Freeing aquaculture project from assessment is irresponsible, unlawful

Neville Crabbe —

The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) is alarmed and disappointed by the decision of the Newfoundland and Labrador government to release the proposal by Grieg NL Seafarms Ltd. from any further environmental assessment.

Grieg plans to produce up to 7 million farmed fish per year. This has the potential to wipe out the remaining wild Atlantic salmon in Placentia Bay through disease, sea lice infestation, and interbreeding.

It has been ASFs position that an environmental impact statement is necessary to make an informed decision on this project. Wild Atlantic salmon on Newfoundland’s south coast are recognized as a threatened species by an expert federal scientific committee.

Dr. Steve Sutton, ASF’s Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinator, said, “the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has failed to abide by its own laws in not ordering a full environmental impact statement. This project sets a precedent by allowing foreign strains of farmed salmon to be raised in sea cages and could have a ripple effect in Canada.”

Section 25 of the provincial Environmental Assessment Regulations clearly orders Environment and Conservation Minister Perry Trimper to require a full environmental impact statement if a project poses significant environmental risks, or raises public concern.

“In this case there are both serious risks and huge concern from Newfoundlanders,” said Dr. Sutton. “Grieg is planning to use Icelandic strains of Atlantic salmon in untested open net pens among a ‘threatened’ population of wild Atlantic salmon.”

“By not ordering an EIS, the minister is limiting public involvement, scientific knowledge, and opportunities to monitor and mitigate impacts,” said Dr. Sutton.

In their regulatory filings, Grieg NL Seafarms Ltd. claims that this project will have no impact on wild Atlantic salmon. However, there is a growing body of peer-reviewed scientific evidence that shows marine-based sea cage fish farms have a variety of significant negative effects on the survival of wild Atlantic salmon. This project will put the wild salmon of Placentia Bay, other recreational and commercial fisheries, and the coastal environment at further risk.

Newfoundland’s Minister of Environment and Conservation made a commitment at the beginning of this government’s mandate to “ensure policy decisions in government are informed by research, evidence, and evaluation so that citizens can understand how and why decisions are made.”

By not ordering the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement for this project, the minister is limiting public involvement and scientific knowledge about the potential impacts on Placentia Bay. The decision to move ahead with minimal, mostly unrelated conditions, means all the facts around this large industrial development and their potential negative consequences will not be known.

Jonathan Carr, ASF’s Executive Director of Research and Environment, said, “for the first time in Canada, foreign strains of salmon will be commercially raised next to our wild fish.”

“The company says the farmed salmon will be rendered sterile.  However, there is no 100 per cent effective way of doing this, leaving the potential for thousands of fertile farmed salmon to escape and interbreed with wild salmon, weakening the gene pool of an already threatened population,” said Carr.

“There are also uncertainties about the disease resistance of the introduced fish and their potential to spread sickness to wild fish in the region. “And the security of the net-pens that Grieg is proposing to use has not been tested in the harsh Newfoundland marine environment,” said Carr.

As a result of this decision, the Atlantic Salmon Federation is considering all options available to ensure the project receives the scrutiny it deserves. It appears the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is in a conflict of interest with Grieg NL Seafarms Ltd. It has previously been announced that $45 million dollars from the province will be spent on this project in return for company shares.