Proposed salmon hatchery expansion under fire

CBC NEWS - Newfoundland

Proposed salmon hatchery expansion under fire from conservation group

Atlantic Salmon Federation wants more detail on company's aquaculture expansion

Lindsay Bird CBC News Posted: Aug 28, 2018 7:00 AM NT

A proposed $51-million expansion to the Northern Harvest Smolt hatchery in Stephenville has come under fire from a conservation group, as the deadline looms for the provincial government to decide whether to give the project the go ahead.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation is taking issue with the scope of the company's environmental assessment for the expansion of its Indian Head hatchery. That assessment, filed July 17, asks for permission to expand the hatchery's production from 4.5 million to 6.7 million smolts annually.

"The issue is that they're going to take the extra smolts that are produced by the hatchery and use those to expand their marine grow op facilities on the south coast of Newfoundland," said Steve Sutton, the ASF's director of community engagement.

"To us, that represents a much larger project than just expanding a hatchery."

The assessment solely outlines the hatchery's operations and plans. In it, the company states the expansion is necessary to "provide greater numbers of higher quality, healthier smolt in order to fully utilize the existing production capacity of the company's licensed saltwater farms."

The hatchery is a division of Northern Harvest Sea Farms, which operates 33 farm sites in N.L. and New Brunswick, and was recently bought by Marine Harvest, an international aquaculture giant. Marine Harvest declined an interview with CBC, but said in a press release it has "significant investments planned for Newfoundland."

One leads to another

The federation has filed a letter outlining its concerns with the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, arguing the project cannot legally proceed without the assessment taking into account what happens once smolts leave their land-based tanks in Stephenville and move to sea cages on the province's south coast.

"The issue there is if there's going to be any significant environmental impacts from that overall project, it's going to come from the marine-based component, not the land-based component," Sutton told CBC News.

"There's clearly a connected action there. They're expanding the hatchery because they need those extra smolts to expand their marine production. So it's one project. It has to be registered all at the same time."

Sutton said the federation is concerned about the impact of expanding aquaculture operations on wild salmon populations, and potential to spread disease. Northern Harvest Sea Farms dealt with an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia at one of its Newfoundland farms in March.

The province told CBC in a statement the federation's letter will be considered as the environmental assessment process continues, with a decision due Aug. 31.

Proposed hatchery expansion is adjacent to existing facility at Stephenville, NL. Open net-pen cages where the fish grow to maturity are located on the south coast of NL, in an area where wild Atlantic salmon have been assessed as THREATENED.

Past precedent

Sutton hopes the government will require the company to include its sea operations in the assessment, based on a past precedent in 2016.

That year, the ASF objected to the assessment on Grieg NL's plans for a massive aquaculture project in Placentia Bay, which contributed to the province asking the company for a more extensive environmental impact review. That project is still tied up in the regulatory process.

As the federation keeps its eyes on a decision regarding the smolt hatchery, Sutton says his organization will keep fighting the project should it be approved as is.

"We haven't made any decisions as to where we will go from here," he said, adding the group may consider legal action if necessary.

In the environmental assessment, the company stated site preparation for the hatchery expansion is planned to begin in August and be complete by the end of 2020, creating work for 112 people during construction and adding eight full-time jobs to its operational side.