Nfld. & Labrador

Environmentalists file lawsuit over planned expansion at salmon hatchery

The lawsuit alleges the provincial government hasn’t taken into consideration the potential risk of raising an extra 2.2 million salmon smolts in open sea pens.

N.L. government says it's reviewing the documentation on the Stephenville hatchery provided by Ecojustice

Jim Dinn is the president of the Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Environmentalists are taking the provincial government to court over the planned expansion at the Indian Head Salmon Hatchery in Stephenville, alleging that the potential impact of the expansion on the local salmon population hasn't been properly considered.

The lawsuit — filed by Ecojustice on behalf of several local groups and individuals — alleges the provincial government hasn't considered the potential impact of raising an extra 2.2 million salmon smolts in open sea pens on the local wild Atlantic salmon population.

In the lawsuit, Ecojustice lawyers are acting on behalf of the Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland, the Freshwater-Alexander Bays Ecosystem Corporation, the Port Au Port Bay Fishery Committee, Alan Pickersgill, John Baird and Wayne Holloway.

Jim Dinn said the fish, who are going to open sea pens in the oceans adjacent to productive salmon rivers, are not staying in the hatchery.

The purchase gives Marine Harvest nine farm sites in the Bay of Fundy and a processing plant in St. George. (Hans_Petter Wikipedia Commons)

"That's a huge issue because you're talking about genetically modified fish, fish that are designed for one thing and one thing only," said Dinn, president of the Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland and also the current NDP candidate for St. John's Centre.

"From our point of view this is something to be seriously concerned with it and it needs to be addressed."

Industry association refutes claim

Mark Lane, executive director of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association (NAIA), refutes Dinn's claims and said his comment about modified fish is "absolutely a false statement."

"We don't support or use any genetically modified fish in our industry here in Newfoundland and Labrador," Lane said.

"The parents of our salmon are wild salmon from the Atlantic Ocean. We don't do any additions or deletions of anything genetically with these fish."

He said fish are bred here and not modified, and that NAIA supports the national Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance in not growing or researching any genetically modified salmon.

No comment during election period

Dinn alleges that in allowing the expansion to go ahead without further environmental assessment, the government is siding with business instead of doing their due diligence to protect the environment.

"Even the budget speech had a huge focus on aquaculture, no mention of how the environment is going to be protected," he said. 

"Long after this industry is gone, we will still have to live here and we will have to deal with the consequences of whatever is left."

Dinn said the parties to the lawsuit feel filing a lawsuit against the government was the only way their voices could be heard.

"I really truly wish it was not like that, I wish that we could have access to government ministers that large aquaculture industries have to them," he said.

An image from the environmental assessment detailing where the Indian Head expansion will take place. (Northern Harvest Smolt Ltd.)

"When they eventually proceed in these decisions and they make decisions that are not, from our point of view, made with proper due diligence, it requires action on our behalf. That seems to be the only way to make them listen."

In an emailed statement to CBC a spokesperson with the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment said, "In accordance with the guidelines during the provincial election period, it would not be appropriate for the Minister to comment on this issue."

The documentation provided by Ecojustice is being reviewed by department officials, the statement said.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jonny Hodder

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