Jobs, environment clash at Marystown meeting about $250M salmon farm

A proposal to farm more than seven million salmon every year in Placentia Bay ereceived both praise and condemnation Tuesday night.

Whitbourne mayor says government would reject plan if it 'had any guts at all'

Grieg NL hopes to build one of Canada's largest salmon farms on Newfoundland's south coast. (CBC)

A proposal to farm more than seven million salmon in Placentia Bay every year received both praise and condemnation Tuesday night at a sometimes raucous meeting of more than 250 people in Marystown. 

Aquaculture company Grieg NL organized the public meeting as part of the environmental impact statement (EIS) it has been ordered to prepare as it seeks approval for its proposal to build a land-based hatchery and a string of sea cages. 

If successful, Grieg NL plans to build a hatchery on the Burin Peninsula that will produce immature salmon to be grown to market size at 11 sea-cage sites around Placentia Bay.

Tuesday's meeting — which drew aquaculture experts from Norway, Iceland and the U.S. to Marystown — was also simulcast at sites in St. John's, Gander and Corner Brook.

Grieg has been trying to get the project off the ground for at least three years.

Reaction to the company's plans, which would cost more than $250 million to execute, remains highly divided.

"It's a tremendous boost to our business and a tremendous boost to rural Newfoundland," said Paul Lannon, the general manager of Harbour Grace Ocean Enterprises.

Paul Lannon is the general manager of Harbour Grace Ocean Enterprises. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Grieg NL  is expected to commission Lannon's company to build seven vessels worth more than $3.5 million for its project.

"Now we also have companies in Norway looking at our vessels as a possible addition to their fleets."

Positive effects

Grieg NL's Perry Power, who helped organize the meetings, believes the project will have a powerfully positive effect on the Burin Peninsula.

This is the future.- Perry Power


"We have a number of historic coastal communities that are under threat and their threat is that people are aging and young people are not staying," Power said. 

Perry Power believes there is huge potential for Grieg NL's proposal to build a salmon farm in Placentia Bay. (Mark Quinn/CBC)
 

"The experience in places like Norway and Iceland is that when this industry establishes itself, small rural communities become stable and they start to boom — and that's what we're looking for," he said. 

"This is the future."

'A lot of malarkey'

But many people remain opposed to the proposal, particularly Grieg NL's contention that it can raise millions of salmon in Placentia Bay without hurting the environment. 

Hilda Whalen is worried about the environmental impact to farm salmon in Placentia Bay 5:34

"I think it's a lot of malarkey," said Whitbourne Mayor Hilda Whalen, who doesn't believe the project should be allowed to proceed.

"The cages won't work and you can't farm disease-free fish," she said. 

"We are about to be bombarded. If anyone in government had any guts at all, then they would stand up against this."

Numerous hurdles yet to clear

After GriegNL has prepared an EIS, the document will be reviewed by an environmental assessment panel and the provincial environment minister.

They then make recommendations to the provincial cabinet. If ministers agree to release the project, then GriegNL must apply for licences and approvals from numerous federal and provincial departments. 

Grieg NL officials say if everything goes as planned, they could start building as soon as the coming fall. 

The previous Progressive Conservative provincial government said it would spent $45 million to buy an equity stake in the salmon farming project.

The current Liberal provincial government has consistently said it has not decided yet. 

Salmon conservation advocates have argued the government would put itself in a conflict of interest if it took on an equity stake in the project. 

About the Author

Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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