Nova Scotia

Global salmon farming company eyes $500M expansion along Nova Scotia coast

Mitsubishi subsidiary looking at between 10 and 20 open-pen salmon fish farms in Nova Scotia as it looks to expand along the untapped and pristine coastline.

Mitsubishi-owned company wants to bring 10-20 open-pen salmon fish farms to province

Linda Sams, left, director of sustainable development and David Kiemele, managing director of Cermaq Canada, at an event on Wednesday in Dartmouth, N.S. (Paul Withers/CBC)

Another global salmon farming company wants to expand into the untapped and pristine Nova Scotia coastline.

Cermaq Canada says it is looking at spending hundreds of millions of dollars to open up to 20 open-pen salmon fish farms and land-based support facilities.

"We are interested in exploring the opportunities for potential growth in our industry here in the province," Cermaq Canada managing director David Kiemele said Wednesday in Dartmouth, N.S.

Kiemele was speaking after a media event where the company formally announced it was beginning a feasibility study to decide whether to expand into Nova Scotia.

Last week, the Nova Scotia government awarded the company options to investigate three areas for fish farming: Chedabucto Bay in Guysborough County, Bay of Rocks in Richmond County and St. Marys Bay south of Digby.

Needs 20,000 metric tonnes to proceed

Cermaq said it needs between 10 and 20 fish farms with an annual output of 20,000 metric tonnes to justify coming to Nova Scotia, where it would also open a hatchery and processing plant.

The company said the project would create 300 to 350 jobs.

"We estimate the investment to be between $400 and $500 million (US) to get to that point where we get to that carrying capacity of 20,000 metric tonnes," Kiemele said.

If it proceeds, the first fish would be in the water by 2024/25.

Industry wants 'pristine coast'

After a lengthy fish farming moratorium was lifted in 2016, Nova Scotia's relatively untouched coastline is seen as an area of opportunity by the global salmon farming industry.

Cermaq is headquartered in Norway but is owned by Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi. It has annual sales of $1.1 billion.

"Nova Scotia presents a lot of opportunity and there is also quite a bit of coastline that has not yet been dedicated to any kind of substantial fin-fish farming," said Linda Sams, Cermaq director of sustainable development.

The company operates 27 fish farm sites in British Columbia. Nova Scotia would be its first greenfield development.

Cooke also on the hunt

The largest fish-farm operator in Nova Scotia — Cooke Seafood — also wants to expand in Nova Scotia, starting in Liverpool Bay where it has applied to increase the size of an existing fish farm and add two more sites.

Last week, CEO Glenn Cooke said his company needs to harvest 30,000 metric tonnes of salmon annually in Nova Scotia to justify reviving plans to build a processing plant and expanded feed mill in the province. Those projects were put on hold by the moratorium imposed in 2013.

Cooke said the reception of its expansion in Liverpool Bay will be a test of Nova Scotia's willingness to accept fish farming.

Opponents, who say fish farming is environmentally damaging, have already opened an office to fight the Liverpool Bay expansion.

Nova Scotia 'open for business'

The aquaculture giants are responding to signals sent by the Nova Scotia government. The Liberal administration lifted the moratorium in 2016 and rewrote regulations in an effort to gain social licence.

Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell said it first started talking to Cermaq two years ago at an aquaculture conference in Norway.

"At that time we explained we're open for business," Colwell said Wednesday.

Colwell said the big fish farms are interested in Nova Scotia's "pristine, clean water."

"There's a huge market in the world for protein," he said. "And as we can't catch any more wild fish and it's going to get to the point that we're going to have to have a lot more aquaculture in the world."

Cermaq officials said it will take six months to a year to decide whether Nova Scotia is a good fit for the company and the company a good fit for Nova Scotia.

"This is early days and when you have to make a decision of this magnitude, we need to take our time. Simply put if it if we can't find suitable sites we don't find suitable sites," Kiemele said.

The company has launched a public relations campaign to introduce itself, including a website: hellonovascotia.ca. It has also reached out to local politicians and the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Chiefs.

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