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EDITORIAL: Farmed salmon 2.0

Some of the salmon cages in St. Mary’s Bay belonging to Cooke’s Aquaculture. FILE PHOTO
Cooke Aquaculture salmon cages in St. Mary’s Bay. — SaltWire Network file photo

They are, at least, planning on putting money — US$500 million — where their mouth is.

Late last month, Nordic Aquafarms submitted a permit application of almost 2,000 pages to the Belfast Planning Board in Belfast, Maine. The plans are for the development of an on-land salmon production facility on a 30-acre site.

Nordic describes its plans as, “a project that takes leaps in defining a new generation of food systems and ocean protection standards in the U.S. and internationally — with tried and proven technologies.”

The plant, the company says, would eventually produce seven per cent of total U.S. salmon consumption.

But something else: by raising salmon on land in recirculating aquaculture system tanks, rather than in pens in the open ocean, the company’s application says it can completely eliminate the risk of escaped salmon. The company also says it can operate completely without growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and genetically modified fish, as well as have a parasite- and disease-free facility.

Still, it raises interesting questions for this province, where we are still going ahead with open-pen technology that is being phased out in several places on the west coast of Canada and in the U.S.

In Maine, as here, there has been pushback about the aquaculture facility, which plans to produce 66 million pounds of salmon a year.

Those concerns include ones about the facility’s need for huge amounts of fresh water, and the idea that it would discharge 7.7 million gallons of wastewater every day.

It’s being fought with lawsuits and by electoral support for candidates who oppose the plan.

Still, it raises interesting questions for this province, where we are still going ahead with open-pen technology that is being phased out in several places on the west coast of Canada and in the U.S.

In fact, this province seems very much on side as Grieg NL prepares to launch the construction of a massive $250-million Placentia Bay fish farm. (The province is loaning the venture $30 million, and the federal government, $10 million.)

Oh, and did we mention? Less than 25 miles from Belfast, in Bucksport, Maine, Whole Ocean has taken over a former Verso paper mill property for its own massive US$250 million recirculating aquaculture system plant — once again, on U.S. soil and far closer to the American marketplace than we are. Once again, without the frequently raised concerns about the impacts of escaped salmon, pesticides and antibiotics.

It is early days in the world of salmon and recirculating aquaculture systems, at least as far as companies being able to prove they can operate the technology consistently and profitably. After all, Nordic Aquafarms only received its first shipment of 100,000 smolt at its Fredrickstad facility — Norway’s first recirculating aquaculture system salmon farm — on May 30th.

As more and more companies throw their money behind developing recirculating aquaculture system alternatives — able to sell their products as more environmentally friendly and antibiotic and pesticide free — are we backing the right kind of horse for the long run?

And how hopeful are you that our provincial government is actually on top of the issue?

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