Cooke Aquaculture proposes $58M salmon hatchery on Digby Neck

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Cooke Aquaculture plans to spend $58.6 million building a salmon hatchery on Digby Neck, N.S., over the next five years.

Notice of the proposal from the Canadian salmon-farming giant was posted Wednesday by the Nova Scotia government.

The land-based hatchery would grow salmon from egg to smolt prior to release into the ocean for rearing in open-pen fish farms.

It's expected to produce three million fish per year and supply Cooke's 13 fish farm sites in Nova Scotia.

Project not tied to approval of Liverpool Bay expansion

The company said the project is not contingent on getting approval from the provincial Aquaculture Review Board for a major expansion at Liverpool Bay, N.S., where it has applied to add 46 pens and increase capacity to 1.8 million salmon.

Cooke's application for a 10-year licence for the salmon hatchery, through subsidiary Kelly Cove Salmon, is before the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

The hatchery project will undergo a 30-day public comment period prior to the minister making a decision. The comment period closes Feb. 12.

Growing salmon longer on land

Known as a post-smolt hatchery, the facility grows fish longer on land and releases them larger into the ocean, reducing time at sea where they are more susceptible to disease and weather.

Normally fish are grown to 125 grams at hatcheries; these salmon would be 500 grams before release.

"Growing them larger allows them to be larger and stronger and more healthy when they're in the ocean," Cooke spokesperson Joel Richardson told CBC News.

"This type of facility allows us to reduce fish handling, reduce the fish time at sea and reduce the days to market."

Planned for Centreville on Digby Neck, the hatchery would create 16 full-time jobs when completed. Construction is expected to take three years and generate 450 jobs and $26 million in wages.

The company operates a recently expanded feed mill in Truro, N.S., under the name of Northeast Nutrition that produces 100,000 tonnes of feed annually to fish farms in Atlantic Canada and Maine.

Support from county warden

Digby County warden Linda Gregory said she's "ecstatic" about the proposal.

"I feel so good about it. It's land based. It's jobs. It's generating work for years," she told CBC News.

The company has run into opposition in some coastal communities, particularly in Liverpool Bay where the local municipality voted in 2019 to oppose the expansion. It was a response to community concerns about pollution and die-offs, but it was a symbolic gesture. A provincial regulatory board will decide on the application.

Gregory does not share those concerns.

A Cooke fish farm is located in a district she represents. Gregory said she accepts assurances from the company that its hatchery will be environmentally friendly.

"What they were showing me, how they were showing me what they were going to do with any kind of run-off, it's so state of the art," she said. "I have felt reassured that if this project went ahead, it would be great."

Cooke hatchery proposal not new

The company first proposed a salmon hatchery in the Digby area in 2012 as part of a $150-million expansion plan funded in part with $25 million from Nova Scotia's then-NDP government.

The proposal also included a salmon processing plant and the feed mill expansion, but hinged on doubling production to three million fish per year.

Plans for the hatchery and processing plant were shelved after the NDP imposed a moratorium on new fish farms while it studied the issue.

The moratorium was lifted in 2016, but there have been no new fish farms in Nova Scotia since the moratorium was imposed.

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