Company accepts suspension of licences after 2.6 million dead salmon, insists Gerry Byrne
'They no longer hold that view that they should expect those licenses back'
Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne insists Northern Harvest Sea Farms has backed down from its initial stance of challenging the provincial government's decision to suspend their licences after 2.6 million salmon died.
"They no longer hold that position.… They are adhering to the sanctions I applied," Byrne told reporters on Thursday.
In a letter obtained by CBC through an access to information request, the company's managing director initially pushed back against that suspension — a contrast to the apologetic front the company presented in public.
"The act does not give you discretion to declare that a suspension shall continue 'until further notice,'" Jamie Gaskill, managing director of Northern Harvest, which is owned by Mowi, wrote to Byrne in a letter dated Oct. 14.
The licences were suspended after millions of salmon died at the company's operations on the south coast of Newfoundland. The suspension came on the heels of the revelation that there were more dead fish than initially reported.
"They no longer hold that view that they should expect those licenses back.… They are very prepared and very accepting of the fact that the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador will make a decision on this and we will do it under our conditions," Byrne said after question period on Thursday.
Byrne noted that Gaskill, who wrote the letter, was not the CEO at the time. Gaskill and company spokesperson Jason Card fielded questions from reporters in St. John's, at a hastily called press conference Oct. 11 — about an hour after Byrne announced the licence suspensions.
Alf-Helge Aarskog was the CEO and he met with Byrne and Premier Dwight Ball earlier that week, but did not make himself available to reporters.
"We did not live up to both your, and our own expectations," Aarskog wrote in a letter to Premier Dwight Ball and Byrne in early November.
"For this, I personally and sincerely apologize as CEO and on behalf of Mowi ASA."
A week after that apology, Aarskog stepped down as CEO. However, the company said Aarskog, who had been in the position for a decade, informed the board six months ago of his intention to step down as CEO, and as not leaving because of the salmon deaths.
Report into millions of dead fish due in 2020
The Marine Institute provided a few more details about its review into the salmon deaths, which is expected to be completed in February 2020.
Byrne announced in October that the Marine Institute would lead it, saying the organization is "autonomous and operates at arm's-length from government."
A committee of "independent external" experts will be formed, according to a release from the Marine Institute issued Thursday.
That group will look at the timelines, the report by the provincial aquaculture veterinarian and other information.
"The key objectives of the review will be to identify the cause of the mass mortality and assess the cleanup effort in response to the mortality event," says the media release.
Northern Harvest Sea Farms blames unusually warm water for the salmon deaths.
When it was announced the Marine Institute would conduct the review, the NDP cried foul, saying the organization is not independent enough of the provincial government to conduct such an investigation.
"The Way Forward identifies the Fisheries and Marine Institute, Memorial University, as one of the partners of the sector work plan, along with the government of N.L., the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association, the government of Canada, and the College of the North Atlantic," MHA Jim Dinn said in a statement at the time.
"There are too many connections to the aquaculture industry for the Marine Institute to be considered an independent and arm's-length investigator of the die-off."
With files from Peter Cowan