Warts and All: NL Aquaculture

THE TELEGRAM - Editorial


Nov. 27, 2013

It’s a good thing Cooke Aquaculture is farming salmon, instead of elephants or llamas or warthogs. Because the most that the aquaculture firm can expect the taxpayer to pay for every diseased salmon that has to be destroyed is $30 a fish, including the costs of trucking the fish, destroying it, and cleaning contaminated vehicles and equipment.

That’s the figure included in Canada’s Compensation for Destroyed Animals regulations, regulations that insulate animal farmers from the costs incurred when animals — numbering from one into the thousands — are ordered destroyed.

The picture would be much worse if the aquaculture company was destroying thousands of warthogs: taxpayers pay up to $8,000 apiece to destroy every single good old Phacochoerus aethiopicus. Llamas and elephants are similarly expensive.

Salmon, though, are expensive enough: the Atlantic Salmon Federation has argued in the past that their research has shown that destroying diseased aquaculture salmon has cost Canadian taxpayers more than $100 million between 1996 and 2012.

Salmon producers are paid based on a combination that includes the market value of the fish, along with its age and weight, and the $30 number is the maximum. Still, it adds up in a hurry.

The biggest problem for salmon producers? Infectious salmon anemia, or ISA. It’s the disease that, most recently, has resulted in a six-month closure of Cooke Aquaculture’s Harbour Breton processing plant. Right now, the company has been ordered to dispose of several hundred thousand salmon, and has said it feels that it doesn’t want to start restocking pens until this province adopts a bay management strategy that would require full fish health protocols for all growers.

Interestingly, the provincial government started a consultation process to “inform the Provincial Aquaculture Strategy” on Monday. Here’s what the news release said: “Interested parties can submit feedback to the provincial government via the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture website: www.fishaq.gov.nl.ca. The site now includes a consultation web page that provides information about the consultation process, features a background document about the industry, and explains how to provide input electronically or via regular mail.”

The goal? To establish “what must be done to continue fostering the success of aquaculture in Newfoundland and Labrador.” The plan does include consideration of bay management plans, but that’s about as close as the government ever gets to talking about now-regular and expensive ISA problems.

We’ll save you the trouble of going to the site: except for one single mention of the words “disease management,” fish health problems aren’t mentioned. There is not one mention of ISA or any other disease.

Nor is there any mention of the taxpayer support that goes into the industry through payment for diseased and destroyed fish.

Yet, the documents state; “This document is designed to stimulate public feedback by highlighting industry accomplishments and identifying strategic issues relevant to the continued sustainable development of aquaculture in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Here’s a simple fact: the amount of compensation being paid to the industry should be front and centre when the merits of the business are being weighed and input is being requested. Leaving it out will only create an artificial impression.