A spokesperson for a Nova Scotia-based environmental organization says the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is falling into a familiar pattern by clearing the way for a huge new salmon farm proposed for Placentia Bay.

"Coastal communities, particularly in Atlantic Canada, we're always looking for some panacea, some solution to make sure people have jobs," Susanna Fuller, marine campaign coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, told the St. John's Morning Show.

"We have such a history of being a bit of a banana republic with our environment because we are desperate for the employment"

Operation will create 325 direct jobs

On July 22 the Department of Environment gave the green light to a proposal from Grieg NL Seafarms Ltd. to build a hatchery in Marystown and place 11 sea cages on Placentia Bay.

The provincial government said the operation will create 325 direct jobs in a region where unemployment is high and skilled workers routinely leave the province for work. 

Fuller said she was also shocked to learn the provincial government is willing to subsidize this industry. Last fall the department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs announced it was prepared to invest up to $45 million for an equity position in the company.

The problem, Fuller said, is that the project is likely to fail both environmentally and economically.

'We did analysis in Nova Scotia. Salmon farming produced the least amount of jobs of any coastal industry, in terms of jobs per million dollars of revenue" she said. "Salmon farming was an order of magnitude less than [commercial] fishing, recreational fishing and tourism."

Atlantic Salmon

Fuller says environmental regulations for salmon farms are less strict in Canada than in many other countries. (Robert F. Bukaty/The Associated Press)

The bigger problem, Fuller said, is that aquaculture regulations in Atlantic Canada are not as tough as those found in Norway, Scotland or even the United States. 

"Atlantic Canada currently uses about 200 times more chemicals, and antibiotics and drugs in our farms than they do in Norway and Scotland," she said. "We will allow them to do things they cannot do in the country where the company began." 

Nature subsidizing industry

"Nature is already subsidizing the impact of that industry," she said. "I can't understand why we would also put public money into an industry that we are also giving our environment to."

On July 26 Fisheries Minister Steve Crocker said it was a matter of balancing both the environment and economic development.

"We need to ensure that as we grow our economy we do it an environmentally sustainable way ... but it's also important that we develop economies."

with files from the St. John's Morning Show