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What's behind latest massive die off of farmed salmon off Newfoundland’s south coast?

Did Larry have anything to do with it? An interesting question considering the latest die off came on the same weekend as the hurricane. Was a sudden loss in oxygen levels ultimately to blame, and, If so, didn't the operators learn anything from the 2019 die off? Better yet, where do you turn for answers when the provincial government is both cheerleader/regulator of the aquaculture industry?

In 2019, the 97 licensed salmon farms in the province produced 14,167 tonnes of product, a 6%. decline from the year before — party the result of mass mortality events. Find that info here: 2019 Seafood Year in Review.

On Sept. 11, the same day Hurricane Larry pounded Newfoundland, the provincial government issued a news release to say there had been an "abnormal salmon mortality event" at Mowi’s Marine Harvest Atlantic Canada site on the province's south coast.

The province directed blame for the massive die off on "sudden low dissolved oxygen levels at the farm site."

In response, the NL Coalition for Aquaculture Reform questioned whether the company learned anything from the mass mortality event in late summer 2019 when 2.6 million salmon died in pens operated by Northern Harvest Sea Farms, a subsidiary of Mowi, in Fortune and Harbour Breton bays.

That die off was also at least partly the result of reduced oxygen levels.

The Coalition finds it coincidental that the latest die off came at the same time as Hurricane Larry brought higher than normal waves and storm surge. The province made no mention of the hurricane in its news release in reference to the die off.

By law, die offs of over 10% must be publicly reported, and this latest event was reported by the skin of its teeth — 10.29% or 92,700 of the 900,000 farmed salmon at the site died.

That coalition finds that odd, too.

Aquaculture is one of the largest employers on the south coast, and the province has a financial stake in the industry's success as an investor in several aquaculture projects, including the Grieg NL Placentia Bay project.

Federally, the Trudeau government is phasing out at-sea fish farming off the B.C. coast, while investing in at-sea fish farming off the NL coast.

Meanwhile, the FFAW-Unifor represents workers at the fish farms, workers at the plants where the fish is to be processed, and harvesters involved in the wild fisheries — a conflict of interest that prevents the union from representing any one sector to the best of its ability.

Between the perception of voices being stifled, and the provincial government being both cheerleader and industry regulator, the loser may ultimately be the wild fisheries.

Ryan Cleary,


Independent licensed owner-operators are encouraged to join SEA-NL here. These blog posts will be public for a limited time, before becoming exclusive to the membership.

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