What’s the hold up? Hatchery delay frustrating for Clare-Digby MLA

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier jriley@digbycourier.ca
Published on January 22, 2016

DIGBY – Clare-Digby MLA Gordon Wilson is frustrated that Cooke Aquaculture has not yet built a fish hatchery in Nova Scotia.

“If the plan was seriously to build a hatchery, I don’t understand what has taken so long,” he said Jan. 22 by phone.

Cooke Aquaculture announced plans in 2012 to build a hatchery in Digby, which would employ 20 people.

The hatchery was one part of an expansion plan that also included a fish processing plant in Shelburne, expansion to Cooke’s feed mill in Truro and expansion of their farming operations in Nova Scotia – the plan was supposed to create 400 jobs.

[Hatchery yes, fish plant no: Cooke Aqua still planning fresh water hatchery for Digby area]

At the time of that announcement in 2012, Cooke employed 140 people in Nova Scotia; they now employ about 150.

Cooke has accessed about $18 million in government funding from the $25 million announced in 2012.

Cooke Aquaculture spokesperson Nell Halse told the Courier on Jan. 21 they are paying back any money they owe the province but still intend to build a hatchery here – once they get government approval.

Wilson told the Courier one site had already been approved and approval for another site was being worked on – though he wasn’t sure if that approval was with a federal or provincial department.

“It is a tremendous opportunity for the area,” said Wilson. “I welcome the fact they are continuing with their efforts to build a hatchery here.

“The whole community was very excited back in 2012 when they made the announcement,” said Wilson, who was then deputy CAO with the Municipality of the District of Digby. “I remember the hatchery coming up even five or six years ago – this was part of the discussion when they were lobbying for additional sites.

“So yes I feel a certain amount of frustration and I think the whole community does,” he said.

Wilson also is disappointed that salmon harvested here are sent to New Brunswick for processing.

“I don’t like to see any of our resources going to another location to be processed,” he said. “The true value of our resources is in the processing and the value added, so simply to catch fish or raise fish to be processed elsewhere doesn’t give us the full value.”

Halse has said that Cooke’s expansion plans were slowed when the new Liberal government put a moratorium on the approval of new fish farm sites in 2013. The government did so while working out new aquaculture regulations – those regulations were put in place this fall and the province may lift the moratorium in 2016.

“The Doelle Lahey report came out in Dec. 2014 so anyone could look at that and be pretty certain which way we were headed,” said Wilson. “There were some small things we didn’t include, but above all, the legislation provides the certainty the industry was looking for.”

Digby mayor Ben Cleveland says he is still hoping for the hatchery to be built here.

“That would bring jobs and increase activity here,” he said. “Cooke has been very busy on the wharf the last few weeks – they are a good customer for the Digby Harbour Port Association.”

Linda Gregory, warden of the Municipality of the District of Digby says she keeps watching and hoping for the hatchery to be built but hasn’t heard of any progress.

“If the plan has changed or something is holding them back, then they need to be upfront about that and tell us what it is,” said Gregory. “If, as seems to be the case, they haven’t met the terms of their agreement, well then of course the province is going to expect them to meet their obligations.”

The warden says she’ll be attending the Sea Farmers Conference in Halifax at the end of this month and hopes to hear more from Cooke’s about when a hatchery might be built here.