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Cooke Aquaculture Told to Repay $9M NS Loan

SOUTH COAST TODAY  - NS

Pay back the money, says McNeil to Cooke Aqua

Dec. 19, 2014

"Cooke is just making excuses," says Belliveau

New Brunswick multi-national Cooke Aquaculture needs to pay principal and interest on a $9-million loan from the provincial government, said premier Stephen McNeil Thursday.

Former NDP Aquaculture Minister, now Queens-Shelburne MLA and Fisheries and Aquaculture critic, Sterling Belliveau says he completely supports the premier on this matter.

The loan was to be forgivable only if Cooke completed its obligations by the end of 2015, including 400 new, full-time jobs from a new salmon hatchery in Digby, expanding a feed mill in Truro and building a fish processing plant in Shelburne, according to a government spokesperson.

Cooke executive Nell Halse said the firm cannot meet the 2015 schedule and may not be able to complete the required projects by 2018.

Former minister Belliveau stands with premier on payback issue

"It sounds like Cooke is just making excuses for not keeping their end of the deal," Belliveau told SCT, adding that he was "greatly disappointed" by their attitude about the agreement. He explained that Cooke was fully aware of the timeline and other demands of the 2012 financial package.

    "They knew that the agreement was based on the sites they currently had in production," Belliveau added, noting that the two large sites in Jordan bay were not yet approved. Cooke was also told in clear language, Belliveau said, that any new salmon farm applications were to be reviewed under the terms of new regulations.

Squandering goodwill

The decision by Cooke to delay the aquaculture projects - and the 400+ jobs connected to them - has raised the ire of some local officials. Local mayors, wardens and councilors were apparently blindsided by the recent announcement. They were originally told that only one million fish were required for expansion, which was suddenly altered to three million after expressions of public support by municipal units were voiced. The officals were told that the Digby hatchery project would come first, then the Truro feed plant, then the Shelburne processing plant. One official contacted by SCT expressed disgust at finding out from other municipal leaders some months ago that work had not yet even begun on the hatchery.

The local officals who supported Cooke's expansion plans should have been told about the delays, said the official. "The way they are handling this is squandering very valuable public goodwill," one civic leader told SCT. "You can never get that back."

Original terms must be met

McNeil told CBC TV news, “We expect the company to fulfill the terms and conditions in the original agreement.”

A government spokesperson told SCT in August that Cooke had received $18 million of the $25 million committed by the Dexter NDP in 2012.

Three years or more behind schedule
Cooke Aquaculture officials are saying now that they cannot built the processing plant before 2018 and are placing the blame on a temporary moratorium on new salmon farm leases.

They now claim that they need three million fish in the water before committing to the terms of the 2012 agreement.

History of diseased fish

Cooke has experienced several episodes of ISA infection and sea lice contagion in their stock, including a major episode in Shelburne in 2013, resulting in the slaughter of close to one million salmon and similar episodes in Newfoundland fish pens.

A Cooke employee said at that time that he thought the ISA outbreak resulted from diseased fish being introduced from the hatchery.

Three senior Cooke executives pleaded guilty in 2013 to federal charges for illegally dumping poisonous insecticide into waters near salmon pens to cure a massive sea lice infestation.

The Aquaculture Regulation Review Report recommends that the moratorium remain in place until new regulations are in place. No timeline has been set for government action on the new regulations.

http://www.southcoasttoday.ca/content/pay-back-money-says-mcneil-cooke-aqua