Three Cooke Aquaculture executives face environment charges
Published Thursday November 3rd, 2011
SAINT JOHN – Environment Canada has charged three executives at New Brunswick’s largest aquaculture company following an investigation into the use of an illegal pesticide that the federal agency believes killed large numbers of lobsters in the Bay of Fundy between 2009 and 2010.
Kelly Cove Salmon, a division of Cooke Aquaculture, Cooke Aquaculture CEO Glenn Cooke, vice-president Mike Szemerda and Randal Griffin, regional production manager of Kelly Cove Salmon, face 11 counts of violating section 36(3) of the federal Fisheries Act, which prohibits depositing substances deleterious to fish into fish-bearing water.
Environment Canada alleges that Kelly Cove Salmon and the three senior company officials oversaw the release of a cypermethrin-based pesticide into the waters of Maces Bay, Passamoquoddy Bay as well as the waters surrounding Deer Island and Grand Manan between November 2009 and November 2010.
“We were able to identify 11 instances where the pesticide was released,” said Robert Robichaud, Environment Canada enforcement operations director for New Brunswick and P.E.I.
Cypermethrin is banned for use in Canadian waters, and is known to be harmful to crustaceans, including lobster.
Large numbers of dead and dying lobsters were first reported by fishermen in the Campobello region in the fall of 2009, prompting the investigation by Environment Canada.
Cooke Aquaculture’s vice-president communications Nell Halse said the company stands by the reputation it has developed over the previous 25 years, and a legal team will prepare a response to the charges once it gets more details.
“As a company and an industry, we want to see the facts come to light,” she said. “There has been a lot of innuendo and discussions about the allegations. We need to get past that.”
Halse said the two year ordeal has been “hanging over our head,” but she said the company has co-operated fully with the nearly two-year investigation.
Environment Canada was first informed of dead and dying lobsters on Nov. 19, 2009 by the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association. More were found off Pocologan on Nov. 23 and again near a wharf in Fairhaven, Deer Island on Dec. 3.
Environment Canada collected samples of affected lobsters from Grand Manan and Deer Island as well as fish, mussels and kelp, which were then sent to a Moncton laboratory for analysis.
The laboratory tests showed that the dead lobsters from Grand Manan and Deer Island were exposed to cypermethrin, a chemical banned in Canada, but used elsewhere by the aquaculture industry to control sea lice, which are harmful to fish grown in captivity.
Environment Canada opened its first investigation into the lobster kill on Dec. 22, followed by a second on Feb. 10.
Robichaud said the case was extensive, but he said that is not unusual when it comes to environmental investigations.
“Most environmental investigations are usually complex, but it’s our duty to thoroughly determine if there have been any violations,” he said. “We approach any potential violations consistently, and we take any potential violations seriously.”
Maria Recchia, executive director of Fundy North Fisherman’s association and the spokeswoman for the Traditional Fisheries Coalition, said she is very pleased that the government stuck with its investigation.
“This has been a long process and has concerned us for over 20 years,” she said. “This gives some comfort to the fishermen that pesticide use is being paid attention to by the government.”
Recchia said there has been a lot of concern for the lobster stocks and the environment since the dead crustaceans were first discovered two years ago.
“The traditional fishery has been here for hundreds of years. It employs thousands of people and adds millions to the economy,” she said. “We just can’t have toxic chemicals in the bay.”
Recchia said the fishery and the aquaculture industry need to find a way to work together and find non-toxic methods of dealing with the sea lice problem.
Halse said many people wrongly believe that Cooke Aquaculture thinks there can only be either a fishery or a farming industry. But she said her company has clearly demonstrated that it can co-exist with the fishery.
Halse said she is concerned that the court of public opinion has already passed judgment on the company.
“We all understand that we are custodians of the marine environment,” she said. “We are good neighbours.”
Halse added that the investigation has been difficult for the company’s employees and for the Cooke family, which started the company.
“This is not a day that anyone was looking forward to,” she said.
Each count of the indictment carries a maximum fine $1 million, and three years in prison.
Representatives of Kelly Cove Salmon, as well as the three company officials, are expected to appear in provincial court in St. Stephen on Dec. 13.