"It's time we get on with the job:

cleaning up the environmental degradation left behind by the salmon farming industry ..."

Stuart M Leggatt, Clear Choices, Clean Waters


Protecting the natural marine environment of Port Mouton Bay is one of our primary goals. We do not oppose all development, but support environmentally sustainable economic development. The aquaculture industry and government claim that it is environmentally benign. It is our belief however that the existing open cage salmon farm has not been operating in an environmentally benign manner.

Salmon farming has been practised in New Brunswick and British Columbia for decades. There is growing evidence, in these regions, that the salmon farming industry have caused significant environmental degradation.1

Potential problems associated with fish farming are numerous, and include: 2, 3

Our Specific Concerns for the Marine Environment

In developing our case opposing a second fish farm, we considered the impact of two farms in the Bay. With a moratorium on new fish farm leases in place, we are now focused on the existing fish farm. Whether one fish farm or two, the environmental case against open cage fish farming in the Bay remains powerful!

Impact on Port Mouton Bay Beaches

The beaches in the Bay have already been affected by fish farm operations. During the week of March 31, 2007 large amounts of green algae washed up on Carter's Beach, a Protected Beach. See pictures below.

Carters Beach Green Algae

Green algae washing ashore on Carter's Beach. Note Summerville Beach in the upper left, Hunt's Point towards the center, and the fish farm in the upper right. (Photo: Brian Fisher)

Carters Beach Green Algae

Close-up view of green algae on the beach (Photo: Brian Fisher)

Where did this green algae come from? This is what we know:

Given the circumstantial evidence, there is a strong likelihood that the algae on Carter's Beach originated from activities at the fish farm.

See our document Far-field Effects of Aquaculture Site 0835 Spectacle Island (PDF) for further documentation (and pictures) on the existing fish farm's impact.

"Far-field" Effects

The impact of the fish farm on Port Mouton beaches, as noted above, is referred to as "far-field" effects. In other words, effects that occur beyond the boundaries of the official lease area. Local fishermen have observed that strong winds, and northeast winds, can create conditions where fish farm waste would be washed ashore. "Friends" conducted a seabed drifter study to see whether this could be demonstrated.

Starting in January 2007, a series of seabed drifters were released near the existing and proposed sites. Seabed drifters (picture, right) are small, parachute-shaped plastic objects, weighted to sink, rest lightly on the bottom, and move with the currents there. Volunteers patrolled the beaches to locate drifters.

By the end of April, three drifters have been retrieved. These three, all released near the proposed site, were found in the area south of Bull Point to Mouton Head, near Kejimkujik Park. See seabed drifter map

Based on this study, in addition to the Current Meter Study (see below) and patterns observed by fishermen, it is concluded that much of the time fish farm wastes would be deposited in the area of these farm sites; but, the potential is there for this settled waste material and nutrients to be resuspended and transported at least a few kilometres from the site to nearby parks and protected areas. See our document Seabed Particle Trajectories in Port Mouton Bay (PDF). Also, read our follow-up reports on Seabed Drifters - Carter's and Summerville Beaches (PDF), and the October Update on Seabed Drifters (PDF).

Loss of Fish Habitat

Since the establishment of the existing farm, the productive capacity of the area below and near the sea cages has been lost. Test results clearly show the existing site being "anoxic" during much of its operations. Under anoxic conditions virtually no plant and animal life can survive. See Aqua Fish Farms' test results on our Monitoring page.

In addition, the existing farm has severely affected areas far beyond the limits of its lease area. Fisherman, in particular, have attested to dramatic drops in commercial fish stocks since the first farm started operations. See full details on the extent of the damage on our Fishing page.

The proposal to establish a second, much larger, fish farm in the Bay would have only caused further destruction of fish habitat. The scale of the proposed operation and its generation of waste were prime concerns.

Fish Farm Operations and "Far-field" Effects

Most of the damage to the marine environment occurs below the water's surface. However, divers can see what boaters and beachgoers cannot. In August, Kathy and Dave Brush made a series of dives in Port Mouton Bay, including around the existing fish farm. They discovered how far the "far-field" effects of the fish farm operations really go. Read more about their dives, their startling discoveries, and see their underwater pictures.

Fish Farm Waste

Fish waste includes excretory compounds, feces and uneaten food 4. The waste falls from open net cages to settle on the seabed. As the waste decays, it smothers the seabed, creating a condition called "organic loading". With organic loading, oxygen levels are depleted. Gases such as methane, hydrogen sulphide, ammonia and carbon dioxide are released. Organic loading leads to the death of many of the marine organisms in the sea floor.

In addition to the solid waste, release of nitrogen from the waste is also problematic. Nitrogen release is cited as a cause of marine water degradation 5. Excess amounts of nitrogen cause nuisance blooms of green and brown algae that smother clam flats and Irish moss beds.

Salmon farms release nitrogen in the range of 40 metric tonnes for every 200,000 fish. A single person excretes about 4 kg of nitrogen per year 6. A 200,000 fish salmon farm excretes the same amount of nitrogen as 10,000 people.

For further reading on the impacts of fish farm pollution, see:

How much fish fecal waste will Aqua Fish Farms operations produce?

Aqua Fish Farm planned to rotate fish production between its original site (#835) and its proposed new site (#1251). Site 835 was be stocked with 200,000 fish. Site 1251 to be divided into two production areas: 1251a and 1251b, each to be stocked with 300,000 fish.

