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Low turnout for first day of rally in Corner Brook against salmon farming project

Sarah Butt (left) and Garry MacKenzie took part in the Corner Brook protest against open-net fish farming in Newfoundland and Labrador Thursday.
Sarah Butt (left) and Garry MacKenzie took part in the Corner Brook protest against open-net fish farming in Newfoundland and Labrador Thursday. - Gary Kean

It was cold and lonesome at times, but Sarah Butt is still determined to draw more attention to the issue of open-net fish farming in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Corner Brook resident and graduate of the fish and wildlife program at the College of the North Atlantic, and who is planning to pursue a degree in marine biology at Memorial University, is opposed to the practice of commercially raising Atlantic salmon in open nets.

She helped organize coordinated protests that started in Corner Brook and St. John’s Thursday and will continue again today.

While a small number of people said they would attend the rally each day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Butt was the only person to brave the blustery weather outside the Sir Richard Squires Building — the seat of the provincial government in Corner Brook — first thing Thursday morning.

By early afternoon, at least four others had joined her, waving handmade signs of protest to traffic passing by the intersection of Mount Bernard Avenue and O’Connell Drive.

“I expected that anyway,” she said of the low turnout. “I didn’t think anyone was going to show up early in the morning in a snowstorm.”

Still, Butt was undeterred in trying to get the message across.

“I want to bring awareness to this issue because the majority of the public and people I talk to don’t seem to know what these open-net aquaculture farms are all about,” she said.

The rally was planned around the ongoing controversy over a sea farm project being proposed for Placentia Bay by Grieg NL. The company is planning a massive Atlantic salmon farming operation situated off the south coast of the island.

The provincial government only recently told Grieg it would be required to do an environmental impact study of the project before it could proceed. Still, the government is appealing a decision by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, which ordered a full environmental study be done.

Arguments were scheduled to be heard in the Court of Appeal in St. John’s Thursday.

About two dozen people showed up to protest outside the courthouse in St. John’s, but not all of them were against the project. Some were protesting the opposition to it.

The environmental concerns Butt and others opposed to such projects have include the exposure of wild salmon to disease as they pass by the farms and the degradation of the ocean floor beneath the farming cages from accumulated waste and byproduct of the operations.

She added that some wild salmon par are small enough to slip into the farm nets where they are vulnerable to being consumed by the farmed fish, negatively impacting the next generation of wild salmon.

The protestors want to not only make sure an environmental impact study is done, but that it is rigorous and not just rubber-stamped by the province, which has stated its support for the project because of the economic spinoffs it could create.

“Even though it’s bringing in a few jobs at the beginning for the construction, in the long run we’re going to be losing the 17,000 jobs of fishermen because there won’t be any salmon or cod to be caught,” said Butt.

The second day of rallying in Corner Brook will be held outside the Sir Richard Squires Building from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today.

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