Bad publicity can be a big game changer. A few months ago, fish farming in Nova Scotia certainly had its vocal opponents, but it got to be a household topic after news of several outbreaks of a destructive virus on the south shore.
A quarantine due to infectious salmon anemia was later followed by an order to kill the penned fish at the site. Since then debate over growing salmon in open pens in ocean water has been gaining.
Members of more than 100 conservation groups converged Monday in Halifax to voice concerns over the province’s new aquaculture strategy. They’re calling for a three-year moratorium on open-net pen fish farming.
Their concerns include outbreaks of disease, increased waste in coastal waters, the possible use of pesticides – and of course potential harm to wild stocks.
One response from government to the expressed concerns was that these groups had the opportunity to present their views while the strategy was in the works over the past couple of years – through a discussion paper and polling on the issue.
The department might claim that constitutes consultation. But, again, bad news can gather steam. An outbreak and resultant kill-off is bound to grab attention. Sometimes a handful of opponents can grow into a groundswell of public opinion.
When it comes to a provincial strategy, that sort of bad rap just won’t do. One overall intent in setting out a plan for aquaculture is to find new markets for the product, and to be successful that has to aim for the bigger world stage.
We’ve all seen how bad press – well informed or not – about Atlantic Canada’s seal hunt has hurt marketing prospects for other products from the region in various countries.
If the aquaculture industry and the province are talking about strategy in the true sense of the word, they need to think in the long term. Rushing a product to market while skirting credible and well-publicized concerns won’t pay off if the buyers aren’t there.