Nova Scotia

As deadlines loom, Cermaq hasn't finalized Nova Scotia fish farm locations

After nearly a year of scouting potential locations in Nova Scotia for an East Coast expansion, and with a deadline just two weeks away, Cermaq Canada says it has not settled on where it wants to put up to 20 salmon farms in the province.

'We're getting closer with certain areas, but this is quite an involved process,' says spokesperson Linda Sams

An Atlantic salmon leaps while swimming inside a farm pen near Eastport, Maine, on Sunday, Oct. 12, 2008. Cermaq Canada is looking to harvest 20,000 tonnes of salmon annually at between 10 to 20 open-net farms in Nova Scotia. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)

After nearly a year of scouting potential locations in Nova Scotia for an East Coast expansion, and with a deadline just two weeks away, Cermaq Canada says it has not settled on where it wants to put up to 20 salmon farms in the province.

"We're getting closer with certain areas, but this is quite an involved process," said Linda Sams, the company's director of sustainable development.

Last year, Cermaq was awarded leases for six coastal sites in Nova Scotia: St. Marys Bay, Chedabucto Bay, Guysborough East, Bay of Rocks, Mahone Bay and St. Margarets Bay.

The options give the company six months — plus an option for an extension — to evaluate potential locations prior to an application for a specific site.

Four of the six leases expire March 27 and no further extensions can be granted, while the two for St. Margarets Bay and Mahone Bay expire July 9, but a three-month extension is possible.

Thane Jamieson, left, and Brian Sangster say the sites proposed by Cermaq Canada in Chedabucto Bay are in the middle of lobster and shrimp fishing grounds. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Cermaq, which has always maintained that its operations are environmentally sound, said it needs more time to consult with fishermen and carry out tests to determine the suitability of coastal areas under consideration.

"We're committed to coming out and saying something by the end of March when the deadline is up, so definitely in a few weeks we'll be coming out and saying what our next steps are," said Sams.

"We are genuinely really having a lot of discussions internally right now."

In St. Marys Bay, Sams said the company has identified six possible locations, but wants to narrow it down to four.

The Campbell River, B.C.-based company has faced vocal opposition in St. Marys Bay, St. Margarets Bay and Mahone Bay.

Cermaq, a Mitsibushi subsidiary, says it's looking to harvest 20,000 tonnes of salmon annually at between 10 to 20 open-net farms. It said it needs that volume to justify coming to Nova Scotia, where it would also open a hatchery and processing plant.

What opponents are worried about

Opponents have raised concerns about pollution from fish feces, the chemicals used in fish farming and mass die-offs.

As the deadline looms, Cermaq is downplaying a recently released map that identifies seven potential fish farm locations in Chedabucto Bay, Guysborough County.

"We need to get lines on a map to start the conversation," said Sams.

She called the sites "narrowed-down areas" and said the locations aren't finalized.

Fishermen in Guysborough County are not happy with the Chedabucto Bay locations. They say they only learned about the proposed locations by accident when the company inadvertently sent the map to somebody who in turn gave it to them.

This map shows seven locations Cermaq Canada is considering in Chedabucto Bay for farming salmon. (Cermaq Canada)

"I was shocked," said fisherman Thane Jamieson. "The first thing I said when I saw the chart was that one area in Peace Brook was right where my [shrimp] trap is, and I fish lobster and scallops there too.

"It's crazy."

Jamieson is one of 10 area fishermen who met with CBC News in the historic fishing port of Canso to talk about Cermaq's proposed sites in Chedabucto Bay.

All raised concerns about the risk of pollution and displacement of fishing grounds.

"We don't need them here and they're gonna ruin a lot of people's livelihoods if they get in here," said lobster fisherman Kevin Horne.

A small but mighty lobster fishery

By Nova Scotia standards, the lobster fishery in Chedabucto Bay is small, with just 132 licence holders who fish a 63-day season starting in late April.

According to a September 2019 federal Fisheries and Oceans economic assessment, the lobster fishery in the area was worth $28 million and employed 382 people.

It's also increasingly productive.

Jamieson used to land 680 kilograms of lobster a season. But last year he landed 10 times that in his 10-metre boat, a vessel that is dwarfed by some of the much-larger ones found in southwestern Nova Scotia.

'We don't want you here,' says fisherman

"We had nothing here like 20 years ago," he said. "Gradually, it's been getting better and better each year."

The jump in landings has coincided with a series of science and conservation projects in Chedabucto Bay, organized by the Guysborough County Inshore Fishermen's Association.

"We keep saying that we don't want you here because we are at a record-high lobster fishery last year. Why would you want to put that at risk?" said fisherman Charlie Warner.

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