Undercurrent News

Newfoundland fisheries minister investigated for promptness of salmon death disclosures

Nov 2, 2019
Minister Gerry Byrne from his facebook page
What did Gerry Byrne, the minister of fisheries and land resources for Newfoundland & Labrador, know about Northern Harvest Sea Farm’s massive Atlantic salmon die-off, when did he know it, and why didn’t he alert the public sooner?

Those are a few of the questions Michael Harvey, the Canadian province’s information and privacy commissioner, is expected to ask as part of an investigation he’s launched, the CBC reports.

The Canadian news service said Byrne declined more than a dozen of its interview requests after it became aware of the event, which was reported to have killed 2.6 million fish and was blamed by the New Brunswick-based aquaculture net-pen company, a division of Norway’s Mowi, on extended exposure to warm waters.

The company initially refused to provide any numbers from the mortality event, which it said it first discovered on Sept. 3, after water temperatures had hit 18-21 degrees Celsius (64.4-69.8 degrees F) in Newfoundland's Fortune Bay during the month of August and stayed there for several weeks.

It was near the end of September -- nearly a month later -- when provincial officials confirmed a large number of deaths had occurred, following complaints by the local fishermen's union. And it wasn't until Oct. 11 that the number of mortalities was made public, after Byrne suddenly cracked down on Northern Harvest, announcing he was suspending a number of licenses for salmon farms and directed the company to be more forthcoming with the public.

Harvey, who was granted his post in July, reportedly said his investigation was prompted by questions from New Democratic Party fisheries critic Jim Dinn about compliance with Canadian laws dealing with required access to information and privacy protection in matters involving public or environmental safety.

"We can't bring those fish back to life but hopefully we can learn from this experience and learn what, in this case, the heads of public bodies can and are obligated to do when it comes to disclosing information to the public," Harvey told CBC Radio's The Broadcast.

"This part of our act has not really been used before, so this is an opportunity for us to really think about it and how it should be used," he said.

In an interview with CBC News on Thursday, Byrne reportedly pointed to prohibitions against disclosing information that would be harmful to a "law enforcement matter."


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