Cooke Aquaculture has agreed to create 400 full-time jobs in exchange for a $9 million forgivable loan from the province of Nova Scotia.
The Nova Scotia government announced a total of $25 million in funding on Thursday, June 21 for the New Brunswick fish farm giant.
The money will go towards the construction of a fish plant in Shelburne creating 320 jobs; a hatchery in the Digby area creating 20 jobs; and expanding a feed mill in Truro creating 30 more jobs. The expansion will also allow Cooke to hire 120 more people for its ongoing salmon farming operations in the province.
To qualify to have the $9 million forgiven, Cooke will have to build the infrastructure and create the 400 jobs within the next three years.
The other $16 million is an interest bearing repayable loan but Cooke can also turn $4 million of that into forgivable loan by reaching research and development targets.
The province made announcements in Shelburne, Truro and Digby simultaneously at 2 p.m. on Thursday in conjunction with representatives from Cooke Aquaculture.
Premier Darrell Dexter, speaking in Shelburne, said the provincial money “is about creating good jobs that families in communities can count on”.
“This is about creating opportunities for young people to put down roots and make a better life in these communities.”
Jim Morton, the MLA for Kings North, represented the NDP government at the Digby announcement.
He said the government money will “support rural and coastal communities by creating opportunities to grow a sustainable industry.”
Cooke currently employs 2,000 people in Atlantic Canada and 140 in Nova Scotia. They process and sell more than 160 pounds of salmon and 4 million pounds of trout every year.
Cooke’s investment in the projects totals $150 million, $70 million of which are capital expenditures. That spending will be divided into four sectors: $30 million for saltwater, $12 million for freshwater, $20 million for feed and $8 million for processing.
Using those same ratios on the government money gives $11 million for saltwater operations, $4 million for the hatchery, $7 million for the feedmill expansion and $8 million for the processing plant.
The government did not provide their own breakdown.
Mike Cooke, on hand in Digby, said fish farming is a sustainable industry but the provincial money will allow a larger scale of expansion and growth.
“What you have to understand is that without all three parts of the expansion, it doesn’t make any sense to go ahead,” he said. “Without the new hatchery it wouldn’t make sense, without the processing plant it doesn’t make sense or without the feed mill expansion – so for us to go ahead and pay for all three of those capital projects alone, would be very costly.”
Digby mayor Ben Cleveland was pleased about the government investment.
“This means now Digby can be a part of the evolution that is going to happen to create a sustainable and environmentally friendly industry.”
Linda Gregory, warden of the district of Digby is thrilled to have jobs coming to the area. She also hopes that waste from the new fish plant in Shelburne might help fuel an anaerobic digester proposed for Digby County.
Gregory says she is confident Cooke has to follow provincial legislation and guidelines and meets all the regulatory requirements
Karen Crocker, chairperson of the St. Mary’s Bay Alliance isn’t as confident.
“The owners of this company are up on charges for violating the federal Fisheries Act and they are never going to admit there is a problem with polluting our waters.”
Crocker wonders why the government is giving so much money to one company, especially a company of this size. She feels if the government wanted to help rural communities, the $25 million could have been better spent.
“What could we have done with $25 million?” says Crocker. “It would have saved our wharf, brought us a teacher, got us a doctor—all kinds of things we really need here.”
Crocker says this money million is just the beginning.
“This is the tip of the iceberg. People have to understand when this industry fails and the fish get sick, we are going to compensate them for that too.”