A P.E.I. hatchery that will produce genetically modified salmon has received the go-ahead for two 40,000 square-foot buildings to expand production capacity in Rollo Bay West.

The expansion will provide AquaBounty with capacity to produce 250 metric tonnes of genetically modified —  4.5-5 kg Atlantic salmon — per year.

The approval for the facility, owned by AquaBounty Canada, was granted June 19 by P.E.I. Minister of Communities, Land and Environment, Robert Mitchell.

The minister ordered amendments to the company's plan in order to address concerns raised during public consultations.

Among those amendments, the company must inform government "in the event of escape or release of fish, at any stage of their life cycle" according to a letter from the Minister, addressed to AquaBounty.

GMO salmon

GMO production fears are the main concern people raised, according to the province, following public consultations.

The province also ordered AquaBounty to provide monthly water-quality test results for a minimum of two years. Those findings will be posted on a government website for public viewing, according to the letter.

Government extended its deadline earlier this year for public submissions on the expansion, due to requests from the public. Major concerns included "GMO production fears" and "potential harmful impact of ... salmon escapees on wild Atlantic salmon populations," according to a summary of public comments compiled by government.

'Low level of risk' according to feds

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says there is a "low level of risk associated with escapes from the facility," according to a letter it provided to the province to address public concerns. "Therefore there is no requirement for a contingency plan for any escape," the letter states.

However, the provincial environment minister did order AquaBounty to develop a contingency plan, "which outlines procedures to be followed in the event of escape or release of fish." That plan must be approved by the province prior to housing any life stage of fish at the facility, according to the minister's letter.

GMO fish not part of original plan

AquaBounty plans to keep broodstock and eggs and to rear fully grown fish at the facility. The company had originally intended to handle only non-GMO stock in Rollo Bay West. Plans for genetically modified stock were introduced in its request for amendment to its original Environmental Impact Statement.

GMO fish produced by AquaBounty are sterile. The inability of the GMO fish to reproduce is intended to further safeguard wild fish populations.

Preliminary construction work at the AquaBounty site in Rollo Bay West has now begun.

Total cost of the project is $13 million, according to the company's application for an environment impact assessment.

AquaBounty's AquAdvantage Salmon has been approved for sale in Canada and in the U.S.

P.E.I. Salmon Council 'disappointed'

P.E.I. Salmon Council president Scott Roloson said he is disappointed with the decision and the process to approve the project.

"Given the precedent setting nature of the development (the first commercial production of GM salmon in North America), it is disappointing that the undertaking was approved as a mere amendment to a previous Environmental Impact Assessment," said Roloson in an email.

Roloson added that it is "disheartening" that Canada allowed the project to proceed "without a transparent national review of the production of genetically modified animals."

"This development will pave the way for the production a variety of other genetically modified organisms, we only get one chance to get this right," he said.