Provincial investment 'absolutely necessary' for massive Placentia Bay aquaculture project
Fisheries minister says government will not be rushed into a decision
The companies behind a massive aquaculture project proposed for Placentia Bay say government investment is "absolutely necessary," but Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Steve Crocker says the province will not be rushed into a decision.
A spokesman for Grieg NL Nurseries and Grieg NL Seafarms told CBC News Thursday that an equity share in the $230-million project will be a "safe" investment for the province.
"This is an excellent investment which will grow and pay the province back tenfold in both taxation and employment," said Greig's Perry Power.
"For the entire area of Placentia Bay it will have a very positive impact on the economy."
When asked if the project's sanctioning hinges on an infusion of government money, Power said "my understanding has always been, in the position that I'm in, that the province's involvement is absolutely necessary."
Grieg wants to construct the world's largest salmon hatchery in Marystown, and create 11 "escape-proof" cage sites in Placentia Bay.
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The company hopes to award a contract for construction of the hatchery by the end of this year, with construction to begin in 2017.
The former Progressive Conservative government announced on the eve of last year's provincial election that it would commit up to $45 million for an equity stake in the project.
The PCs lost the election, and Premier Dwight Ball said in July that his government will only support the project if it makes economic sense.
It's now been more than three months since Ball made those comments, and that position has not changed.
"We won't be rushed into a decision because at the end of the day ... this is taxpayers' money," the aquaculture minister said Thursday.
Crocker said three provincial departments are analyzing the project's merits, and he would not commit to any timeframe of when the province will decide on its level of involvement.
But it may be difficult for the province justify an investment of $45 million at a time when the economy is fragile and record deficits are straining government's coffers.
What's more, Crocker confirmed Thursday that the province's $4.8-million equity stake in Gray Aqua Group has likely been lost, with the company's assets, including its processing plant in Hermitage, now being sold off following bankruptcy.
"That's why we're taking our time (on the Grieg proposal)," Crocker said.
"We will take our time to do our proper due diligence."
A worthwhile investment: industry group
In all, the province has invested some $30 million in aquaculture over the years, and supporters say that investment has been worthwhile.
We're coming in with the highest level of equipment, but at the same time we're going to do it with great care and great caution to ensure … it's also environmentally responsible.- Perry Power
"That $30 million has leveraged half-a-billion in private equity investment, plus the GDP growth and jobs that go along with it," said Mark Lane, executive director with the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association.
Lane said the industry is on track for a record-breaking year in 2016, and has recovered from an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia three years ago that devastated the industry.
Meanwhile, Power had a message for those who oppose aquaculture, saying the Grieg project will incorporate the most advanced technology and equipment, including escape-proof sea cages.
"People should feel very comforted by the fact that we're coming in with the highest level of equipment, but at the same time we're going to do it with great care and great caution to ensure this industry is sustainable and it's also environmentally responsible."
Power said the project will create roughly 800 jobs and more than double the current annual production of farmed salmon in the province once in full swing.