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LETTER: Salmon farming giant Mowi often makes headlines

The removal of the 2.6 million dead Atlantic salmon in Fortune Bay.
Pigment-tinged water is poured into the ocean as 2.6 million dead Atlantic salmon are removed from a salmon farm in Fortune Bay. — Atlantic Salmon Federation photo

In the wake of the massive die-off of 2.6 million salmon in the aquaculture farms on the south coast of Newfoundland, the aquaculture industry pleaded with the candidates running for the federal seats in Newfoundland and Labrador and the public to “stand up for your salmon farmers.”

Several full-page ads in The Telegram and other papers in the Atlantic provinces drew the cosy image of a poor farmer working from dawn to dusk trying to eke out a meagre living from salmon farming. The salmon aquaculture industry tries very hard to cultivate the analogy of a hardworking farmer tending his crops and being subject to the vagaries of nature.

The salmon farmer in this case is Mowi, formerly Marine Harvest, a Norwegian multi-billion-dollar multinational salmon aquaculture giant. Mowi is the world’s largest salmon aquaculture company and is well known for its disregard for regulation, as well as massive salmon mortalities and environmental degradation. The incident in this province is just one on a long list of similar events, including breach of licence, misreporting chemical use and escape of salmon.

This is an unfortunate misstep by the Marine Institute. While it is a respected and qualified institution, it is up to its neck with the aquaculture industry and government programs that support the industry.

Here are a few of the recent news stories about Mowi and some of the methods used by Mowi to reach its lucrative pinnacle.

“Mowi licence at County Kerry salmon farm discontinued for breach of licence related to overstocking. Also breach of licence conditions at a smolt hatchery in Donegal.” (Irish Examiner, April 22, 2019, reporter Lorna Siggins).  

• “Salmon farm giant Mowi probed over chemical use. The world’s biggest salmon farming company is one of a number of firms under investigation for possible misreporting of chemical use.” (BBC News, Scotland, May 20, 2019, reporter Lucy Adams).  

• “Scottish fish farms using cancer-linked embalming fluid as disinfectant. Mowi, formerly known as Marine Harvest, used 50.7 tonnes of formalin between May 2017 and September 2018. Formalin is a water solution containing formaldehyde.” (The Ferret, June 30, 2019, reporter Billy Briggs).

• “Mowi risks $7 million fine, concession loss after Chilean escape. Chile’s superintendency of the environment has filed charges against Mowi after the escape of thousands of fish from a site in Calbuco, Los Lagos.” (Undercurrent News, June 18, 2019).

• “Two further escape incidents land Mowi Norway in hot water once again. These latest incidents are now the third and fourth cases of salmon escape made public from Mowi’s Norwegian farms over the past month.” (Undercurrent News, Oct. 2, 2019).

• “Two salmon farming companies refuse to provide information on their use of antibiotics despite an order from the Council of Transparency. Mowi and Ventisqueros refused to comply with a sentence to provide data on their use of antibiotics in 2015, 2016 and 2017.” ( News release, OCEANA, Jan. 7, 2019, Santiago, Chile).

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Mowi’s licences were suspended following the mass die-off incident, and while the Mowi CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog apologized to Premier Dwight Ball and Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne for not reporting the correct numbers, behind the scenes Northern Harvest Sea Farms managing director Jamie Gaskill argued that Byrne did not have the authority under aquaculture legislation to keep the suspensions in place. It’s a moot point because the cages cannot be restocked at this time, but it shows that Mowi sees itself as being in charge and disputes the province’s authority to regulate it.

Meanwhile, the Marine Institute has announced that it will carry out an investigation into the die-off and cleanup using external experts to avoid a perceived conflict of interest. This is an unfortunate misstep by the Marine Institute. While it is a respected and qualified institution, it is up to its neck with the aquaculture industry and government programs that support the industry. The terms of reference for the investigation have not been made public and the names of the external experts have not been revealed.

The investigation will determine that the salmon died because of an unexpected increase in temperature during the last two weeks of August and that the cleanup was hampered because of the remote location of the farms, but that under the circumstances the cleanup is acceptable.

For more information, visit www.nlcar.ca.

Leo White, spokesman

Newfoundland and Labrador Coalition for Aquaculture Reform

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