Dead fish hauled away from Cooke Aquaculture site

'There's more mortalities than we thought would possibly be,' says Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell.

'There's more mortalities than we thought would possibly be,' says Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell

Plastic piping washed up on the shore along Jordan Bay, N.S., after a storm earlier this month. (Kathaleen Milan and Ron Neufeld)

Cooke Aquaculture removed an unspecified number of dead salmon from its aquaculture site at Blue Island, N.S., on Friday, saying a harsh winter storm earlier this month killed the fish.

The dead fish are a "small percentage" of the stock in the site's pens, a statement from the company said.

"While it is common to experience mortalities a couple of weeks after a storm, the company expects those amounts to reduce rapidly," company vice-president Joel Richardson said in the statement.

The statement comes after critics of the aquaculture operation, located between Lockeport and Shelburne, raised concerns about damaged equipment washing up on shore near Jordan Bay.

Ron Neufeld, of Louis Head, said he saw staff hauling away seven wharf cases of dead fish at the West Green Harbour wharf on Friday.

"I wish they'd be more open about all aspects of the farm," said Neufeld. "Being secretive, people have to guess at what's going on," he said.

Fisheries Minister responds

The company said in a statement that it notified the Fisheries Department on Friday of the deaths, as required by provincial regulations.

Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell was unable to confirm the number of dead fish and said the Environment Department is now investigating.

Fisheries Minister Keith Colwell said more fish died than the department initially believed. (CBC)

Last week, Minister Colwell told reporters that "very few" fish died, and that a fish veterinarian visited to check on the stock. 

"They had almost no mortalities on site," he told reporters last Thursday, adding that concerns raised by critics about damaged pens were "not justified."

"Since then," the minister said Friday, "we've found out from the company and also by investigation that there's other fish that have died.

"As it goes on further, there's more mortalities than we thought would possibly be," he said.

Repairs almost complete

Colwell said the dead stock is contained by a net and isn't washing up on shore.

Cooke Aquaculture said staff have been diving and monitoring the fish since the storm, and the dead fish are being removed by trained divers, brought to shore and disposed of at a rendering facility.

The company said almost all the damage to the salmon pens — most of which was to bird stands and bird nets — has now been fixed.