A fight is brewing between environmental groups and Cooke Seafood, which is hoping to expand its operations in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Cooke Seafood Kelly Cove Salmon has applied for permits to allow for at least 30 new net-pens at three sites, including an expansion of its Rattling Beach site in the Annapolis Basin from 8.75 hectares to just over 29 hectares, and the expansion of an existing site in Liverpool Bay to 20 cages. In a speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce on 29 March, Cooke President and CEO Glenn Cooke reaffirmed his company’s expansion plans, which also include a processing facility and a recirculating aquaculture system hatchery.

“Our goal is to produce more salmon in Nova Scotia, more seawater sites that we are applying for,” Cooke said, according to the CBC.

Kelly Cove’s application for additional leases for sea cages is currently in the official review phase. Once reviewed, a final decision will be made by the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board. However, environmental non-governmental organization Ecology Action Centre, which opposes the expansion of open net-pen salmon farming in Nova Scotia, is working to oppose the expansion. An attempt by the group, along with the nonprofit East Coast Environmental Law Association, to be named as intervenors in the review board’s hearings on the permit application, was rejected on Monday, 12 April.

“In doing so, the [board] has set an alarming precedent for civil society participation in shaping the future of aquaculture in public waters,” the groups said in a press release. “The decision effectively bars Nova Scotia’s largest environmental organization from fully participating in the new regulatory process.”

Nova Scotia’s government recently confirmed its support for the continued existence and growth of the conventional salmon farming industry in the province – a move that contrasts with the federal government’s backing of a phase-out of open net-pen farming in British Columbia, citing environmental concerns.

Other opponents of an expansion of salmon net-pen aquaculture in Nova Scotia include some lobster fishermen, who fear the loss of fishing grounds and potential harm to the local lobster population. But in his speech, Cooke dismissed critics of his company’s expansion plans.

“I think a lot of the people who are opposing our industry today really are ill-informed or have information that is old and not real anymore,” Cooke told CBC News after his talk. “We do have sustainable, environmentally friendly operations that will create long-serving jobs in those communities.”

Cooke said the proposed processing plant will be located in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, and will create hundreds of new jobs, but that the company around 30 million pounds of salmon input per year to be viable.

If Cooke is able to realize its ambitions, it will have succeeded where another global salmon-farming powerhouse recently failed. Last January, Oslo, Norway-based Cermaq abandoned plans to expand in Nova Scotia, saying it could not find suitable locations for the farms it needed to make its operations in the province worthwhile.

Photo courtesy of Office of Andrew Scheer/MP Regina-Qu’Appelle

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