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NL Privacy Commission finds govt acted appropriately in salmon die off disclosure

Privacy Commissioner’s reports also a lack of written records on briefings to Minister, etc.

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The die-off of 2.6 million farmed salmon was a major environmental event on Newfoundland's south coast, with the government not reporting the event until the plant workers' union did. Photo ASF/Bill Bryden

Newfoundland and Labrador’s privacy commissioner has found the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources had no information on the health and environmental impacts of the 2019 death of 2.6 million salmon, and therefore acted properly in its public disclosure.

Commissioner Michael Harvey issued a report on Tuesday into the disclosure of information stemming from the salmon die off, which occurred in August and September of 2019 in seafarms owned by Northern Harvest Seafoods, the Atlantic Canadian arm of Scottish-owned Mowi.

“I find that the department did not have any information before it which suggested that this mass mortality event posed any significant risk of harm to the environment or to human health or safety,” wrote Harvey.

“The event was not an unusual event, as similar mass mortality events — though perhaps not of the same scale — have occurred in the Newfoundland and Labrador aquaculture industry in the past. The minister and other senior officials within the department received information and guidance from department staff as well as federal agencies and the department submits that at no point were concerns raised.”

However, the report did note a lack of documentation within the department, noting that briefings for minister Gerry Byrne were done orally, with no notes taken.

“The department’s submissions did not include records relating to any briefings provided to the minister or discussions between the minister and senior officials or other department employees,” reads the report.

“The department explained that all such briefings, including those on scientific matters related to the causes of the mortality event and its potential impacts on the environment or human health or safety (if any), were done verbally and records were not kept.”

Harvey notes the investigation undertaken by his office starting in October 2019 would have been easier with documents from the oral briefings.

Ultimately, the commissioner did not issue recommendations to the department to improve the disclosure relating to mass mortality events.