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EDITORIAL: Promoters can’t also regulate

The Atlantic Salmon Federation says there needs to be open discussion between fish farming companies and Atlantic Canadians following a virus outbreak among farmed salmon. — TC Media file photo
Farmed salmon. — SaltWire Network file photo

Are they an aquaculture regulator or its staunchest defender?

It’s hard to tell sometimes.

On paper, the responsibilities are clear: the provincial government is, in fact, the chief regulator for the aquaculture industry.

Gerry Byrne
Gerry Byrne

In practice, though, it’s much more.

Our provincial government is certainly an investor in the ocean pen aquaculture business — in a big way. Provincial money has been a linchpin in a number of aquaculture related projects, like the massive aquaculture venture planned for Placentia Bay.

And the support’s more than just money.

When the federal Liberals recently made an election promise to phase out open pen Atlantic salmon farming in British Columbia, the official response from the provincial government was made by Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne, who told CBC, “Newfoundland and Labrador is a place where much of that salmon production should consider to locate.”

He added, “Now is the time for the Liberal party … to say out loud that from a science point of view that maritime aquaculture in Newfoundland and Labrador is sound and will be continued.”

It’s pretty clear where Byrne stands.

That’s been made even more obvious since the latest massive salmon die-off on the south coast, a crisis that neither the company involved — nor the provincial government — said a word about until tonnes of dead and rotting fish started being pulled from sea cages.

Since then, Byrne has taken to Twitter to criticize scientists raising concerns about the environmental effects of the die-off, and has compared news footage of the cleanup to footage shot by opponents of the seal hunt.

Here’s Byrne’s online defence of that comparison: “Hello. CBC asked me if I saw the pictures taken at the site & what I thought of them. So I answered. I said they looked bad. I didn’t condemn the CBC for showing them. I suggested that people reflect, as with the seal hunt, science is a better resource for conclusions then photos.”

Byrne has taken to Twitter to criticize scientists raising concerns about the environmental effects of the die-off, and has compared news footage of the cleanup to footage shot by opponents of the seal hunt.

And it’s more than just words. Both the province’s Supreme Court and its Court of Appeal found that the provincial minister of environment improperly overruled his staff by giving fast-track approval in the environmental assessment process to a massive fish farming project — a project the provincial government was a key investor in.

Science is a better resource for conclusions than politics, as well.

And this provincial government wants a bigger hand in regulating the oil industry?

You can understand why the province is such a larger supporter of a business that provides employment in parts of the province that desperately need the jobs.

But it’s harder to understand how it can continue to be the dispassionate main overseer of a business it’s deeply in love with.

It’s time for a different level of government to step in to make and administer the rules. At least the federal government wouldn’t be overseeing projects they were also actively promoting, funding and defending.


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