Ecojustice Case – Nature Case Status: In Progress

Fighting irresponsible fish farm development in Newfoundland and Labrador

Sarah McDonald, Articling StudentSarah McDonaldLawyer
Wild Atlantic salmon jumping a waterfall by Derrick Mercer CC BY-SA 2.0

Open net pen salmon farming poses a well-documented threat to wild salmon populations. Farmed salmon can escape and interbreed with wild stocks and diminish their fitness, or transmit disease and parasites.

Newfoundland and Labrador has stated it intends to double fish farming in the province. With its wild Atlantic salmon stocks already in precipitous decline, it is essential that any expansion of salmon farming takes place in a responsible and precautionary manner.

Unfortunately, that isn’t happening. The province’s lax regulatory environment means only a small fraction of open net pens in the province are subject to environmental assessment.

That’s why Ecojustice, acting on behalf grassroots groups and individuals concerned about the health of wild Atlantic salmon stocks, has filed a lawsuit to ensure the Indian Head Hatchery near Stephenville, Nfld., receives a proper environmental assessment.

The environment assessment for the Indian Head Hatchery expansion was scoped to exclude the project’s marine portion — that is, the open net pens to which an additional 2.2 million salmon smolt will be transferred. The expansion, approved in September 2018, would result in a 50 per cent increase to the hatchery’s production capacity.

Wild salmon in some areas of Newfoundland and Labrador declined 45 per cent between 2015-2018 due to a number of factors. A huge increase in open net pen salmon farming threatens the species further.

Why is Ecojustice involved?

Regulatory shortcuts are leaving the door wide open for projects that could have a devastating effect on populations of wild Atlantic salmon in Newfoundland and Labrador.

We want the Minister and the government of Newfoundland and Labrador to develop fish farm projects responsibly to benefit communities and the environment in the long term – not usher multinational corporations through big policy gaps that allow them to wriggle out of proper environmental assessments.

What would a win mean?

A victory would send a strong message that Newfoundland and Labrador cannot take regulatory shortcuts when developing fish farms. Winning this case means calling out the province’s policy that interprets legal regulations in a way that allows corporations to skirt environmental assessments for open net pens in the absence of land-based infrastructure. In the longer term, curbing irresponsible fish farm development could help wild Atlantic salmon stocks to reverse their decline.

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