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Hatchery yes, fish plant no: Cooke Aqua still planning fresh water hatchery for Digby area

DIGBY – Cooke Aquaculture says they still want to build a fish hatchery in the Digby area but they no longer have plans to build a fish processing plant in Shelburne.

Cooke spokesperson Nell Halse told the Digby Courier by phone on Jan. 21 that the New Brunswick-based salmon farming company has submitted a proposal for approval by the Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture to build a fresh water hatchery in the Digby area.

“It’s sitting with them (the provincial government),” said Halse. “The intention is to build a hatchery in the Digby area. We’re ready to roll, we’re good to go.”

The hatchery was one part of an expansion project the company and the provincial government announced in 2012 when the province also announced a total of $25 million in funding for Cooke Aquaculture.

[RELATED: What’s the hold up? Hatchery delay frustrating for Clare-Digby MLA]

Cooke has accessed about $18 million of that funding but Halse says the expansion project as outlined in 2012 is now off the table.

The plan was originally to build a hatchery in Digby, expand a feed mill in Truro, expand the fish farming sites around the province and build a fish processing plant in Shelburne – all by the end of 2015.

Halse says Cooke Aquaculture did complete some parts of that plan – the expansion at the feed mill and investments in innovation and improvements at the fish farming sites – but they failed to build a hatchery or fish processing plant.

“We obviously didn’t meet the timeline by end of 2015 and there’s lots of reasons for that,” she said. “Mostly because of the regulatory review and no new sites being considered.”

The Nova Scotia government issued a moratorium on any new fish farm sites in the province in May 2013 while the government conducted a regulatory review of the industry.

The Doelle Lahey report issued their recommendations in Dec. 2014, and the provincial government finally passed new new aquaculture legislation at the end of October 2015.

“And the government is still working on a lot of policies and procedures,” said Halse. “And in the meantime, nothing is happening.”

Halse says Cooke spoke with the current provincial government about renegotiating the funding agreement.

“We did talk to this government about reworking the terms and they were not open to that and so it remains exactly as it was in 2012,” she said. “We agreed if we did not meet the terms we would repay the loans and we have fulfilled every obligation – but that ends the expansion plans as it was outlined in 2012.”

What does that mean for Shelburne?

“Down the road, we may come up with another plan for a processing plant,” said Halse.

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