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Grieg aquaculture project approved amidst continued concerns

A proposed Atlantic salmon hatchery in Marystown and aquaculture seafarm in Placentia Bay passed a major hurdle this month when it was released from the environmental assessment process.

Grieg NL Nurseries Ltd. is planning to build an Atlantic salmon hatchery in Marystown’s marine industrial park.

Several groups with a vested interest in the decision, however, continue to express grave concerns about the project.

Grieg NL Nurseries Ltd. and Grieg NL Seafarms Ltd. are planning to construct and operate a land-based hatchery for Atlantic salmon in Marystown's marine industrial park and 11 marine-based farms in Placentia Bay.

Environment and Conservation Minister Perry Trimper gave his conditional approval for the project to move forward July 22.

“The decision to release the project from further review comes after significant assessment, full consideration of all comments received during consultation, and thorough discussion and analysis of critical input from the key regulatory agencies,” Trimper said in a news release.

“While our environmental assessment process, once the conditions of release are met, is complete, there will be continued collaboration with our colleagues in the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as this project moves through their regulatory processes.”

In the same news release, Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Steve Crocker said the environmental release is one step in a larger process and several more will need to be completed before the project can proceed.

Work is underway to start the aquaculture licensing process, which includes a review of the proposed sites and hatchery, he said.

“The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture is awaiting formal site applications for the proposed marine farm sites from the company. In addition, Grieg has provided an updated business plan which government is reviewing in detail,” Crocker said.

Irresponsible decision

The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) was among the groups to immediately express concerns about the release from further environmental assessment.

In a news release, the ASF called the province’s decision irresponsible and unlawful.

The group said Grieg NL Seafarms Ltd.’s plan to produce up to seven million farmed fish annually has the potential to wipe out the remaining wild Atlantic salmon in Placentia Bay through disease, sea lice infestation an interbreeding.

“The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has failed to abide by its own laws in not ordering a full environmental impact statement,” said Steve Sutton, ASF’s community outreach and engagement coordinator.

“This project sets a precedent by allowing foreign strains of farmed salmon to be raised in sea cages and could have a ripple effect in Canada.”

ASF argues Newfoundland and Labrador’s Environmental Assessment Regulations are clear that a full environmental impact statement (EIS) is required if a project poses significant environmental risks of raises public concern.

“In this case there are both serious risks and huge concern from Newfoundlanders. Grieg is planning to use Icelandic strains of Atlantic salmon in untested open net pens among a ‘threatened’ population of wild Atlantic salmon,” Sutton said.

“By not ordering an EIS, the minister is limiting public involvement, scientific knowledge and opportunities to monitor and mitigate impacts.”

Jonathan Carr, ASF’s executive director of research and environment, said the Placentia Bay project marks the first time in Canada that foreign strains of salmon will be commercially raised next to wild fish.

“The company says the farmed salmon will be rendered sterile. However, there is no 100 per cent effective way of doing this, leaving the potential for thousands of fertile farmed salmon to escape and interbreed with wild salmon, weakening the gene pool of an already threatened population,” Carr said.

“There are also uncertainties about the disease resistance of the introduced fish and their potential to spread sickness to wild fish in the region. And the security of the net pens that Grieg is proposing to use has not been tested in the harsh Newfoundland marine environment.”

The Salmonid Council of Newfoundland and Labrador (SCNL), meanwhile, said the decision was “cowardly and inexplicable” and called upon Trimper to resign.

“It is hard to imagine that the public concern for this project could be completely dismissed and the project released with no significant conditions. The whole process leaves the province in a vulnerable position for a court challenge,” Leo White, the organization’s vice president, said in a news release.

As well, the Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland (SAEN) was also critical of the decision in a news release and called on Trimper to fulfill his mandate of openness, transparency and accountability.

SAEN president Christoph Konrad said Trimper should have stipulated Grieg pay for monitoring stations across salmon zone 10 so that the development of the wild salmon population could be assessed and reacted to accordingly.

“As the minister failed to hold the proponent accountable for his installation, SAEN is calling upon the provincial government to setup and pay for fish-counting fences across all scheduled rivers in zone 10,” Konrad said.

“It is its duty to monitor the wild salmon populations to ensure that the salmon stocks remain healthy as it is a shareholder in this proposal. Surely, if the Department of Environment and Conservation believes that the impact of the proposal is negligible on the wild salmon stocks, it will put the province’s money where its mouth is.”

The federal government gave environmental approval for the project in June.

Renewable economy

Marystown Mayor Sam Synard said Grieg’s plan, which also involves partnering with Ocean Choice International to process the salmon in St. Lawrence, has a chance to kick-start a new and renewable economy for the region.

Synard, who spoke with company officials this week about the project, said the Marystown salmon hatchery will be the largest in the world. The main building will be roughly 250,000 square feet in size, he said.

“I think the Walmart in Marystown is about 40,000 square feet, so six times bigger than the Walmart store,” Synard said.

“They’ve done their own business analysis, which shows they’re going to employ 725 people directly in the industry … and the multiplier effect is about two in that industry, so you’ll have another 1,400 to 1,500 jobs created indirectly.”

Synard said he was told resumes are flowing into the company already.

The Town of Marystown negotiated a contract with Grieg about a year ago, he said.

“We are collecting an amount of taxes in lieu of traditional taxation and of course we also have a land sale agreement in place. We’re selling a good chunk of the industrial park to the Norwegian company, actually,” Synard said.

Grieg NL Seafarms Ltd. has said it is pleased with the release from the environmental assessment process.

“This is a very important step in introducing modern aquaculture to Newfoundland and Labrador as well as creating significant job opportunities in the area,” a statement from the company read.


The conditions of the approval are:

- Only triploid Altantic salmon are permitted to be used;

- The department requires an annual progress report regarding the phased approach from using mixed sex triploids to the use of all female triploids;

- Prior to the commencement of construction activities, the proponent must submit to the Department of Advanced Education and Skills additional information on workforce and timelines for the project;

- Prior to the commencement of construction activities, the proponent must submit to the Women’s Policy Office a women’s employment plan for the project that meets the approval of the deputy minister;

- Prior to the commencement of construction activities, the proponent must submit to Health Canada an inventory of all regulated substances that are intended to be used for the project. 

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