A coalition of regional fishery and environmental groups wants government to do a better job of regulating aquaculture.
“The government doesn’t seem to have a clear plan to develop the coast sustainably,” said Shannon Arnold, marine co-ordinator with the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, in an interview Monday.
“Given the negative impacts of intensive salmon aquaculture on marine environments elsewhere, we are troubled at the lack of clear policies and regulations guiding our province’s expansion of this industry.”
The Ecology Action Centre is a member of the newly formed Atlantic Coalition for Aquaculture Reform.
It includes the St. Mary’s Bay Coastal Alliance Society, Friends of Shelburne Harbour, the Fundy North Fishermen’s Association, the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association, the Fundy Weir Fishermen’s Association, Fundy Baykeeper (a program of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick), the Friar’s Bay Development Association of Campobello Island, N.B., and a number of coastal residents.
The coalition insists the use of pesticides to counter sea lice outbreaks in New Brunswick salmon cages highlights the failure of governments to effectively regulate the sector and protect the marine environment and traditional fisheries.
Arnold said similar problems could arise in Nova Scotia, which she said is encouraging an aggressive expansion of aquaculture in areas like Long Island off Digby Neck, where Cooke Aquaculture Inc. of New Brunswick wants to develop an 80-hectare open net operation that would farm one million to two million salmon.
“It’s the equivalent of feed lots,” she said. “We are hearing a lot of concerns about the effect on lobster.”
Arnold said the coalition wants government to implement a sustainable framework for aquaculture development to replace the current “piecemeal” approach.
It would also prefer to see salmon farmed in closed containment systems that keep the fish separate from the marine environment rather than in open net systems.
Some major food retailers, including Target in the United States and Overwaitea in British Columbia, only source farmed salmon from closed containment operations because of concerns about the impact of open net aquaculture on fish and the environment, Arnold said.
Bruce Hancock, executive director of the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia, said the industry is closely regulated and monitored for both its environmental impacts and the health of the fish it produces.
“(Aquaculture) is environmentally and economically sustainable in Nova Scotia,” he said.
Nova Scotia’s aquaculture sector is worth $58 million and employs about 700 people, according to provincial Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Sterling Belliveau, who last week announced a $2.5-million investment in new aquaculture technologies and products.
Marshall Giles, director of aquaculture with the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, only learned about the coalition Monday.
“We have not had contact with this new association and are not able to comment directly on the work they are doing,” he said, defending the government’s approach to aquaculture development.
“This government is committed to the sustainable development of aquaculture in Nova Scotia, one that will create good jobs and grow the economy.”