ASF Cries Foul on NL Buying into Grieg Project

Sep 13, 2018

Conservation group cries foul on government buying in on Grieg project

Steve Sutton of Atlantic Salmon Federation says province can't oversee and be a partner in the industry

A salmon conservation group says the provincial government should stay out of a massive aquaculture project planned for Placentia Bay.

Steve Sutton, community outreach coordinator for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, says he wasn't surprised when Premier Dwight Ball confirmed Monday that the Newfoundland and Labrador government will be "a significant partner" with aquaculture company Grieg NL in the project.

"Grieg has said right from the beginning that this project wouldn't go ahead without some contribution from the province," he said. "So we wouldn't have expected them to have gotten so far in the process without having had confirmation of that already."

Conflict of interest

Sutton said since the province regulates the aquaculture industry, partnering with Grieg puts the provincial government in a conflict of interest.

"You've got a government that is now actually in the industry that they are supposed to be regulating, the industry that they are supposed to be overseeing from an environmental standpoint, so it's very much a conflict, in our opinion," he said.

He said the environmental aspects of the aquaculture industry should place it under regulation by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Sutton said the federation — headquartered in New Brunswick but with councils in Canada's Atlantic provinces as well as in Quebec, Maine and New England — was also not surprised to see the Grieg project released from its environmental assessment.

"We're disappointed that the minister chose to accept an environmental impact statement from the company that clearly didn't meet the criteria that were outlined," he said.

"But again, we're not surprised. This is a government that has tried to cut corners on this project at every stage. It's a government that has shown very little regard for the environmental impacts of aquaculture. It's shown very little regard for the status of wild salmon on the south coast of Newfoundland."

Escape-proof cages?

Sutton is sceptical of the company's promise of escape-proof pens to be used in the project.

"They sound good, but they've never been used in Newfoundland. The company has provided very little information to demonstrate, to show, to prove that they actually are escape-proof," he said.

"Until you see them in operation, we don't know. We would have concerns about whether they will actually withstand Newfoundland conditions, particularly ice conditions, which they apparently have not been designed for."

Sutton acknowledges that many people in the region are excited about the potential employment opportunities and economic benefits of the project, but he feels that challenging Grieg on the company's plans has made for stronger environmental requirements, such as marking the farmed salmon in the event there is an escape.

"On paper at least, some of them look good. They go above and beyond what the regulations require," he said

"Some of the things, like the marking of fish so that they can be identified as escapees, are things we've been asking for for years and were not able to get. So on paper, it looks like, certainly, we've got some things here that we wouldn't have had otherwise."

Plans to challenge release

The question is, he said, is whether the provincial government and Grieg will be committed to doing what's needed to meet the conditions.

The federation plans to appeal the project's release from environmental assessment under the Environmental Protection Act.

"We will be looking at Access to Information to get more information about how the decision was made, and at that point we will decide whether or not to challenge back in court."

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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