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Mowi farm licences suspended after 2.6m salmon die in Canada

Pink liquid pours out the side of a vessel hired for the clean-up at the Northern Harvest Sea Farms salmon pens in Fortune Bay. Photo: Chris O'Neill-Yates / CBC.
Pink liquid pours out the side of a vessel hired for the clean-up at the Northern Harvest Sea Farms salmon pens in Fortune Bay. Photo: Chris O'Neill-Yates / CBC.

A number of Mowi’s licences to farm salmon in Newfoundland and Labrador have been suspended by fisheries minister Gerry Byrne after he was informed that a huge fish die-off at the company’s Northern Harvest Sea Farm Ltd sites was even bigger than he was first told.

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He also claimed there was evidence of non-compliance by the fish farmer.

Neither Mowi nor Northern Harvest had publicly revealed how many fish were killed by a rise in water temperature in Fortune Bay in late August and early September, until today, when Northern Harvest held a press conference. The company stated that up to 2.6 million fish were believed to have died, 600,000 more than the company first thought, reported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Gerry Byrne: Wants Mowi boss Alf-Helge Aarskog to appear before NL government.
Gerry Byrne: Wants Mowi boss Alf-Helge Aarskog to appear before NL government.

Higher than first reported

It appears that this new figure, along with accusations from political opponents that Byrne was covering up for the salmon farmer, prompted him to act.

In a statement today (October 11), Byrne said: “This morning I was informed by officials from Northern Harvest Sea Farm (Mowi Canada East) that additional salmon cage sites have been affected by a mass salmon mortality event on the south coast. The additional mortality numbers make total numbers higher than initially reported by the company.

‘Evidence of non-compliance’

“As a result of the ongoing investigation and evidence of non-compliance, I am suspending all affected Northern Harvest Seafood Farms licences and issuing a directive that requires the company to continue the clean-up of the sites. I will be amending licence conditions to all unaffected Northern Harvest Seafood Farms and other associated Mowi licence sites in the coming days.”

Byrne said he had asked the “international president of Mowi” - most likely a reference to chief executive Alf-Helge Aarskog - to be available as soon as possible for an in-person meeting with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I have directed Northern Harvest officials to make themselves readily available to media and provide full disclosure.

Fisheries minister Gerry Byrne

“I have also directed Northern Harvest officials to make themselves readily available to media and provide full disclosure, as per our recently amended policies and procedures for aquaculture,” added the minister.

Byrne has already commissioned an independent, third-party review of the mass mortality event by Memorial University, and disclosure of mortality events has been made mandatory.

‘Too focused on clean-up’

Northern Harvest managing director Jamie Gaskill has admitted the company should have come clean earlier, according to CBC.

“I want to state for the record that we should have advised earlier of these additional mortalities as they occurred over time,” CBC reported Gaskill saying at today’s press conference.

“We were too focused on clean-up efforts, and we have learned from this experience.”

Ten out of 13 sites that Northern Harvest operates are affected, totalling 72 cages, reports CBC.

No escapes

In total the company said it has 166 cages in the water and is expecting to have clean-up finished by next week.

Sixty-three cages have already been cleaned, Gaskill said.

Gaskill added that no salmon have escaped, and that about 300,000 salmon are still alive in the company’s pens, which he said will be harvested.

Pink sludge

Both Northern Harvest’s silence about the die-off and the unsavoury sight and smell of the consequent clean-up have presented an open goal for salmon farming opponents.

The company has had to hire large teams of divers to help in the clean-up  and rotting fish are being sucked out of the cages and processed on land before being dumped at sea as a pale pink sludge.

“It was an absolutely awful smell,” Don Ivany of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, who was on a boat that toured the clean-up site last week, told the Globe and Mail.

“When the vessel went over the sludge, the propeller kind of stirred it up and the smell was so bad a couple people on the boat had a job to keep their breakfast down.”

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