Nfld. & Labrador

Massive Placentia Bay aquaculture project released from environmental assessment — again

This is the second time government has released the controversial project from environmental assessment.

If completed it will be one of Canada's largest salmon farming operations

Norwegian company Grieg Seafarms is behind the Placentia Bay project. (Aqua Maof Group/Submitted)

After two rounds in court, a massive salmon aquaculture project proposed for Newfoundland's Placentia Bay has once again been released from an environmental assessment process.

"I think this is great news for the Burin Peninsula and the Placentia Bay region," says Mark Browne, the Liberal MHA for the area.

This is the second time the controversial project has been released from the environmental assessment process.

Government first released the project from an environmental impact statement, or EIS,  in 2016. The Atlantic Salmon Federation took that decision to court last year, where a judge ruled that an EIS was necessary.

Liberal MHA Mark Browne says the decision to release Grieg NL from further environmental assessment 'great news.' (Eddy Kennedy/CBC )

Then, the government took that decision to court. Proceedings began in December, but Grieg NL — the Norweigian-based company behind the project — decided it would go ahead with an EIS.

That EIS provided by Grieg NL has been deemed acceptable by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, according to a media release issued by the Newfoundland and Labrador government on Thursday.

"It had to go through a rigorous and thorough environmental assessment, so to see that independent process come to a conclusion today … it's very welcome news," Browne told CBC News.

The project will see 33,000 tonnes of salmon produced annually at 11 sea cage sites around Placentia Bay. It also includes a $75-million land-based hatchery and nursery in Marystown that would raise fish to stock the sea cages.

If completed it will be one of the biggest salmon farming operations in the country.

As part of the condition for the release from the environmental assessment process, the project will be subject to "more than 15 terms and conditions that will ensure that development proceeds in an environmentally sustainable manner," the release read.

Concerns about environmental impact

Critics of the project have cited numerous concerns, particularly environmental ones and risks of dangers and infectious disease outbreaks among the fish.

They have gone through this project with a fine-tooth comb.- MHA Mark Browne

Browne dismissed the suggestion that the project wasn't held to the utmost scrutiny.

"This project has undergone rigorous environmental assessment by career bureaucrats within the bureaucracy, both federal and provincial. These people are independent and provide non-partisan advice. They have gone through this project with a fine-tooth comb," he said.

"You have to always balance the economic needs for jobs, which are very real on the Burin Peninsula, with the environmental needs, and you have to do right by the environment."

In a statement to CBC on Thursday, Neville Crabbe of the Atlantic Salmon Federation said it was "not in a position to offer a substantive comment at this time. We will weigh in once we've had a chance to complete our analysis and consider next steps."

Farmed salmon plan has its detractors 

Bill Bryden has been vocal about promoting land-based salmon production in the past, and has been critical of the Placentia Bay aquaculture plan almost since the start.

He says the salmon farm production model used in Newfoundland is outdated, and it won't bring job stability to the area promised by the province.

"Unlike what's happening now in other areas of the world — like the Atlantic Seaboard where we have these massive aquaculture land-based closed containment facilities being built, several of which will produce more fish than all of the Newfoundland annual production — those jobs I predict will be far more stable and higher paying," Bryden said.

"Unfortunately, we have the 1957 open-net pen model that we see and have experienced here in Newfoundland result in a boom and bust cycle where you get two and three years of employment, usually low paying, and then you suddenly one day walk into work and have a pink slip."

Bill Bryden says is disappointed with the release of a massive Placentia Bay aquaculture project from an environmental assessment. This is not the first time the project was released from an EIS. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Bryden says from 2012 to 2014 while an attempt to increase the number of fish produced by 70 per cent was successful, there was a infectious salmon anemia virus outbreak resulting in mass layoffs shortly before Christmas.

"Two weeks before Christmas with no notice, and never got work for over three years as a result of that ISA outbreak. Now we're experiencing another one again this production cycle, and people in St. Albans haven't had any work for almost a year now," he said.

"With a closed containment tank-based system where you filter all the waste out, you purify the water ... that way you don't have any sea lice. You've got a tank on land, you don't have the marine viruses. This is a closed system, a truly bio-secure system."

Grieg NL has not responded to CBC's request for comment.

With files from Mark Quinn and Jane Adey

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