The Telegram

Hatchery plan in the crosshairs


Oct 19, 2019
Once again, an environmental decision by the provincial government is headed for court

A stitch in time saves nine.

That’s the way the saying goes.

And when it comes to the recent die-off of aquaculture salmon in this province — with some 2.6 million fish deaths — it might not be a bad time to go over some of the past needlework.

Environmental groups are preparing to go to court over a provincial government decision to approve a fish hatchery expansion, saying the original environmental review of Northern Harvest Smolt’s hatchery proposal wasn’t thorough enough.

As environmental assessments go, the turnaround time was remarkably quick. The $51-million project, which was to increase smolt output at the hatchery by almost 50 per cent, from 4.5 million smolt a year to 6.7 million fish, was registered on July 17, 2018, and approved by the minister on Sept. 4.

The fish were to go to the company’s existing sites. As the environmental registration document says, “The Indian Head Hatchery Expansion Project… proposes to upgrade and expand the facility providing more smolt at a higher quality in order to fully utilize the existing licensed Northern Harvest Sea Farms saltwater farms.”

When it applied for the expansion, the company wasn’t above a tip of the hat to the Liberal government, either: “Expansion of the existing hatchery will lead to increased salmon aquaculture production in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, a Way Forward commitment by the provincial government.” (It’s always nice to point out to a regulator that they themselves have skin in the game.)

But opponents say the decision puts huge numbers of salmon into the system without full review.

Essentially, they argue that, if you’re going to hatch more fish and put those fish into the existing cage system, the effects of having additional fish in cages have to be examined for environmental risk.
The government’s response, when environmentalists first appealed the environmental assessment of the project?

As usual, the appeal of the environment minister’s decision was done by the environment minister, leading to the perhaps unsurprising decision that the environment minister was right all along: “Furthermore, Northern Harvest advises that while they do intend to increase production, that the increase will occur on fully licensed sites that have not been stocked to their full licensed capacity and that they have not submitted any plans to expand site perimeters or capacity of any of its sites. Therefore, the hatchery expansion does not create any increase in the marine environmental footprint that has not already been evaluated and approved.”

Now, that decision will go to the courts.

The provincial government has lost the last two court battles it has had over environmental assessments of aquaculture projects. In those losses, the courts ruled the government didn’t put its responsibility to the public first.

Oh, and here’s another saying: three strikes, and you’re out.

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