Nova Scotia

After lengthy wait, Nova Scotia panel to look at proposed aquaculture projects

A panel set up to rule on proposed aquaculture developments and expansions in Nova Scotia is about to hold its first hearing since its inception five years ago, and seven years since the province announced a moratorium on new fin fish and shellfish sites.

First announced 5 years ago, Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board to hold first hearing on Oct. 20

Raymond d'Entremont's application to farm oysters off Argyle is the first to come before the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board since it was created five years ago. (Raymond d’Entremont)

A three-person panel set up to rule on proposed aquaculture developments and expansions in Nova Scotia is about to hold its first hearing since its inception five years ago.

Approval of the upcoming applications would mark the first significant aquaculture projects since the province issued a moratorium in 2013.

Raymond d'Entremont of Grand Pass Oysters wants to set up oyster farms in waters known as La Grande Passe off Argyle in Yarmouth County.

He'll present his three applications to the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board on Oct. 20 in Yarmouth. d'Entremont declined to speak with CBC News until after the hearing.

According to documents filed with the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, d'Entremont's proposal has wide support from the community of Argyle, local fishermen and property owners. The hearing is significant, though, because it gives other groups with proposals in the queue an idea of what the hearings will look like.

"There hasn't been in Nova Scotia in the last number of years any substantial amount of growth in the industry," said Joel Richardson, vice-president of public relations for Cooke Aquaculture, a New Brunswick-based company with existing operations in Nova Scotia.

"So, you know, it's nice to see the aquaculture review board moving forward and to support, hopefully, responsible growth."

Oysters from Juan Roberts of Triton, based in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Richardson said it will be interesting and informative to see how the board deliberates on its first shellfish application.

"It's all new to us in terms of going through this process, and it will be all new to the entire industry and the review board," he said.

Two years ago, Cooke Aquaculture applied to the province for a major expansion that would add 46 more pens to its operation in Liverpool Bay, and increase capacity by 1.8-million salmon.

"That's two years now that that's been submitted and it hasn't moved anywhere," Richardson said.

Review board set up in 2015

The province set up the arms-length review board in 2015 after an independent group led by Dalhousie University law professors Bill Lahey and Meinhard Doelle reviewed the industry.

The three members on the review board were each given three-year terms at the time, which have all since been extended. Getting an application for a shellfish proposal to the review board stage takes a lot of work.

COVID-19 delays aside, those in the industry say the tough regulations likely account for the five-year wait for the first hearing.

"It's taken a long time, there is no doubt about it," said Tom Smith, executive director of the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia.

Smith said he worked with d'Entremont to get his application submitted to the Aquaculture Department. Before it's passed on to the review board, it's scrutinized by the municipal, provincial and federal governments.

There are five oyster farms currently operating in the Municipality of the District of Argyle, N.S. (Raymond d’Entremont)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans makes recommendations, as does the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Transport Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada. In total, four federal departments and three provincial departments must approve the application before it is sent to the review board.

No groups have applied for intervenor status for next week's hearing.

Simon Ryder-Burbidge, marine conservation co-ordinator for the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, said his group will watch the hearing to get a sense of the procedure.

"We want to see that this is a fair and just process and that the government is giving a chance for communities to have a say, for people to bring their grievances forward and for their concerns to be taken seriously as we enter this new stage of decision-making processes around aquaculture in Nova Scotia," Ryder-Burbidge said.

Nineteen other aquaculture projects remain in the queue, awaiting a hearing in front of the panel.