HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — A group has filed an appeal with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court seeking to overturn the operating licence approvals the province granted Kelly Cove Salmon Ltd., a subsidiary of New Brunswick’s Blacks Harbor-based Cooke Aquaculture Inc. The group is a coalition of three community groups close to the salmon farm site on Long Island, near Digby on Nova Scotia’s Fundy coast, as well as the Atlantic Salmon Federation and Ecojustice, a Toronto-based advocacy group.
“We’re very concerned about the wild salmon in the area,” said Sue Scott, vice president of communications with the Atlantic Salmon Federation.
Cooke Aquaculture also owns and operates several salmon farms in Maine. The company grows salmon in pens in Cobscook Bay, off Machias and near Mount Desert Island in eastern Maine.
Scott said scientists have deemed the Outer Bay of Fundy salmon as endangered and salmon farming in the area is the species’ number one threat.
While the federation and Cooke Aquaculture have collaborated on conservation projects in the past, Scott said the legal action shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“The ASF has a long documented advocacy campaign internationally and locally calling for a stricter control of aquaculture and its impact on the wild Atlantic salmon,” said Scott.
The lawsuit is directed at the Nova Scotia government, rather than Cooke Aquaculture, because the coalition is looking for more stringent regulations on salmon farming.
Cooke Aquaculture is planning a $150 million expansion into Nova Scotia over the next five years, which includes farms in St. Mary’s Bay and Shelburne County, a processing plant and an expansion of its feed plant in Truro, which according to Nell Halse, spokeswoman for the company, would create 400 desperately needed jobs in the province.
She said the group’s other arguments, that the farms will ruin the environment and devastate tourism, are “ridiculous allegations.”
“You only have to look at Charlotte County in New Brunswick,” she said. “Aquaculture together with the fishery is sustaining those communities.”
Lobster stocks in the area have increased over the last 30 years, Halse said, and tourism on Grand Manan, an area with a big Cooke Aquaculture presence, continues to thrive. She said the company is required by law to monitor the nearby ocean to its farms, assessing any environmental effects, which she said show a vibrant sea life near its nets.
“Aquaculture in general is very emotional for people,” Halse said. “The marine environment is important to our heritage.”
Because the aquaculture industry has only been around for 30 years, she said, people are wary of it moving into their backyards. Halse pointed to the southern coast of Newfoundland’s experience with Cooke Aquaculture, which expanded there in 2006, as proof of the benefits the industry can have on communities.
“We said we were going to employ 200, we now have 300 people working on the south coast. Communities are reviving, they don’t go off to Alberta, families are building new houses. It’s been an important part of economic and social development.”
Cooke Aquaculture also operates salmon farms on Prince Edward Island and in Chile. The company processes and sells more than 115 million pounds of Atlantic salmon and 35 million pounds of trout each year with annual sales topping $450 million.