Storm damage to fish farm pens alarms Shelburne County fisherman
Ecology Action Centre says debris from the fish farms can harm other marine animals and local fisheries
In addition to ice and snow, remnants of Nova Scotia's first major winter storm are all over the shore of Jordan Bay, N.S. in the form of buoys and plastic pipes.
The debris, which came from the Cooke Aquaculture fish farm, is concerning to commercial lobster fisherman Ricky Hallett. He suspects many of the fish died.
"Seventeen out of 20 of the pens have the tops off them and most of them have the sides smashed down," Hallett said. "I live just adjacent to the site and I can look right out on it."
'No suspected loss of fish'
Kelly Cove Salmon, the farming division of Cooke Aquaculture, said in an email Saturday its crews cannot yet safely get to the site to assess the damage.
But Chuck Brown, communications manager for Cooke Aquaculture, wrote "inspections from the shore indicate there has been no damage to the main cage structure and no suspected loss of fish."
Brown said the buoys, which allow the entire farm system to float with the tides while maintaining its shape and structure, as well as the feed pipes, the plastic piping that delivers salmon feed to the cages, will be recovered once high winds die down in the area.
Crews are expected to be at the site to assess the damage and begin repairs on Sunday, weather permitting, Brown said. He said the site inspection will include diving "to ensure there are no breaches in the system."
'It's an environmental issue'
Hallett said he doesn't blame the company for the damage, but he blames the province for allowing the company to put a fish farm in Jordan Bay.
"It's an environmental issue overall," said Hallett. "We told them from the start, it wasn't a site that was suitable to put a set of pens like that. And now we're living the problem that we predicted years ago."
In 2015, fish at three different Cooke Aquaculture sites — including Jordan Bay — were killed in superchilled waters. Superchill occurs when sustained cold temperatures dropped the temperature of the water to the level that fish blood freezes, which is around –0.7 C.
Hallett said the superchill incident is another reason the government shouldn't continue to allow the pens in Jordan Bay.
"It doesn't make good business sense on the company's part and it doesn't make good economic sense for the government to spend taxpayers money to subsidize that sort of a business or support the location of it at the very least."
Open communication needed
Meanwhile the Ecology Action Centre said it's been receiving calls from Jordan Bay and other areas around southwest Nova Scotia from people concerned about damage to fish farm pens.
"The concern is definitely the escape of fish," said Shannon Arnold, marine policy co-ordinator of the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre.
"There's always concern about the farmed fish getting out, competing in the ecosystem," said Arnold. "And then there's concern, in this case, around marine debris, so garbage on the water. You've got the cages in the same area where you have lobster fishermen fishing and other types of fishing happening."
Arnold said broken nets from the farm could get entangled with fishing gear and/or mammals in the area.
Another problem, she said, is a lack of trust between communities, the company and the province.
"A lot of time, communities are just not told what's happening," she said. "They're out there trying to get pictures or whatever and there's a lack of communication between the company and the province to those concerned citizens and that just makes the problem much worse than it needs to be."
Arnold said the Ecology Action Centre hopes the province will be proactive when it comes to communicating with the public about fish farm damage. She said the province's environment department should be sending its own inspectors and reporting to the public.
"It just would be great for the province to take that initiative and send their own inspectors rather than relying on the company to self-report," she said.
Province sends inspectors
Nova Scotia's Environment Department said its enforcement staff were at the site on Monday and its inspection has uncovered no violations at this point.
While there was some debris, the department noted Cooke Aquaculture will be on the hook to clean it up.
The department plans to a follow up once the weather settles to ensure the cleanup has taken place.