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Anxiety in Bay St. George-lobsters and smolt cull

‘I am worried about it making its way to my lobster grounds,’ says James Cutler

As James Cutler counted down the hours to the opening of lobster season, he and his young crew were busy with last-minute fixups.

After years fishing with his dad, Cutler — who lives at Little Port Harmon in Stephenville, near his fishing grounds — has his own fishing enterprise.

But making him nervous is his proximity to Northern Harvest Smolt, where a cull of smolt — young salmon — is taking place.

“My only concern, I guess, [is] about trying to coexist with something so close to us,” he said.

Cutler’s fishing grounds start at the entrance of Little Port Harmon in Stephenville. At the far end of the little cove is Mowi-owned Northern Harvest Smolt, where 450,000 smolts are being culled from the indoor tanks at the facility.

According to a news release from Northern Harvest, the company is culling the fish because of a suspected detection of infectious salmon anemia at its hatchery. The company says all culled fish will be used as biofuel and the facility will be disinfected to ensure the anemia is eradicated.

In 2019, there was a massive die-off at a Mowi-owned facility on the south coast of Newfoundland. The incident happened with mature salmon in pens in the ocean.

As lobster fishermen take to the water this week, Cutler said he wants as much information as possible about the environmental impacts of any industry near his fishing grounds.

“I would like to have access to information to know what is going on so I can either prepare for the worst or best,” he said. “I’ve only recently bought my own lobster licence and I need to try to make my payments, you know, and things like this virus that we’re battling … to have anything else stacked on top of it is just kind of overwhelming.”

Northern Harvest is in the midst of an expansion of its Stephenville operation. According to the town, part of that work will see piping laid across the Harmon Seaside Links golf course to give Northern Harvest’s facility access to salt water.

The Port au Port fisheries committee is keeping an eye on the waters of Bay St. George, and the aquaculture industry as whole.

Member Bill Gorman says he was not surprised to hear about the infectious anemia, given the fish are not feeding in their natural habitats.

“I don’t know how they’re going to control it if they can’t control it in enclosed waters, and controlled temperatures.”

Gorman says he understands the need to create jobs in the area, and he supports that. He just wants to ensure the environment is protected.

“All the chemicals that’s fed these fish, one wonders what happens to the wildlife that’s surrounding — the pool of fish that’s in our oceans and in our bays?”

Earlier this month, the Port of Stephenville set a boom across Little Port Harmon to collect plastic debris that spilled into the water near the Northern Harvest facility.