Cooke shuts down for about six months

Clayton Hunt
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Bay management plan to be put in place after fish contract infectious salmon anemia

The Cooke employees at the company’s processing operation in Harbour Breton were informed Nov. 7 that the plant could be down for at least six months.

It’s going to be about six months before another picture like this can be taken at the Cooke processing operation in Harbour Breton. The company informed its processing employees at the facility Nov. 7 that the operation could be down for at least six months, as it has no readily available market-size fish to process in the province. (Above) Roy Skinner works at the operation during a much busier time in the company’s production history in the community.

The reason for the downtime goes back to June, when Cooke was informed that some of its fish in Hermitage Bay had contracted infectious salmon anemia (ISA).

Following strict protocols, and the direction of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the company got rid of the fish in two cages at the site, hoping the rest of the fish would escape the problem.

However, the company was informed recently that the rest of the several hundred thousand fish would have to be removed as well and will need to be sent to a rendering facility.

Nell Halse is a public relations official with Cooke Aqua Ltd.

Halse said the removal order by the CFIA means the company has no market-ready salmon to process in Newfoundland, and the company had to make the difficult decision to lay off its employees on a temporary basis.

“Although this move will impact our employees, the bigger impact for us is that we have a break in our processing in Newfoundland,” Halse said. “However, we have a number of farms and processing plants in other areas of Atlantic Canada and Maine, so we should be able to meet the market demands for our products.”

Halse said the fish that will be depopulated represents less than three per cent of all of Cooke’s fish in Atlantic Canada and Maine.

Bay management plan

Halse said a bay management plan needs to be established in the Newfoundland aquaculture industry similar to the one in place in New Brunswick.

“We know from experience that you need to have three distinct bay areas, you need to be able to rotate your crop and you need to have a fallow period for individual farms and also for an entire bay area at the same time,” she said.

“You need dedicated wharves for different activities and biosecurity protocols, and vessel traffic needs to be controlled. All of these things need to be put in place to secure a long-term future for the industry in Newfoundland.”

Halse said the company has not experienced an ISA case in New Brunswick since 2006 after a bay management plan was put in place.

The company has been working aggressively with the province of Newfoundland for the development and implementation of a bay management plan, Halse said.

“It’s certainly important for companies to adopt these protocols, and we do implement them even when there is no official regulation in place. However, there’s a really important role for the government to play in this because an official bay management plan that requires compliance by all companies is the only way these protocols are really going to work.

“We urgently need this program before we can really manage ISA in Newfoundland. We need to see this happen, and we will (not) be adjusting our stocking plans for the province until this is in place.”

Putting plan in place

Keith Hutchings, the provincial minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, said a bay management plan should be place by the end of the year.

“We’ve been quite active in terms of the plan over the past year or so. After we completed our scientific work we went back and forth with the industry players who wanted some tweaks in the guidelines and we did that,” Hutchings said.

“The last time we talked with the industry players was back in mid-September, and we’re waiting to hear from them on this serious issue.

“This government is very supportive of the aquaculture industry, and we’re willing to sit down with the players to get this plan in place in moving the industry forward.”

Surprising news

Mayor Roy Drake of Harbour Breton said the news of the down time at the Cooke operation came as a surprise to everyone in the community.

“As a council, we are very concerned about this matter, and we will be working with Cooke Aqua to see what they might need from the town in terms of help to prepare for the reopening next year,” Drake said.

“Hopefully, within the six-month time frame, the current stock will be market size and production can resume at the plant.

“We will be keeping in close contact with Cooke officials and Bill Barry to see what their long-term plans are for Harbour Breton.”

The Coaster

Organizations: Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Hermitage Bay, Atlantic Canada New Brunswick Maine

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  • Alexandra Morton
    November 23, 2013 - 11:20

    The salmon farming industry has known that "bay management" is essential - we went through this in British Columbia with sea lice ten years ago. Of the many disturbing things about this industry from the high contamination of their product, to the way they treat local communities, to the impact on wild salmon, is that they get away with what they can, for as long as they can, and then they say we are changing for the better. I find this terribly irresponsible. I am sorry for Newfoundland and how ISA could be affecting your wild salmon and herring. As a person who was living in a tiny coastal community when the salmon farming industry moved in I can say they squashed the life out of us. There are only 8 people left in Echo Bay and 27 salmon farms. Watch out