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Cooke gets Federal OK for Fish Farms in Shelburne County

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CANADA - Transport Canada has given a green light to Cooke Aquaculture to move forward with a proposal to open two new fish farming sites in Jordan Bay in Shelburne County.

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In a decision Tuesday, Transport Canada said that taking into account that appropriate measures are available to safeguard wildlife and marine habitat the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.

The project includes two separate fin fish sites at the opening to Jordan Bay. They are similar in size, each a proposed 500 by 800 metres, taking up 40 hectares, say Transport Canada documents, TheChronicleHerald reports.

The sites, which will each have 30 cages, are to be situated 2.1 kilometres apart.

According to Transport Canada, 24 of the 30 cages at each site will be stocked during the first growing cycle. The sites are likely to enter full use in the second production cycle.

The plan is to stock each site with 550,000 to 700,000 fish, to be based on site performance.

The project must yet be approved by the Nova Scotia government.

Basing its approval on an environmental assessment of the proposed area, the federal government noted that 290 public comments from 93 individuals and seven groups were made about the project since March 2011.

Transport Canada reviewed each submission and provided responses where it could, it said in a detailed summary.

Questions about noise coming from the fish farm were asked.

In order to evaluate any changes in noise levels, Transport Canada said baseline noise monitoring should be undertaken prior to construction and operation of the farms, but it was not made clear if the operator had to do this.

Someone had a concern about methane gas that will bubble up to the surface from the fish fecal waste accumulating beneath the cages.

There is currently no federal expertise to provide advice on odour and health effects, said Transport Canada.

Some wanted to know what impact excess fish feed and waste, chemicals, sea lice and viruses would have on lobster and lobster larvae.

Transport Canada said it asked Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to help answer that one.

DFO determined that the sites are not likely to significantly hurt fish or fish habitat at this time, provided that the sites are operated appropriately.

A question was asked about food dyes used in salmon feed.

Farmed fish are fed supplements, which include two pigments to give them nutrition as well as colour. They have been approved for use in Canada for 15 years, said the government.

Someone else wanted to know how the environment might be affected by garbage or shoreline litter.

The aquaculture company is not allowed to be messy or leave garbage lying around, said Transport Canada.

The project must now receive provincial approval from Sterling Belliveau, the minister of fisheries and aquaculture.

In Nova Scotia, aquaculture leases or licenses are issued under the Aquaculture License and Lease Regulations of the Fisheries and Coastal Resources Act.

We have not received advice from Transport Canada on their review, said Pam Davidson, a spokeswoman with the provincial fisheries department.

She said it could take a few weeks.

Once we receive Transport Canada advice, we will prepare our recommendations to the minister based on information received to date, she said in an email Wednesday.

Sindy Horncastle from the citizens group Mayday Shelburne County, said the project will be placed in a sensitive ecosystem.

This is a decision we were expecting, Horncastle said Wednesday.

Were extremely disappointed ... because theres so much science that shows its not a good idea.

Were probably going to try to have a community meeting. Were just really disappointed.

A source at Cooke Aquaculture headquarters in New Brunswick did not return a call placed Wednesday.

Last month, the Nova Scotia government announced that it was lending $25 million to Cooke to expand its operations in Shelburne, Digby and Truro. Of that amount, C$9 million will be forgiven through the Nova Scotia Jobs Fund.

This spring, Cooke had to kill hundreds of thousands of salmon because of an outbreak of infectious salmon anemia in pens outside Shelburne Harbour.