P.E.I. Salmon Council wants federal risk assessment on new AquaBounty plant

A new facility proposed for the commercial production of genetically modified salmon in eastern P.E.I. should have an entirely new federal risk assessment, says the P.E.I. Salmon Council.

AquaBounty has amended its plans for salmon-rearing facility in Rollo Bay West

AquaBounty's salmon has been approved for sale as food in both Canada and the U.S. (AquaBounty)

A new facility proposed for the production of genetically modified salmon in eastern P.E.I. should have an entirely new federal risk assessment, says the P.E.I. Salmon Council.

It is still not clear if a new federal risk assessment will be required.

AquaBounty received federal environmental approval in 2013 to produce genetically modified salmon eggs on a commercial scale at its facility in Bay Fortune. The company has since received federal approval to sell the fish as food in Canada and in the U.S.

The company now plans to set up a new facility in a nearby community, Rollo Bay West, to rear GMO salmon to market size. The fish are genetically modified to grow much faster than conventional salmon.

P.E.I. Salmon Council president Scott Roloson believes this new plan needs further scrutiny.

"I don't feel that the threats to wild Atlantic salmon and the potential risks associated with the aquatic environment were examined rigorously enough to say with absolute confidence that this can go forward without any risk," said Roloson.

AquaBounty's salmon appears next to a non-genetically engineered salmon. Both are the same age. (AquaBounty)

Last June, when the company filed an environmental impact statement to the province for the Rollo Bay West site, the statement said there would be no GMO activity at the new site.

A new provincial environmental statement has now been filed, changing that plan.

Waiting for answer from Ottawa

Provincial environmental assessment officer Dale Thompson said he does not know if the new proposal will have to undergo a federal risk assessment given the request that genetically modified fish be raised there.

"That's a question for the feds to answer, and we're waiting for a response from them now," said Thompson.

CBC News has also asked Ottawa if further federal assessment is required. That answer has not yet been supplied.

The Provincial Environment Department is accepting public comments on the new facility, and the public has until May 5 to make submissions.

More than 30 people attended a public meeting, with the company, in the community on Tuesday night.  Activists protesting further development of GMOs were among those who attended.

Some concerns allayed

At least one environmental group is feeling better about the new facility following a tour Tuesday.

The Souris and Area Watershed coordinator Fred Cheverie said AquaBounty staff went over plans for the facility with him.

Fred Cheverie is feeling better about the plans to grow GMO salmon in Rollo Bay West. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"The information they portrayed to us lessens our concerns in terms of the dangers of escape and the dangers of the amount of water that's going to be used," said Cheverie.

"We'd just like to see a little bit more information, a little more time to think here in terms of, put our thoughts together."

CBC News has reached out to AquaBounty for comment. When asked whether the plan for Rollo Bay West will require any further federal approvals, the company sent a statement, "AquaBounty complies with all government requirements and regulations, and we are an employer and proud member of the Prince Edward Island community."