When I learned last week that Gray Aqua had been sued for non-payment by an animal-feed company, it rang alarm bells. That’s because the aquaculture firm — which unbeknownst to me at the time had just filed for bankruptcy protection — has received millions from the federal and provincial governments.
It also stands to receive an untold amount in compensation from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) after the agency issued two orders for Gray Aqua to destroy salmon stock that had infectious salmon anemia.
I figured our readers should know that Gray Aqua was not paying a supplier’s bills just two months after an announcement of a provincial investment of $5 million for the company to expand. I also started making inquiries with the agency, hoping to find out how much had been agreed to from last summer’s cull of salmon stock.
As is depressingly common when dealing with government agencies or departments, a request to interview someone with the agency about Gray Aqua’s compensation was ignored in favour of a written reply from a spokesman.
In this case, I was told earlier this week, via email, that the agency would not divulge how much compensation Gray Aqua would receive because specific compensation amounts “fall under the Privacy Act.”
Frustrated, I asked to speak to an agency official who could at least discuss the rationale for that decision. So I was asked, via email, what I would specifically like to know.
I responded with one line: “I would like to interview someone from CFIA.” I have not received any response at all to that.
So not only will the agency not answer questions about how many millions in taxpayers’ money it will give Gray Aqua, it will not answer questions about why it won’t answer questions.
Elsewhere in the paper today, you can read about the federal NDP’s efforts — which began almost a year ago — to find out how much compensation Gray Aqua is receiving.
It’s not just the agency, either. I’ve made daily phone calls to Gray Aqua since last week.
Clyde Collier, the company’s top representative in Newfoundland and up until now the public face of Gray Aqua here, referred me to the company president in New Brunswick.
That didn’t strike me as a good sign, since Collier has been the public face of the company here in the province, and willing to speak to the media even about bad news, such as the three separate cases
of salmon anemia in the last 14 months.
But daily calls to Tim Gray have resulted in absolutely nothing. The conversation usually goes like this: I ask to speak to Gray, I’m asked who’s calling and, after I identify myself, I’m told he’s in a meeting.
After we learned earlier this week that the company’s financial troubles were much worse than overdue bills from one supplier, I pressed harder to speak to Gray, and was bluntly told, “He won’t talk to you, I can tell you right now. I’ll give him the message, but I can guarantee you right now he won’t call you back.”
It’s unfortunate that no one at the company thinks there’s some responsibility to take questions on the situation, given the millions of taxpayers’ money provided, but there you have it.
Speaking of millions, Cyr Couturier, director of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association, took issue with my article stating — entirely accurately — that the most compensation Gray Aqua could receive for its destroyed salmon, based on the CFIA-provided numbers of 1.25 million fish destroyed with maximum per-fish payout of $30, is $37.5 million.
He says I misled readers by implying the company will get that much.
Needless to say, I disagreed that I implied any such thing, and I’m confident readers know the difference between “could get a maximum of $37.5 million” and “will get $37.5 million.”
Couturier says — as I noted in the article — that compensation is intended to reflect fair market
His estimate, based on the size of the fish, most of which, he says, are small, is that Gray Aqua will get between $3 and $6 per fish, which would work out to between $3.8 million and $7.5 million.
For context, I feel compelled to point out that Couturier’s job is to promote the aquaculture industry, and that he has been downplaying the significance of Gray Aqua’s troubles, going so far as to question its newsworthiness, and telling me that the story’s placement on the front page suggests it was a slow news day.
The reality is that between the public money involved and the possible effect on the company’s employees and creditors, it would have taken a major news event to keep Gray Aqua off the front page. But I did tell Couturier I’d report his estimate of what he thinks Gray Aqua will get.
Of course, it wouldn’t even be an issue if the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or Gray Aqua would answer questions about the compensation — or answer questions at all.