Cooke unveils ambitious fish farm expansion plans in Nova Scotia
'We do have sustainable, environmentally friendly operations that will create long-serving jobs'
Cooke Seafood is refloating its proposal to build a salmon processing plant in Nova Scotia, as the New Brunswick-based seafood farming giant moves to expand in a province where it has been treading water for years.
In a rare public appearance Thursday in Halifax, CEO Glenn Cooke outlined the company's plans, which include the first new open-pen salmon farm in Nova Scotia since a moratorium was imposed in 2013 and lifted three years later.
More farmed salmon
"Our goal is to produce more salmon in Nova Scotia, more seawater sites that we are applying for," Cooke told a Halifax Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
The expansion plan starts in Liverpool Bay, where the company has an existing operation.
Already opponents are lining up to fight it, claiming more fish farms will harm the area, especially the lobster fishery.
Cooke: Critics are 'ill-informed'
Cooke dismisses the critics, saying salmon farms can coexist with the lobster fishery.
"I think a lot of the people who are opposing our industry today really are ill-informed or have information that is old and not real anymore," Cooke told CBC News after the speech.
"We do have sustainable, environmentally friendly operations that will create long-serving jobs in those communities."
He points to a recent industry-funded, peer-reviewed study that examined lobsters living under a Grand Manan salmon farm for eight years. The study said there was no difference in the size, growth or abundance of lobsters at the farm and at a site a kilometre away from the fish farm.
"At what point do we get legitimate? At what point do people realize the science is there?"
An expansion in Liverpool Bay is also key to reviving its proposed salmon processing plant on the province's South Shore. It was put on hold after the NDP government imposed a moratorium on fish farming.
Cooke says the company needs to produce about 30 million pounds of salmon per year to proceed.
When announced in 2012, the plant, to be located in Shelburne, came with the promise to create several hundred jobs.
Cooke was unable to say how many more fish farms would be needed for a plant to become viable.
"We have to get to that volume of fish to do that. I don't have the exact numbers but we are on track and Liverpool will be a big plank in getting that plant built," Cooke said after the event.
Liberals open door to more fish farms
Whether or not a processing plant materializes, Cooke's expansion is responding to "open for business" signals sent by Nova Scotia's Liberal government, which rewrote the rules governing the creation of fish farms and lifted the moratorium.
Cooke was speaking to a friendly audience Thursday that included lawyers, accountants and consultants who welcome an aquaculture expansion.
Cooke pitched aquaculture as a potential saviour for the rural economy.
"You know you're not going to get a General Motors or a Ford come build a big plant anywhere in rural Atlantic Canada. It's not going to happen. And you know tech goes so far and I think we all are thankful for those tech jobs. But for rural Atlantic Canada, there's not a lot of choice," he said.
The company directly employs 205 people in Nova Scotia, where it has a feed mill and operates fish farms from the outskirts of Halifax around to Digby.
From humble roots with 5,000 fish, Cooke Seafood has grown into a powerhouse operating in 10 countries with annual sales over $2 billion.
It bills itself as the world's largest, privately held, family-owned seafood company.