Nova Scotia

Aquaculture opponents call for 'ineffective' fisheries minister to be fired

Despite reassurances from the cabinet minister responsible for aquaculture that concerns about a Jordan Bay fish farm are not valid, industry opponents continue to sound the alarm and call on the premier to fire Keith Colwell.

Fish farm opponents demand independent third-party inspection of Cooke Aquaculture site

On Thursday, Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell said people who raised concerns about an aquaculture site on the South Shore are "the same people complaining all the time. It's the same complaints and they're not justified." (CBC)

Rather than reassuring opponents of fish farming, comments made Thursday by Nova Scotia Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell have sparked indignation and calls that he be fired.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Colwell brushed aside warnings about damaged fish pens in Jordan Bay along the South Shore as "the same people complaining all the time. It's the same complaints and they're not justified."

Ricky Hallett, the lobster fisherman who first sounded the alarm about the damage and the possible widespread death or escape of the salmon, called the minister's comments a view from "his ivory tower in Halifax."

"I walked the beach," he said. "I saw the garbage.

"His perspective is from afar. Mine is up close and I can actually see what's going on there."

View of the Cooke Aquaculture site in Jordan Bay, N.S. (Kathaleen Milan and Ron Neufeld)

He said he would like Colwell to come to the area and do a tour to "see what he's inflicting on these coastal communities as a result of that industry."

He is also demanding an independent, third-party inspection of the site.

Hallett said Colwell's offhand dismissal of local concerns showed the minister has chosen to side with Cooke Aquaculture, which operates the aquaculture site near Shelburne through a subsidiary. That undercuts the minister's credibility as the person overseeing aquaculture, according to Hallett.

Plastic piping washed up on the shore along Jordan Bay, N.S. (Kathaleen Milan and Ron Neufeld)

That view is shared by Kathaleen Milan, who also opposes the aquaculture site. She too believed that Colwell should be replaced as fisheries minister.

"He's completely ineffective," she said. "As a minister of our government, he is completely ineffective.

"We're dealing with the same old people in the government that have deaf ears to any of our concerns. We have no one to go to. He shut us completely off as citizens of this province."

'It's an absolute mess'

Local MLA Kim Masland had serious concerns about Colwell too.

On Thursday, Colwell told reporters "there's no significant damage" to the pens and that only "a couple of the cages were damaged." He also said "there was some debris, not a lot on the shore" and that the company had cleaned it up.

Local MLA Kim Masland surveys some of the debris on the shoreline from the aquaculture operation. (Submitted by Kim Masland)

After touring the shoreline with Hallett and Milan, Masland said she was "shocked" by the amount of debris company workers were still collecting with heavy machinery and carting away.

"There is big, big round circle plastic cylinder cones of Styrofoam that is littering our shorelines everywhere," she said. "There is huge pieces of feeding tubes, of pipes. It's a mess. It's an absolute mess.

"Now I understand why the residents are so, so concerned about what is going on there."

No regulations breached, says province

The provincial government has provided more details about its response after the storm. According to an email from Rachel Boomer, communications director at the Nova Scotia Environment Department, officials from both that department and the Fisheries Department interceded.

"NSE staff visited the site by boat on Jan. 8 to determine the extent of the damage and whether there was any violation of regulations. We followed up and confirmed that the company was repairing damage and cleaning up debris."

 According to the email, on Jan. 10, fisheries staff used a helicopter to fly over all the mainland fin-fish sites. Two days afterwards, staff — including a veterinarian — did a followup visit by boat to the Jordan Bay facility.

"NS Environment holds the legal authority to regulate, and our investigation showed no evidence that regulations were breached." 

Cooke Aquaculture's vice-president of public relations, Joel Richardson, said work to repair damage caused by the storm continues.

"We are following our farm management plan and repairs are progressing well."