Nfld. & Labrador

No appetite for fish farming in B.C.? Look east, says N.L. fisheries minister

Gerry Byrne is inviting aquaculture companies feeling squeezed in British Columbia to move to the east coast.

Federal Liberals pledge to phase out sea-based salmon farming in B.C. within six years

Newfoundland and Labrador Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne is encouraging aquaculture companies operating in British Columbia to move east. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's minister of fisheries is extending an invitation to aquaculture companies feeling squeezed in British Columbia.

Look east, says Gerry Byrne.

"Newfoundland and Labrador is a place where much of that salmon production should consider to locate," Byrne told CBC News Tuesday.

Byrne was reacting to a campaign promise by his federal Liberal cousins to phase out sea-based open-net pen salmon farming in coastal B.C. waters by 2025.

The Liberals want to transition the West Coast industry to land-based closed-containment systems.

The pledge has reignited the debate over the future of sea-based fish farming on the east coast, and again forced Liberals like Byrne to answer some pointed questions about where this promising but controversial industry is heading.

British Columbia produces nearly 100,000 tonnes of farmed Atlantic salmon, while Newfoundland and Labrador operators produce just under 25,000 tonnes. (CBC)

"This is a decision exclusively for the jurisdiction of the province of British Columbia," Byrne said, adding that while federal authorities regulate the aquaculture sector in B.C., Newfoundland and Labrador's industry is jointly regulated.

But in light of the election promise, Byrne said Justin Trudeau's Liberals should offer some clarity.

Now is the time for the Liberal party … to say out loud that from a science point of view that maritime aquaculture in Newfoundland and Labrador is sound and will be continued.- Gerry Byrne

"Now is the time for the Liberal party … to say out loud that from a science point of view that maritime aquaculture in Newfoundland and Labrador is sound and will be continued," he said.

Feds support Grieg project

Byrne said the federal government has signalled its support for the industry by partnering with major projects like the $250-million Grieg NL development in Placentia Bay, which will include the largest fish hatchery in the world, and a system of sea cages.

Meanwhile, leaders in the aquaculture industry are criticizing the B.C. plan.

"We think it's a reckless policy. It's not well considered at all. Ocean farming right now is the most sustainable large-scale animal protein production in the world," said Tim Kennedy of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance.

"You can't replace that natural benefit of being in the ocean. That's where they live and that's where they should be."

Byrne said he's not opposed to land-based fish farming.

"[But] we're reflecting the reality that it is not a proven commercial technology as of yet," he said. "The technology, the science behind it, is not there from a commercial perspective."

Meanwhile, he added, world aquaculture leader Norway recently approved licences for 20,000 tonnes of sea-based salmon farming.

Liberal incumbents react cautiously

Incumbent Liberals MPs from Newfoundland and Labrador want no part of the West Coast strategy.

"We have what I believe is the best practices right now," said Scott Simms, the Liberal candidate in Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame.

Ken McDonald, the incumbent in the Avalon riding, said he supports the West Coast moving to land-based farming.

"They seem to not have the water depths and the currents and tides to be constantly flushing the area that would be occupied by aquaculture pens. But we have that."

As for Byrne, he views the Liberal promise as an opportunity.

He said 95,000 tonnes of farmed Atlantic salmon is produced in B.C., while just 25,000 tonnes is produced in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"If a company were to want to establish further operations here … we suspect that we have become a very attractive climate for investment."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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