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Cooke wins renewal for controversial NS salmon farm

One Liverpool Bay resident blasts decision to renew licence and lease as ‘a farce’

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Liverpool Bay site of Cooke Aquaculture. Photo Brian Muldoon

Cooke Aquaculture has secured a new long-term lease and operating licence for its existing salmon farm site in Liverpool Bay, N.S.

The renewal awarded Cooke subsidiary, Kelly Cove Salmon Limited, a lease until 2040 and a 10-year licence to 2030 for its current operation at Liverpool Bay where it has 14 pens in the water.

The 10-year licence and 20-year lease periods are standard in provincial aquaculture regulations.

Liverpool Bay is the same location where the company is seeking provincial government approval for a major expansion that would add 46 more pens and increase capacity to 1.8-million salmon.

The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture’s renewal decision was posted earlier this month on its website after a review of information submitted by Cooke and objections by some local residents.

Cooke is in the midst of a separate application for six more pens at the existing salmon farm — identified as site #1205 — and 40 more pens at two new sites nearby.

The expansion is currently being reviewed by department staff before it is sent to the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board for a final decision.

‘It should have been put on hold’

Opponent Brian Muldoon, who lives next to the existing site, said the renewal should not have gone ahead.

“We think that it should have been put on hold until that final amendment to this one and the two new sites,” he said.

“They should not be renewing a lease or licence in the midst of another application that’s before the [Aquaculture Review Board]. It’s a farce. The whole system is a farce,” he said.

The province insists the renewal and expansion are completely separate.

“The administrative decision to renew the licence and lease for site #1205 has no bearing on the adjudicative decision-making process for the expansion and new site applications,” Bruce Nunn, a department spokesperson, said in an email.

Cooke criticisms unproven, province says

Cooke took over the existing lease in 2012 under a five-year term.

In submissions opposing the renewal, opponents accused the Cooke operation of littering the shoreline with debris, harming lobster stocks and hurting tourism.

What the province said in its decision

In its decision, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture said those claims were unproven.

It downplayed other objections in its decision.

“No specific information was provided that indicated that the past operation had a detrimental effect on lobster fishing activities” or “tourism activities,” the decision stated.

The department said ongoing research in Liverpool Bay by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is looking at the impacts of salmon farming on lobster.

In response to concerns about large die-offs caused by superchills — sustained cold temperatures that drop the temperature of the water to the level that fish blood freezes — the department said Cooke had complied with requirements.

It said new real-time monitoring technology will help the company “implement appropriate mitigation measures when oxygen readings and temperature levels fall below prescribed levels.”

Cooke’s response

Cooke vice-president of public relations Joel Richardson said more than a dozen federal and provincial regulatory agencies have oversight for its salmon farm, which is adjacent to Coffin Island.

“We are pleased that the Coffin Island site lease in Liverpool Bay has been renewed by government regulators which recognizes our strong environmental performance and best management practices,” he said in a statement to CBC News.

“Maintaining a clean environment is essential to raising salmon, and the coastal area around the farm is as pristine today as it was when the farm was first established.”

The application to triple the Cooke footprint at Liverpool Bay was submitted in early 2019.

It’s unclear when the expansion will move toward a decision.

Board not reviewing applications

There is a temporary suspension of referrals to the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board.

The board’s website says there are currently no applications before it and its offices are closed as part of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

In a symbolic gesture last year, the Municipality of Queens County voted by a 5-3 margin to oppose the expansion of salmon farming in Liverpool Bay.