There are many tributaries of dissent and unease in what to many has seemed an unstoppable push for the establishment of the Grieg NL $250-million Placentia Bay aquaculture project in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The provincial government touts the projected 800 people employed when full production is reached.
In fact, the benefits, Premier Dwight Ball said earlier this month, are already apparent — upwards of 200 full and part-time employees working on the project that, he adds, will make Newfoundland and Labrador a national leader in aquaculture.
The project includes a salmon hatchery in Marystown and 11 sea cages in Placentia Bay.
Ocean Choice International has an agreement in place to process farmed Atlantic salmon produced by Grieg at its fish plant in St. Lawrence.
A swimmingly good news story. An ocean of content?
Not so. There are those opposed, mainly pointing out the often-documented troubles of aquaculture in the past, from escapes and disease, to the impact on wild salmon and other fish stocks, and the environment and the scenic bays.
Last fall, the provincial government’s department of environment dismissed an appeal of the project by the Atlantic Salmon Federation. That appeal was based on three primary grounds: that the environmental impact statement (EIS) received in May 2018 was “patently deficient,” that the minister of environment could not accept a deficient EIS, and that the minister could not release a project from environmental assessment if the EIS was not up to par.
Environment Minister Graham Letto countered that the EIS process was “strictly followed” and had a “rigorous evaluation of potential impacts.”
The Atlantic Salmon Federation further raised concerns about the follow-up environmental monitoring programs for the project.
The department, however, cited more than three dozen studies of wildlife impacts, socio-economic impacts, ice dynamic studies, and ocean current studies.
In legal challenges, the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, followed by the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal, had ruled that the province's minister of environment at the time exceeded his authority in releasing the project from the EIS process.
“The minister's emphasis on acting according to his opinion and discretion to make determinations under the Act and Regulations does not free him to make a decision without regard to the legal framework provided by the legislation,” an appeals court judge ruled.
Another judge stated: “I would conclude that the applicable provincial environmental legislation mandated the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in this circumstance to require that further environmental assessment procedures be undertaken before any decision could be made regarding the release of the project.”
Some charge the speed bumps were swept away to steer the aquaculture operation swiftly through the province's environmental assessment.
Ball’s government maintains the project is being closely monitored. He said the future environmental effects monitoring plans will include the performance of the sea cages, interactions of escaped farmed salmon and wild salmon, and water quality at the hatchery.
Good news for those who need jobs. The environmental impact, if any, is yet to be determined.