Nova Scotia’s recently created aquaculture review board is determining whether to grant Cooke Aquaculture a permit to expand the boundaries of its facility at Rattling Beach, over opposition from environmental activist groups.

Cooke has applied to expand the boundaries of its operations at its salmon farm near Digby, Nova Scotia. Cooke Aquaculture has operated 20 net-pens in the area for years, and according to the CBC, the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture has known that those pens were out of compliance with its lease boundary since at least 2011.

The Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada-based Environmental Action Centre said it has been calling on the province to address the boundary violations at the farm “for years.”

“A number of groups and individuals have called on the province multiple times to bring Rattling Beach and four other out-of-bounds sites into compliance, alleging that proper processes for expansion approvals under the Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act never took place,” it said.

At a 16 November hearing, the board’s chair, Jean McKenna, said the board’s mandate does not allow it to investigate or consider allegations of shortcomings in Canada’s aquaculture laws or their enforcement by the Canadian government.

“Nothing is to be gained by calling evidence that is an attempt to criticize the enforcement branch of the Department of Environment or Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture,” McKenna said, according to CBC. “We are not a board of inquiry into the appropriateness or inappropriateness of aquaculture in the province.”

Cooke’s application seeks more space for its farm, not additional cages, McKenna said.

“There aren’t going to be more cages on the site. There’s going to be, if you will, more site underneath the cages,” McKenna said.

In a statement, Cooke said its application seeks merely to bring its existing operations into its lease boundary.

“The application before the board is to simply bring all moorings and equipment within the lease boundary on a farm that has been operating at this location since 1994 under the approval of the provincial regulator, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture,” Cooke Aquaculture said. “This application represents no change whatsoever in equipment, location, or production increases.”

The company said it has complied with its lease parameters “every step of the way.”

International environmental organizations, including Ecojustice, have called on the board to reject Cooke’s application so as not to “legitimize its current illegal operations.”

“The government of Nova Scotia has a duty to enforce the province’s existing aquaculture laws and protect the interests of local communities and the environment,” Ecojustice Lawyer Sarah McDonald said in a release. “Instead, DFA referred the Rattling Beach application to the [board] for consideration. This sets a troubling precedent and reflects poorly on the department’s ability to properly regulate this damaging industry.” 

Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia Executive Director Tom Smith defended Cooke’s operations and the salmon-farming sector in the Canadian Maritimes.

“It is an unfortunate reality that salmon fish-farming has been the subject of sustained misinformation campaigns, and in particular one coming from Ecojustice,” Smith said. “Nova Scotia fish-farming site leases have been repeatedly renewed in the province after significant environmental and scientific review by government regulators, academics, and others.”

Smith called on environmental organizations opposing the permit application to “focus on current and future regulatory and enforcement efforts, instead of dissecting aquaculture practices of the past.”  

Photo courtesy of Cliff White/SeafoodSource

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