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Environmental groups see ocean-based salmon farming as new cash cow says NL aquaculture leader

PAUL HERRIDGE Mar 12, 2020

MARYSTOWN, N.L. — Ocean-based salmon aquaculture is the latest “cash cow” for environmental special interest groups who want to “kill” the industry, Mark Lane says.

“That sounds a little harsh; I’m just being honest,” the executive director of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association (NAIA) told members gathered for the Burin Peninsula Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting in Marystown Thursday evening, March 5.

“No one talks about mussels, no one talks about urchins as such, in terms of controversy.”

In his presentation Lane declared salmon aquaculture is the new sealing industry for organizations looking to fundraise big money on the “backs of hardworking Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.”

He said environmental non-governmental organizations — specifically citing the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF), the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Ecojustice — are out to destroy the future of towns in the province and asked the Burin Peninsula business community to be aquaculture “champions” instead.

“Here, you’ve got a massive opportunity and if we don’t stand up and defend ourselves as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, then by God, we’re going to miss out,” Lane said.

‘Under attack’

Speaking beforehand, Burin Peninsula Chamber of Commerce president John Baker expressed similar sentiments that aquaculture is “under attack.” He said any industry that deals with the environment is “getting hammered on.”

“So we’ve got to come back and we’ve got to be just as strong, and we’ve got to be more important than the people who are throwing mud in our faces,” Baker told the Chamber’s members Thursday.

Marystown and the Burin Peninsula have been moving towards aquaculture in a big way in the past couple of years, but not without some headwinds.

Grieg NL is making progress with its massive project to open an Atlantic salmon hatchery in Marystown along with farm sites in Placentia Bay.

Newfoundland businessman Paul Antle spoke out in the media recently, however, about the environmental red tape delaying Marystown Marbase Cleanerfish Hatchery’s efforts to get up and running.

The company is proposing to operate a lumpfish hatchery at the former shipyard site in Marystown, which Antle’s Marbase Marystown Inc. bought for $1 million last year.

Baker asked the chamber’s members to support its lobbying efforts when called upon.

“As you know, there’s power in numbers,” he said.

Environmentally friendly

Aquaculture is an environmentally friendly industry, said Lane. That’s a message he said is often “polluted by non-factual opinion.”

“If you’re an environmentalist, true environmentalist, you have to support aquaculture, scientifically,” he said Thursday.

“We are a solution to climate change. We are the most efficient form of protein farming on the planet, proven time and time again.”

Lane rejected as “ludicrous” any notion that the aquaculture industry doesn’t care about protecting the environment.

“We’re farmers. There would be nothing we would do to cause detrimental harm to the environment. It would be like accusing a wheat farmer of polluting his field,” he said.

ASF responds

Neville Crabbe of the ASF told SaltWire Network on Monday, March 9, that aquaculture is just one of four priority areas the organization focuses on to lessen damage to wild Atlantic salmon.

“I mean, it’s something that at times it’s busy and at other times, it’s not very active at all,” he said.

“To say we use it as a way of fundraising, we are constantly communicating with our membership base about our activities, so people that are making donations to ASF are aware of our positions and notions when it comes to open-net pen salmon aquaculture, but what we do is not cynical or facetious.

“We’re trying to address a situation that where the industry is present is a threat to wild Atlantic salmon and other fish species. Is it something that ASF uses to raise money? I say, you know, no more than any other sort of issue that we deal with and communicate with our members with.”

In instances where ASF has taken on aquaculture issues in Newfoundland and Labrador, Crabbe said they’ve done so with “rational, legal arguments” and have had success in the court system.

‘Cynical and misleading’

Crabbe characterized Lane’s comments suggesting ENGOs wanting to end ocean-based salmon aquaculture as “cynical and misleading.”

“I think it’s nothing but hyperbole to attempt to deflect responsibility for the industry itself, which through repeated efforts and direct lobbying to undermine the environmental assessment process has caused themselves trouble and delay at every turn,” he said.

“It’s still really puzzling to me why these large companies and large projects work so hard and push so hard to not do something which is expected of most other major industrial developments. I mean, a mine would never come into the province and set up shop without doing an environmental assessment.”

Crabbe said Lane’s remarks about aquaculture’s efficiencies ignore the core issues of public concern which have led regulators around the world to look at alternative approaches to the industry.

“(Lane is) not willing now nor has ever been, in my experience, willing to acknowledge that there are significant impacts and risks emanating from this industry, and by acknowledging them, you know, create a path forward to more sustainable and broadly acceptable development,” Crabbe said.

Aquaculture in N.L.

Aquaculture production volume was 17,978 tonnes in 2018 with a market value of $204 million.

The major commercial salmonid species in the province is Atlantic Salmon. There were 88 site licences in 2018. Salmonid production was 15,107 tonnes that year with a value of $192 million.

The main shellfish aquaculture species in the province is the blue mussel. Production volume of farmed shellfish was 2,871 tonnes in 2018, valued at $12 million.

Source: Seafood Industry Year in Review 2018, Department of Fisheries and Land Resources