'Slap on the wrist' for salmon farm's illegal use of pesticide upsets fishermen

Fishermen groups are dismayed with the sentence given to Northern Harvest Sea Farms for a violation of New Brunswick's Pesticides Control Act last summer.

Northern Harvest didn't have licence to apply chemical against lice outbreak off Campobello

A lawyer for Northern Harvest Sea Farms has admitted the company knowingly violated New Brunswick's Pesticides Control Act in an attempt to control a sea lice outbreak at a farm off Campobello Island. (Northern Harvest Sea Farms)

Fishermen groups are dismayed with the sentence given to Northern Harvest Sea Farms for violating New Brunswick's Pesticides Control Act last summer with an illegal use of pesticide.

On Tuesday, the company admitted to knowingly using the pesticide Salmosan 50 WP without approval in an attempt to deal with a sea lice outbreak at a salmon farm off Head Harbour on Campobello Island.

I think any time there's a fine that's a deterrent to illegal activity, it should be an actual deterrent to the activity.- Bonnie Morse, Grand  Manan  Fishermen's Association

​Salmosan has been found to be fatal to lobster and other sea crustaceans.

The company was fined $12,000.

Northern Harvest was represented by lawyer Duane McAfee, who told the court the company applied to use the pesticide on July 18 and had not yet received permission when it went ahead with the application July 26.

Sea farm workers were trying to control the lice outbreak at the site, which holds $1.5 million worth of fish if they reach harvest size.

"Our client felt that it was imperative for the fish health that they treat it with Salmosan," McAfee said. "They were essentially concerned about mass mortalities."

Bonnie Morse, project manager with the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association, said the fine is far too small.

"I think any time there's a fine that's a deterrent to illegal activity, it should be an actual deterrent to the activity," said Morse. "When you're looking at $1.5 million worth of fish, their actions speak for themselves."

Questions farm licence

Maria Recchia, the executive director of the Fundy North Fishermen's Association, said the province should not have approved the Head Harbour location for the fish farms.

The two farm sites just off Campobello Island had been vacant since 2009.

Pens returned in the spring of 2017, just months before the sea lice outbreak.

The province broke their word to us.- Maria Recchia , Fundy North Fishermen's Association

​Recchia said there was so much concern on the island about the possible impact of pesticide use at the sites that fishermen demanded and received a meeting with provincial and federal officials in April 2017 and were assured no pesticide use would be permitted that year.

"The province broke their word to us," said Recchia. "We were told that there would not be any pesticide treatments in the first year. ... We were also promised good communication if anything changed."

Recchia referred to the $12,000 fine as a "slap on the wrist" and a "cost of doing business."

She also disputed a claim made in court Tuesday by Crown prosecutor Christopher Titus that the nearest lobster-holding facility contained about $15,000 worth of the crustaceans.

Maria Recchia, the Fundy North Fishermen's Association executive director, says salmon cage sites should never have been permitted near lobster-holding facilities in Campobello Island waters. (Fundy North Fishermen's Association)

She said the fishing season had just ended and that holding site was near capacity at the time of the illegal pesticide use incident at the salmon farm.

"I know they had a million dollars worth of lobster on their site at that time," said Recchia.

Another claim by the Crown also provoked a reaction.

"There was no actual harm to any lobster in the area," Titus told Judge Kelly Winchester.

It's a claim baykeeper Matt Abbott of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick found puzzling.

Can't know extent of damage

He said there can be no way to determine if lobster on the sea floor were killed or weakened by the pesticide.

"To have the Crown or anyone else claim that there was no harm done from these pesticides is really quite shocking," Abbott said.

"Dead lobsters don't crawl into traps. This offence occurred outside lobster season."

Larry Ingalls, the president of Northern Harvest Sea Farms, did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
 

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Connell Smith

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Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca