Community Leaders Fighting Against a Fishy Process
Updated: Mar 25
( Above and side: Typical shoreline litter from Cooke Aquaculture's Liverpool Bay operations. Photo credit - Brian Muldoon )
Impacts caused by open-net salmon farming are well defined by the science that predicted and documents them. Numerous incidents have led other jurisdictions in Canada and the United States to ban this practice and transition to sustainable emerging technologies such as closed containment, land-based operations. Yet in Nova Scotia, the government continues to invest in the development of outdated, open-net farms instead of driving the shift towards an equitable approach in line with current and best practices.
Banning the Open-Pen Method
In British Columbia, Fisheries and Oceans, as directed by Trudeau, is responsible for developing a transition plan to move away from open net-pen salmon farming by 2025, having recognized the practice as unsustainable. Washington State has also banned commercial open-pen farming of Atlantic Salmon, with all operations to be phased out and removed by 2025. The ban was decreed shortly after a net collapse and escape of approximately 250,000 farmed salmon into wild salmon habitat, caused by “insufficient attention to engineering” by owner and operator Cooke Aquaculture.
A History of Unreasonable Risk
Communities have learned to take the lead in place of government to preserve local economies and community health. The irreversible collapse of the cod fishery was accompanied by false governmental promises of sound management and economic growth, as well as by the communities who fought endlessly to clarify factual errors in these promises and to present sound alternatives. Similar examples can be found in forestry and mining.
Communities across the province, such as Port Mouton, St. Mary's Bay, and Liverpool have struggled in recent decades against government-imposed, open-net salmon farms owned by out-of-province companies in favour of locally driven “low-capital-intensive, sustainable growth strategies for genuine progress.”
The Situation in Nova Scotia – Liverpool as an Example
Cooke Aquaculture's recently approved renewal and proposed expansion in Liverpool Bay is facing strong local opposition. Cooke's reputation for incidents and lack of operational integrity (e.g. lobster kills and illegal pesticide use, large scale die-offs in 2015 and 2019, and pen failure) is a sound reason for distrust, and for concern over the preservation of community livelihoods – to preserve them while it's still possible, not retroactively when irreversible loss has already taken place.
The Exclusion of Science and Economics from the Approval Process
A brief moratorium on open-pen developments in Nova Scotia has been lifted on the premise that a more accountable approach has been established. However, the recent license renewal in Liverpool Bay has excluded public concerns submitted from those such as the District 33 Lobster Advisory Board, Harbour Authority, tourism operators, and researchers at Dalhousie University who have been conducting research on the impacts of salmon farming in the region and expressed concern over their findings.
The reason given for excluding these comments from the decision-making process was that they did not include phone numbers. However, they did include email and civic addresses, with the understanding that this was a valid method of contact. Respondents were not informed that phone numbers were required to validate the process. Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell maintains that by not including phone numbers, these submissions failed to meet posted criteria and were thus not included in the decision-making process. It is difficult to reconcile logically the omission of sound scientific concerns based on lack of a phone number.
On the decision to approve renewal – Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture stated that public concerns put forth are unproven (note key concerns described above were not accepted and could have contributed proof). Cooke Aquaculture is “pleased” that the leases have been renewed and states that the approval “confirms that the claims individuals [public comments] are spreading are fiction.” The exclusion of evidence does not disqualify its existence or render it as fictional.
Leaders for Local Economic, Environmental, and Community Sustainability
Brian Muldoon founded the Protect Liverpool Bay Association in 2019 to protect the local pristine environment and the local businesses and community health that depend on it. Brian first found out about Cooke's proposed expansion – to add 46 pens and an increase in capacity to 1.8 million salmon – casually in local conversation as there was no public announcement.
Concerned by the size of expansion compared the shallow depth of the bay, and aware of Cooke's previous operational incidents, Brian stood on one of the busiest corners in Liverpool with signs asking people to Google salmon farming and Cooke Aquaculture and make up their own minds on the proposed expansion.
The momentum grew as residents became concerned over the information they were finding - about incidents that had already happened in other regions where Cooke operates, and about available science on flushing rates and direction of flow. Risks to coastal tourism are a significant concern – tourism is of local importance, dependent on healthy coastlines, and is a 2.6 billion dollar industry provincially that pays $300 million in tax revenues (in comparison, Cooke pays $1.2 million in payroll taxes in Nova Scotia annually).
Until there is an elected government that will take such relevant factors into account, it is up to dedicated citizens like Brian to protect the province's economic and ethical interests. Brian, along with all of the dedicated members of Protect Liverpool Bay and other organizations, continue the long-term struggle of detailing evidence and fighting their way into the current decision-making process. What keeps Brian motivated? “Hope! It is clear the politicians of this province don't know the first thing about preservation of our coastal communities. You can have economic growth without destroying the ecosystem along the way.” The Green Party of Nova Scotia is the only political party to demand a provincial ban on open-pen finfish farming in Nova Scotia and to advocate for decision-making based on repeatable, demonstrable facts.