Marine Harvest NL Smolt Expansion Under Fire


Marine Harvest’s 2.2m smolt expansion in Newfoundland under fire

By Jason Huffman Nov. 6, 2018

Andrew Parsons, the minister of Newfoundland & Labrador’s Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, has given Marine Harvest much more than a green light to increase by 2.2 million annually -- nearly 50% -- the amount of Atlantic salmon smolt that it can produce at its Indian Head Hatchery, argue a coalition of 10 wild salmon, environmental groups and individuals.

Rather, it's an attempt by the Canadian provincial government official to keep all red tape to a minimum while allowing a significant expansion by the Norwegian salmon giant in the region, including the building of at least four new farms, they say. 

At least that's the case the attorneys at Ecojustice make in their 10-page letter sent Monday to Parsons, asking him to reconsider his approval in early September of a request by Marine Harvest to expand production at its smolt facility, near Stephenville, from 4.5 million fish per year to 6.7m.

“Your decision to release the hatchery expansion project from further environmental assessment under the [Environmental Protection Act] is unlawful and must be set aside,” the letter warns Parsons. “The hatchery expansion was improperly registered... as you did not require the proponent to register the entire undertaking. To be properly scoped and registered, the undertaking must include not only the hatchery expansion itself, but also the associated increase in salmon smolt transferred to open net pens and farmed in the province’s coastal waters.”

The Atlantic Salmon Federation, Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society are among the groups the attorneys report in the letter to represent.

Four new salmon farms in Facheux Bay

It was on Sept. 4, within days of Marine Harvest completing its CAD 315m ($248m) deal to acquire St. George, New Brunswick-based Northern Harvest Sea Farms (NHSF), that Parsons gave his thumbs up for the expansion of the Indian Head Hatchery.

Marine Harvest plans to spend CAD 51m to upgrade the land-based production facility, putting in more tanks to follow a recent industry trend of keeping its smolts longer and growing them larger in the hatcheries before introducing them to net pens, according to local newspaper accounts.

Parsons had earlier shot down an appeal of his decision, repeating Marine Harvest's argument that its new smolts will find homes in the unused capacity of existing salmon farms. But in their new letter, the Ecojustice attorneys say that just within the past few weeks the salmon giant has advertised its request for permits to build four new farms in Newfoundland's Facheux Bay: Wallace Cove, Dennis Arm, Indian Tea Point, and Wild Cove.

"Marine Harvest has not explicitly stated that these new open net pens will receive smolt from the expanded Indian Head hatchery," the attorneys say. "However, in the company’s environmental registration for the hatchery expansion it indicates that it cannot expand its current level of salmon production in Newfoundland in the absence of an expanded hatchery.

"It is therefore reasonable to assume that some, if not all, of the smolt that will be raised in the company’s new open net pens will originate from the expanded hatchery."

Four new farm sites proposed by Marine Harvest in Facheux Bay, to the west of existing open net-pens

First play in the Placentia Bay playbook

The letter the groups have sent is really just the first play in a playbook used successfully to slow Grieg Newfoundland Salmon’s expansion efforts in Placentia Bay -- a 33,000 metric ton, 11 sea cage project -- by more than two years and require additional environmental review steps be taken.

Following a quick approval, in July 2016, of the Grieg Group and Ocean Choice International joint venture’s request to expand a hatchery by then-environmental minister Perry Trimper, the groups similarly argued successfully that the environmental impact statement (EIS) was too limited and needed to be expanded.

Parsons finally approved the larger EIS for Placentia Bay in early September 2018, but the groups say they’re not done challenging the project and have recently filed another appeal. And they say they similarly are prepared to battle Marine Harvest’s salmon expansion plans.

“Wild salmon along the south coast of Newfoundland have already been seriously harmed by net-pen aquaculture and this project could worsen the situation,” said Stephen Sutton, the ASF’s coordinator of community outreach and engagement, in a statement released to Undercurrent.

“We know from the Placentia Bay project that government has a duty to fully and publicly consider how aquaculture will affect the environment and other people who use coastal waters. This project should not be treated differently.”

Also involved in the recent letter to Parsons are: the Center for Long-term Environmental Action in Newfoundland, For A New Earth, the Freshwater-Alexander Bays Ecosystem Corporation, the Port Au Port Bay Fishery Committee, Alan Pickersgill, John Baird, and Wayne Holloway.

Contact the author jason.huffman@undercurrentnews.com