Nova Scotia

Frustration over lengthy delays in Nova Scotia aquaculture approvals triggers company pullback

A large Nova Scotia seafood company says it has stopped aquaculture operations in frustration over the provincial government’s handling of the industry.

Premium Seafoods said it is fed up after waiting years for the government to process its application for shellfish leases in Arichat, Cape Breton.

“This week our company informed the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Nova Scotia outlining our dismay at the state of aquaculture in N.S. and the numerous barriers hindering its progress,” director of aquaculture operations Michelle Samson said in a statement to CBC News.

The Cape Breton company said there has been no progress on its application for three new oyster aquaculture leases, which it submitted in 2019. The company has also successfully tested kelp farming in the area.

Samson declined an interview request.

“Our company has reached the difficult decision to step back from our aquaculture operations,” she said.

Michelle Samson is the director of aquaculture operations at Premium Seafoods in Cape Breton. (CBC)

The lease applications have not been withdrawn, she said, but further investment has been paused.

“It is disheartening that the current process does not provide a realistic pathway for companies and individuals, both established and aspiring, to participate in the industry’s growth.”

As part of the decision, Samson also resigned as president of the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia on Tuesday.

“It’s an unfortunate loss for us here in the sector,” said Jeff Bishop, the association’s executive director.

Industry ‘discouraged’ by pace of approvals

He said there are about two dozen aquaculture applications before the province.

“This doesn’t appear to be a unique situation. People are discouraged by the length of time, and at times the lack of clarity of where their application may sit or what’s next,” Bishop told CBC News.

Last month, Nova Scotia moved to speed up approvals for shellfish and marine-plant aquaculture in the southernmost part of the province, where the local municipality has identified suitable sites and secured federal authorizations.

Lease applications from 53 pre-approved sites inside the Argyle Aquaculture Development Area will be subject to a provincial administrative review. It’s a much faster process than applying to the aquaculture review board — a quasi-judicial board whose few public hearings have been adversarial.

The system is in place only in the Municipality of Argyle.

On Wednesday Nova Scotia Fisheries and Aquaculture issued a response to the Premium decision.

“We thank Michelle Samson for her leadership and service to the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia and respect the decision she’s made to step down,” spokesperson JoAnn Alberstat said in a statement. “We also respect the decisions that Nova Scotia businesses make about their operations.”

Alberstat said the department is moving to streamline the process, citing a pilot project underway in Argyle, work to implement recommendations from an aquaculture regulatory review, and developing a new online platform that will identify sites suitable for aquaculture.

Nova Scotia shellfish aquaculture lags far behind Prince Edward Island, which accounts for 60 per cent of national production, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

In 2021, oyster farming in Nova Scotia was valued at $4.7 million and mussels at $1.2 million. In P.E.I., oyster farming was valued at $21.3 million and mussels at $30 million, according to DFO statistics.

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