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Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd. would be operating only three to four cages and farming only 120,000 salmon at its Rattling Beach fish farm if it abided by the terms of its lease.
Instead, the company operates 20 cages that accommodate 660 penned salmon at its Annapolis Basin site off Digby.
Jeffery Nickerson, the business development manager for Kelly Cove, confirmed Monday that the Rattling Beach salmon farm has operated well beyond the confines of its lease since 2004 when he was questioned by Ecojustice lawyer Caitlin Urquhart.
“They have admitted on the record that they have been operating at their current size of 29 hectares, three times the size of their lease, for 17 years,” Ecojustice lawyer Sarah McDonald said in an interview at the completion of the first day of the four-day Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board hearing in Yarmouth to determine if the company’s lease expansion can proceed.
“Now they are asking the board to legitimize that history of illegal operation,” said McDonald, who along with Urquhart, is representing local resident and writer Gregory Heming as an intervenor at the hearing.
“Not to mention that the province is saying that they won’t consult with affected Mi’kmaq communities because there are no new impacts, because the company has been operating illegally for so long, which in our view is very tenuous logic,” McDonald said.
Lawyer Rob Grant, representing the company, called witnesses Monday before the three-person board panel comprised of chairwoman Jean McKenna and members Michael McKinnon and Richard Patterson.
Alison Campbell, lawyer for the province, will call witnesses Tuesday.
The issue at Rattling Beach predates a moratorium on new open-net pen aquaculture sites in the province issued in May 2013 that coincided with the province launching a review of provincial legislation governing aquaculture.
The Doelle-Lahey review authored by Dalhousie University law school professors Meinhard Doelle and William Lahey and released in 2014 called for an overhaul of aquaculture regulations but did not recommend a permanent moratorium on open-net pens.
“We conclude that this overhaul should be guided by the idea that aquaculture that integrates economic prosperity, social well-being and environmental sustainability is one that is low impact and high value,” the report authors wrote.
The report called for aquaculture that has a low level of adverse environmental and social impact, which decreases over time and produces from coastal resources a positive economic and social value.
An updated legislative and regulatory process to govern aquaculture ensued and the open-net pen moratorium was lifted in 2016.
In October 2016, Kelly Cove, a division of New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture, submitted an application to the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture to expand its lease boundary at the Rattling Beach site.
The department sat on the application for more than four years while Kelly Cove continued to operate the site beyond the parameters of its lease, leading to mounting pressure from the public and environmental groups to enforce the company’s lease boundaries.
“The Doelle-Lahey report and the legislation and the regulations that were introduced in response to that explicitly called for stronger oversight of the aquaculture industry, more transparency in terms of regulation and enforcement and community involvement in decision making,” McDonald said.
“What has transpired here seems to be contrary to all of that.”
Kelly Cove farms Atlantic salmon at marine aquaculture sites along Nova Scotia’s southern and western shores and McDonald said at least four of them are operating “quite far outside their lease boundaries and they have expansion applications before the department for three of those sites.”
Heming, a literary ecologist who lives about 2.5 kilometres downstream from the Rattling Beach aquaculture site, and others have been concerned about salmon farming in the basin for quite some time.
“Thousands of Nova Scotians have repeatedly voiced their concerns about Kelly Cove operating outside its lease boundaries at Rattling Beach and other sites across the province,” Heming said in a statement before the hearing convened.
“I am intervening because I believe it is critical that these voices are considered as the (board) decides whether or not to approve the lease expansion.”
Heming said fish farming is based on a faulty economic model that relies on the destruction of the ecosystem.
“This issue is compounded when the government fails to enforce environmental protection measures, as it did in this case by not acting to bring Kelly Cove into compliance with its existing lease boundaries,” he said.
McDonald said Ecojustice, when its turn to summon witnesses comes around, will call Ronald Neufeld, who used to live on the basin and has been sounding the alarm about lease violations for nearly 10 years, information that he brought to the government department but saw nothing done about it.
“The (department) is choosing, instead of enforcing its own regulations, to allow the company to apply for a lease expansion to legitimize its illegal operations and they have not been transparent about the extent of the violations to the public or even to local community members,”
“It’s all very concerning and if the expansion is awarded, it sets a pretty troubling precedent.”