Proposed fish farm sparks public meeting

Leanne Delong/Digby
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Over 50 people gathered at the Freeport Fire Hall June 15 to discuss a proposed fish farm Cooke Aquaculture has planned for St. Mary’s Bay and what it means for the local lobster and ecotourism industries.

The company owned by the Cooke family for the past 30 years, applied mid March to install two 42-hectare open net salmon cages, which will house two million fish in the bay near Freeport. They currently have a 3.75 hectare fish farm near Westport and another in Digby.

If the new site is approved it will allow them to fallow the current site in Westport, which has operated for about 12 years. The Cooke family acquired the site in 2006.

“The other reason we want a new site is to increase production in Nova Scotia and grow business here. Those two proposed sites would make 20 jobs and give us enough fish in the water to open a processing plant in Nova Scotia,” said Cooke’s Aquaculture communications manager Chuck Brown.

Karen Crocker who led the meeting in Freeport said a few red flags have been raised since hearing about the proposed fish farm.

Crocker said pollution is one red flag, where the environmental impact of a 42 hectare site includes loss of lobster fishing grounds, spawning grounds and coastal habitat. Fishing vessels could have navigational issues, untreated release of fish feces, food and other chemicals could affect ocean life and damage the sea floor.

Another red flag was the amount of jobs the fish farm would create. She said originally they were told it would produce 30 or more jobs and now they say ten jobs.

Brown confirmed there would be 20 job openings if the project is approved.

She also told the crowd the current fish farm near Westport has environmental issues such as noise pollution, odors and sludge on beaches.

Westport resident Rikki Clements said she lives near the 3.75 hectare fish farm and can hear noise from the feeding machines.

“They have expressed concerns about smell and slime on the shore and that’s another thing we’ve offered to help fund or organize whatever needs to be done to study that and find out the cause,” said Brown. “We’d like to study it and find out if we’re the cause.”

While community members have formed a Save Our Bays group, Brown said “we want to hear their concerns and we want to talk directly to the fisherman and other water users.”

The Save Our Bays group can be followed on Facebook.

Organizations: The Cooke

Geographic location: Westport, Freeport, Nova Scotia

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