CBC News - Newfoundland

Contrite in public after salmon kill, company fights behind the scenes to get licences back

Peter Cowan

Nov 21, 2019
Northern Harvest had 2.6 million farmed salmon die in their net-pens in Fortune Bay, in what became a catastrophic event. Atlantic Salmon Federation/Bill Bryden
In public Northern Harvest Sea Farms has been apologetic over the die-off of 2.6 million salmon, but in private it pushed back against a government decision to suspend its licenses.

"The act does not give you discretion to declare that a suspension shall continue 'until further notice,'" Jamie Gaskill, managing director of Northern Harvest wrote to Gerry Byrne, the minister of Fisheries and Land Resources, in a letter dated Oct. 14.

The licences were suspended after millions of salmon died at the company's operations on the south coast of Newfoundland. The suspension came on the heels of the revelation that there were more dead fish than initially reported.

The company blames unusually warm water for the deaths.

Gaskill wrote the majority of the deaths were reported as soon as divers confirmed them, but at four of the sites the fish died over a longer period of time, so it took longer for the company to recognize what was happening.

"NHSF recognizes that it should have monitored the levels of mortality at the four sites more closely against the notification criteria," Gaskill wrote.

The letter was obtained by CBC through an access to information request.

Gaskill argued that the province should reinstate the licences because a section of the provincial Aquaculture Act says licences can be suspended only as long as the company is in violation of their conditions.

As soon as Northern Harvest reported the deaths, he argued, they were back in compliance.

This letter was sent before the president of Mowi, which owns Northern Harvest, travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador to meet with Byrne and Premier Dwight Ball over this issue.

Byrne hasn't set any timeline for the return of the licence.

He has said he wants to see a report from officials before deciding under what terms he'd allow the company to continue salmon farming.

The company says today, a month after the letter was sent, it's now focused on different things.

"Our company is solely focused on completing our comprehensive cleanup of all affected sites," said the company in a statement to CBC.

"We look forward to discussions with the government in the future about lifting the suspension of the site licences."

With the licences suspended Northern Harvest can continue to feed and even harvest the fish, but won't be allowed to stock pens with new salmon.


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