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Houston's opposition to N.S. salmon farm expansion is NIMBYism, says former official

Cooke Aquaculture's existing fish farm is seen in Liverpool Bay, N.S. The company wants to expand its operations in the area. (CBC - image credit)
Cooke Aquaculture's existing fish farm is seen in Liverpool Bay, N.S. The company wants to expand its operations in the area. (CBC - image credit)

A former Nova Scotia deputy minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture has written an open letter to Premier Tim Houston criticizing his opposition to the proposed Cooke Aquaculture salmon farm expansion in Liverpool Bay.

Brian Rogers is a longtime advocate for salmon farming who says it's more of the NIMBYism that has stifled growth in the sector for decades.

"I have been involved with the aquaculture industry in Nova Scotia since the 1980s and sadly nothing has changed. This province could have a $500-million finfish aquaculture industry that would have a physical footprint the size of the Bedford Basin spread across the entire coastline," Rogers wrote in a letter obtained by CBC News.

"However, every government since that time has caved to the 'not in my backyard' lobby and the fear of losing votes."

Rogers was responding to CBC reporting earlier this month when Houston declared his personal opposition to an application by Cooke subsidiary Kelly Cove Salmon Cooke to expand its existing fish farm at Coffin Island, and open two new ones at Brooklyn and Mersey Point in Queens County.

Support from association

If approved, each site would contain 660,000 fish — a 370 per cent increase in the number of farmed salmon in Liverpool Bay.

Rogers — and his open letter — has the support of the Atlantic Fish Farmers Association.

"Brian's letter is well outlined. I'm sure what he is saying is probably the sentiment of a lot of people throughout Nova Scotia, in the region and throughout the sector. Not just not with the farmers themselves, but all those [supplier] companies and employees," said Susan Farquharson, executive director of the association.

"The better question is why doesn't Nova Scotia support salmon farming. The industry has coexisted for more than four decades with the traditional fishery. We collaborate very well with the lobster fishery.

"There has been absolutely no decline in those fisheries in the region over those years. We support thousands of good paying jobs and hundreds of independent companies that provide services. We're the most regulated protein producer in Canada."

The proposed expansion has been met with local opposition, including the Municipality of Queens which is an intervenor in upcoming regulatory hearings.

Houston first shared his opinion at an event in Liverpool alongside local PC MLA and cabinet minister Kim Masland, who is also against the expansion.

"While I think there's incredible opportunities for aquaculture in this province, it's my personal opinion that Liverpool Bay is not an appropriate place for that," Houston said.

Time to fish or cut bait

In his response, Rogers asked Houston "to please enlighten us citizens with the list of 'incredible opportunities.'"

"You have a choice — either cap the industry at its current size or let your experts (you have some of the best aquaculture people in the country in your civil service) and the Aquaculture Review Board do their jobs. Nova Scotia is perceived to be unsupportive and high risk for capital investment in the aquaculture sector. Your comments only serve to continue fuelling this negative sentiment."

In an interview, Rogers said: "If the province doesn't want aquaculture, that's their right. Just come out and say that. Take action but stop wasting the time of companies and capital that perhaps may want to come here."

Houston said then and again Thursday the Aquaculture Review Board — not him — will decide on the project.

Kelly Cove Salmon wants to increase the size of its existing fish farm at Coffin Island in Liverpool Bay, and add two more sites nearby at Mersey Point and Brooklyn. The current site and proposed sites are highlighted in yellow.
Kelly Cove Salmon wants to increase the size of its existing fish farm at Coffin Island in Liverpool Bay, and add two more sites nearby at Mersey Point and Brooklyn. The current site and proposed sites are highlighted in yellow.

Kelly Cove Salmon wants to increase the size of its existing fish farm at Coffin Island in Liverpool Bay, and add two more sites nearby at Mersey Point and Brooklyn. The current site and proposed sites are highlighted in yellow. (CBC News)

And he dismissed Rogers's claim that his opposition undermines the board.

"I gave my personal opinion. I don't think Liverpool Bay is a good place for what's proposed there. There are other places in the province that could be good places but the reality is, and the author of that letter would know this very well as well. It's an independent board. They'll make their decision," Houston told reporters.

New board chair appointed on eve of hearings

A week after Houston made his views known on the expansion, his government appointed a new chair of the Aquaculture Review Board: Tim Cranston, a lawyer, businessman and former PC candidate in the 2021 provincial election.

Cranston was not made available for an interview Thursday. Houston vouched for him.

"He's a free-thinker," Houston said. "He'll listen to the evidence and hear the hearing."

Public hearings scheduled to start March 4 have been postponed indefinitely.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston has questioned whether CBRM's state of emergency is a publicity stunt, saying it won't get equipment there sooner or plow a road quicker.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston has questioned whether CBRM's state of emergency is a publicity stunt, saying it won't get equipment there sooner or plow a road quicker.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston says the Aquaculture Review Board — not him — will decide on the project. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Cooke Aquaculture has not directly addressed Houston's opposition, instead taking comfort in the role of the Aquaculture Review Board.

"We appreciate that the premier respects the independent Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board process that was established by the provincial government," spokesperson Claire Ryan said earlier.

Local opponents were heartened by the premier's stance.

They want regulatory hearings postponed until the province completes a coastal classification system that would rate coastal areas for their suitability for aquaculture.

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