Cermaq Canada got more time Friday to decide whether it will proceed with plans to develop salmon farms at four sites in Nova Scotia, thanks to an 11th-hour reprieve from the provincial government.
Last year, the company was awarded leases for six coastal sites in Nova Scotia: St. Marys Bay, Chedabucto Bay, Guysborough East, Bay of Rocks, Mahone Bay and St. Margarets Bay.
On the day its option period for the first of those four leases was due to expire, the province extended the deadline indefinitely for all aquaculture applications in the option phase because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A notice posted on the Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture website announced that community engagements can continue once physical distancing restrictions in the province are discontinued.
The postponement gives the Mitsubishi subsidiary breathing room as it considers a major expansion into Nova Scotia.
Company plans to announce decision in early April
The company said just two weeks ago it needed more time to consult and had not decided on specific locations for up to 20 fish farms.
In a statement, Cermaq communications manager Amy Jonsson said the company is planning to announce its decision the week of April 6.
“As with everything currently, this may change, but we do commit to continuing to provide updates and moving forward in a transparent and accountable manner,” she wrote.
The options give the company six months — plus an option for an extension — to evaluate potential locations prior to an application for a specific site.
Four of the six leases were set to expire Friday and weren’t eligible for another extension. The two leases for St. Margarets Bay and Mahone Bay expire July 9, but a three-month extension is possible.
Tom Smith, executive director of the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia, said the industry lobbied for the postponement, which also affects two oyster farm applications in the option phase.
“This is not specifically a Cermaq issue. It is an issue with the option process. Community engagement needs to be respected,” Smith said.
Opponents to Cermaq’s plans have raised concerns about pollution from fish feces, the chemicals used in fish farming and mass die-offs.
Cermaq maintains its operations are environmentally sound.