobble up the 14 allowable spaces for trucks, so the fishing industry will be left high and dry.

Meanwhile, down in Yarmouth, about 60 miles south of Digby, a replacement vessel for the Nova Star, a semi-luxury cruise ship which carried passengers from Portland, Maine to the Gateway Town and cost provincial taxpayers $41-million in operating costs, has yet to be found by Bay Ferries.

Nova Scotia and indeed Atlantic Canada, is poised for a banner year in tourism due to a 70-cent loonie, but without this essential service to Maine, the western part of the province will not reap the full benefits of this windfall.

Since Bay Ferries will operate both the Digby-Saint John and Yarmouth-Maine ferries, surely an accommodation with the federal government on this issue can be realized.

How about this possible scenario?

The Yarmouth-Maine ferry was too big and too costly to run for the amount of traffic it garnered. The Digby-Saint John ferry has too small a track carrying capacity to satisfy the needs of the fishing and forestry industries.

Bay Ferries could lease the Fundy Rose from the feds and place it on the Yarmouth-Maine run. The crossing would take place during the daytime, thus relinquishing the need for overnight cabins. The vessel could stay in Yarmouth overnight one day and in Maine the next day.

And with the lease money, Ottawa could look for a suitable ship for the Digby-Saint John run.

This probably won’t happen due to time constraints — a ship is needed for the Yarmouth-Maine run now if it has any chance of success this summer. This being the case, the fishing industry must brace for the added expense of a much longer ride to its primary U.S. marketplace.

Evolving Nova Scotia Aquaculture

It sounded really good — so good that communities like Shelburne and Digby, N.S. could dream of reaping the economic benefits.

Alas, like most dreams that seem to be too good to be true, it proved to be just that.

The Cooke Aquaculture mega-project, which included the expansion of a feed mill in Truro, a hatchery in Digby County and a processing plant in Shelburne with total employment of 400, came crashing down recently.

Way back in 2012, when the NDP was the power in Nova Scotia, it promised $25-million for the project, even though Cooke Aquaculture should have been able to finance this thing on its own or at least get funding from financial institutions.

The loan included this rider — $9-million of it was forgivable, but the remainder had to be paid back, with interest, if the company reneged on its promise to build the facilities.

Three years after the deal was signed, only the feed mill expansion in Truro had been realized so Nova Scotia recently called in its $18-million loan.

At the time of the announcement, fish harvesters voiced their opposition in that the operation would need additional grow-out sites to make the project viable. More sites would mean lost fishing grounds. Environmentalists were also concerned with the sites due to their caustic effect on the marine environment.

The inability of the company to secure these sites during the past three years prevented Cooke Aquaculture from proceeding with its expansion plans because additional raw material i.e. farm-raised Atlantic salmon, was key to the entire project.

The N.S. provincial department of Fisheries and Aquaculture recently announced that a large number of dormant permits had to be activated. For whatever reason, these have remained unused and consist largely of small operations for the cultivation of oysters, etc…

The regulatory process to get such operations moving was quite extensive until the process was streamlined.

Most Nova Scotians aren’t against aquaculture, but a vast number oppose open-sea, ocean grow-outs for Atlantic salmon.

The evidence against these farms is overwhelming in favour of the antis, as the use of chemicals during the grow-out process, the problem of escapements and their effect on wild salmon stocks are well documented.

Adding fuel to the fire was the action of the former Harper government in removing a lot of impediments to the inspection process of these enterprises and placing the onus literally on the companies themselves.

Cooke Aquaculture is an Canadian company with global markets. Competing in this market means having a fresh product available, at affordable prices — thus the need for more and more production.

The opponents of these mega open-penned farms want land-based operations, something Cooke Aquaculture says wouldn’t work for them considering the opposition they face globally.

But these operations do work and I predict that when the land-based salmon product is advertised in local grocery chains, even though the price will be a bit higher than their ocean-raised along side, a lot of customers will opt for the land-based product.

Sustainable Fish Farming a month or so ago shipped its first fish under the brand name Sustainable Blue to stores and restaurants across the Nova Scotia. I never saw the product advertised in our local chain food marts.

The company worked for eight years on a closed-containment system using salt water in their facility in Centre Burlington, Hants County which is near the Bay of Fundy.

The Ecology Action Centre in Halifax says “government would be well advised to be supportive of leading edge technology to really aid in the development, commercialization and distribution of this technology.”

Sustainable Fish Farming says its research indicates a demand for up to 40,000 tonnes of land-based raised salmon per year in North America. Present production is 100 tonnes per year and set to grow to 165 tonnes by next year. Consumers want a record of the product — from when and where it was caught to the time the consumer makes the purchase. They are also more conscious of what goes into the production of a seafood product.

This type of production would satisfy their requirements.

There has been a similar operation on Canada’s west coast. The Namgis First Nation in B.C. has been producing land-based, farmed salmon under the brand name Kuterra and selling the product in Canada and the U.S. since 2014.

And a Danish company, Atlantic Sapphire, it set for production in eight months and Canaqua Seafoods, a Nova Scotia company which is successfully farming Arctic char, is now working with Atlantic salmon.

Alain Meuse

Contributor - Nova Scotia

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