Nfld. & Labrador

Placentia Bay aquaculture plan 'wrong approach,' says salmon advocate

Monday's announcement that a $251-million aquaculture project is planned for Placentia Bay is again raising the debate over the risks associated with sea-based production.

Bill Bryden predicts another meltdown; says province should promote land-based production

Fresh Atlantic salmon steaks and fillets like these may soon be harvested from so-called net-pens in Placentia Bay. Grieg Newfoundland AS is proposing to invest $251 million into a hatchery-nursery in Marystown, and sea cages in the bay. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

An outspoken critic of sea-based aquaculture is blasting a decision by the provincial government to endorse a massive project for Placentia Bay, suggesting it will have "biblical style ramifications" for the environment and likely suffer a "meltdown" similar to one endured by operators on the south coast.

"I'm not against aquaculture at all costs," said Bill Bryden, a salmon advocate and researcher who lives in Lumsden, on Newfoundland's northeast coast.

"I am against profit-driven aquaculture that has no regard for the human aspect of it or the environmental aspect of it for the sake of dividends for a couple of families in New Brunswick or another one over in Norway."

But Cyr Coutourier, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Aquaculture Association, disagrees.

"I believe that through science and technology, proper environmental regulations, which we have in this country, including Newfoundland, net-pen farming of salmon is a no-brainer," he said.

The provincial government announced Monday it has reached a memorandum of understanding to buy an equity stake in a proposed $251-million salmon farming project that will double production in the province in less than a decade.

You're talking about hundreds of jobs, but what happens when it all melts down again?- Bill Bryden

The project will include a $75-million hatchery-nursery in Marystown capable of producing seven million smolts annually, making it the largest in Canada.

The hatchery will stock 11 sea cage sites in Placentia Bay, with annual production expected to reach 33,000 tonnes of Atlantic salmon by 2023.

Peak employment is estimated at 325 jobs.

The project is being proposed by Grieg Newfoundland AS, which has Norwegian roots.

Bryden fears 'ecocidal boom and bust method'

Bryden is an advocate for land-based aquaculture, and believes the province is repeating mistakes of the past.

He is urging the province to conduct a "site specific" viability study before agreeing to invest $45 million of taxpayers' money into the project.

"You're talking about hundreds of jobs, but what happens when it all melts down again?" Bryden said, referring to a major setback in the industry three years ago following an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia.

Critics like Bryden say land-based fish farming is safer because issues related to sea lice, disease and escapes are far less of a concern.

Net-pen farming of salmon is a no-brainer.- Cyr Coutourier

He said a recent analysis also shows the cost of land-based farming is just slightly higher, at about five cents per kilogram.

He said companies prefer sea-based operations because it makes it easier to pull out if factors such as market or environmental setbacks threaten the business.

"It's basically a flexibility manoeuvre for them to not invest in stable, long-term jobs in Newfoundland by investing in this ecocidal boom and bust method," he said.

Land-based farming not profitable, says association

However, Coutourier says net-pen farming has improved dramatically, and has proven to be environmentally sustainable.

He said the cages are engineered to practically eliminate escapes, and a maximum density of 20 kilograms of salmon per cubic metre of ocean water, including at harvest time, "is the way to go."

As for Bryden's pitch for land-based fish farming, Coutourier said it's simply too costly and comes with its own environmental issues, including high energy and water usage, and uncertainties over fish health.

"Nobody in the world is doing it profitably," he said.

With files from Jane Adey

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