Cermaq information session leaves fishers unsatisfied

By Lois Ann Dort    
January 15 2020

GUYSBOROUGH – Cermaq Canada, a division of a multi-national salmon farming company, was granted a lease option by the provincial government last year to pursue open-pen farming in 20 sites throughout Nova Scotia including in Chedabucto Bay. Since that time the company has been investigating the feasibility of expansion, examining the business, environmental and social climate related to the proposed site areas.

The province has given Cermaq a deadline of March 2020 to make the application to move forward with the lease options granted in March of 2019.

As part of this process, Cermaq held information sessions open to the public in Guysborough on Thursday, January 9. The day of the sessions was plagued by worsening weather conditions and attendance was less than expected; approximately 15 to 20 people per session.

A presentation by Vicki Savoie, Cermaq’s East Coast Sustainable Development Director started the sessions, followed by questions from those in attendance. Questions were mainly posed by local fishers who had many concerns about the potential impacts of open-pen salmon farming on the current fisheries in the area and the environment as a whole.

One of the first questions asked was in regard to the impact on the lobster fishery, which has been on the increase in recent years due to local management practices. There was a serious concern among fishers that the proposed farm would greatly reduce lobster landings and decimate the industry in this area.

Savoie responded, “There is compelling evidence that the two activities can coexist.” Cermaq outlined various measures that they will undertake to reduce any impact on the surrounding environment from their operations, including video monitoring of feeding to reduce any food waste falling to the sea floor, fallowing pens, mechanical de-licing of farmed salmon and the new industry standard that antibiotics can only be used after diagnoses of diseases, not as a prophylactic measure.

Linda Sams, Cermaq Canada Director of Sustainable Development added to those comments stating, “We can’t take away from the lobster fishery or industry that is the cornerstone of this area…what we are exploring is how to make a bigger pie.”

“We understand that that (lobster fishery) is non-negotiable,” said Sams.

In October 2019 the federal government promised to phase out open-pen fish farms in the province of British Columbia by 2025. This led some fishers to question why open-pen fish farms would continue to be allowed in Nova Scotia.

Sams spoke to that comment, saying that the industry had been taken by surprise by that announcement and that the language on the proposed change had softened some since the initial announcement. She went on to say that the proposed farms in Nova Scotia had been on the drawing board long before the federal platform announcement in October.

“We’re working with the federal government, the provincial government and our partners in B.C. to see how we can manage through that,” Sams said.

Fisherman Roger Williams from Tor Bay voiced concerned about the physical space the farm pens would occupy. He said with the proposed Marine Protected Areas, fishers were already being squeezed out of areas they had previously had available for fishing. He also noted that the jobs created by the farming operations were not comparable to the direct and indirect jobs created by the local fishery, which he said could be at risk if the farms went forward.

Many of the fishers’ concerns were answered by company representatives, but few seemed satisfied and some were adamant that the company wouldn’t be allowed to come into this area. Company representatives were asked if they would make an application to lease by the March 2020 deadline if they were told, as they were by some at the meeting in Guysborough, that they weren’t welcome in the area.

Sams said the company was still in consultation with local stakeholders. “Everything we hear is taken into account,” she said, adding that the company would not want to enter a community if they weren’t welcomed there. “The social piece is just as important to us as the environmental piece.”

Cermaq will continue to collect data on the proposed sites across Nova Scotia and conduct meetings with local stakeholders before the March deadline.