According to the fallowing schedule proposed by the company, there would have been overlapping periods of production in any given year. For example, in 2007, both 1251a and 1251b would have been stocked and growing of a total of 600,000 fish.

One farm, with 200,000 fish, in one year, creates 182 metric tonnes of waste, which is equivalent to the waste from 2,667 people 7.

Based on the above information and the company's proposed production schedule, we have estimated the production of fish waste (and equivalents to waste from people) from active site(s) for the periods they are projected to be in operation.

The chart below shows waste calculations for three years. Please see full chart for complete results from years 2006 to 2014.

Year Sites # in Production Fish Waste (mt/year) 8 Equivalent to fecal wastes from % of Queens Population 9
2006 835 182 2,667 people 22.7 %
2007 835, 1251 a 303 4,439 people 37.9 %
2008 1251a, 1251b 451 6,607 people 56.4 %

In the year 2008, the proposed fish production would have produced the equivalent waste of 6,608 people, which represents 56 % of Queens County population. In other words, the fecal waste produced, would be equivalent to the waste from more than half Queens County population pouring directly into the Bay.

Over the time frame from 2006 to 2014, we estimate 2,954 metric tonnes fish fecal waste would have been produced and released into the Bay. This represents an average of 328 metric tonnes per year, or the equivalent to fecal wastes from 4,806 people annually. Towns and cities have regulations for treating and discharging waste into open waters. Why are salmon farms not required to manage their waste?

Potential Loss of Critical Lobster Habitat

The lobster fishing is the cornerstone of the Port Mouton economy. The second fish farm was proposed for an area known to be a lobster nursery, moulting and migration area. Waste from the fish farm would effectively destroy the habitat where lobsters reproduce. This is an unacceptable harm to critical fish habitat. Further details and documentation can be found on our Fishing page.

Poor Site Suitability

Aquaculture proponents are required to supply baseline data on the marine environment (benthic community, sediment, tide/current data, etc.) of the proposed site location10. This information is used to assess the project's potential impact on fish habitat. Not all sites are equal.

Neither the existing or proposed sites, we contend, can be considered good site locations:

Minimal Flushing Capacity and Low Currents in the Bay

Included in the Environmental Impact Assessment document, was data from a moored current meter. This January 2002, data indicated low current speeds of about 4 cm/s at the proposed site. Low currents lead to more accumulation of waste beneath the cages which leads greater organic loading (see above).

To further our understanding of the Bay, 'Friends' undertook a study to document currents in the Bay. On March 13th, 2007, Brian Fisher and Robin Fisher, fishermen and Ron Loucks, oceanographer, conducted “drogue” current studies.

Drogues were released into the water near Spectacle Island and Port Mouton Island. Drogue “sails“ ensure that the drogue's path follow ocean currents below the action of waves. (See drogue picture.) The two charts below plot the paths taken by the drogues at the two sites:

Drift Paths of 3 drogues released near Port Mouton Island

Figure 1 - A chart showing the northwest shoreline of Port Mouton Island (green) together with the drift paths of three drogues with their sails at 3 m depth. The drogues, released from the dot symbols near the island during ebbing tide, and drifting N and NE initially, were tracked for the 12 hour tide cycle. Average drogue speeds were 4 to 5 centimetres per second.(Note the circular path taken by the drogues.)

Drift paths of 3 drogues released near Spectacle Island

Figure 2 - Tracks of three similar drogues released on the same March 13th tide cycle off the salmon farm (black) near Spectacle Island, Port Mouton Bay. These drogues drifted NE or E initially, starting from the dot symbols. Average drogue speeds were 1.5 to 2.5 centimetres per second. (Note, once again the circular path taken by the drogues.)

Based on the data collected during our study, and the 2002 current meter data, we make the following observations:

Read the complete details of the Current Measurements Study - Port Mouton Bay (PDF).

To complement the seabed drifter and drogue studies, we took a closer look at the current meter data available from 2002 (3 days of data) and from December 2006 and January 2007 (3 weeks of data). The current meter recorder tracked water speed and direction every 15 minutes. An analysis of the data confirms our prior findings. That being, the area of the proposed fish farm near Port Mouton Island experiences periods of deposition interrupted sporadically by wind-drift events. In other words, periods where fish farm waste would deposit below/near the site, with periods where materials will be transported to nearby shores. Read the full document: Report on Current Meter Record off Port Mouton Island (PDF)

”Decision Support System” - DFO Aquaculture Site Evalution

DFO has developed a ”Decision Support System” tool to assist them in assessing the suitability of a marine site for aquaculture. A proposed aquaculture site is scored on a series of questions such as critical fish habitat, ocean currents, and so on. “Friends” has been given access to this tool, and have evaluated proposed site #1251. It is our judgment that the site would earn a failing grade. In other words, the site is not suited for aquaculture operation. Read our document Decision Support System for Proposed Aquaculture Site #1251 (PDF) for details.

Both Sites are "Depositional"

"Depositional" areas are where deposits tend to occur, like silt at the mouth of a river. In this case, the deposited matter would include fish wastes. In its environmental impact assessment Aqua Fish Farms states:

"The Company recognizes the depositional nature of the habitat in the area of the existing and proposed sites, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss appropriate environmental management tools for the operations. This could include Authorizations under the Fisheries Act, and/or operational practices such as site fallowing."

The company acknowledges it will have challenges avoiding serious damage to fish habitat, i.e. creating a HADD. (See our Monitoring page for definition of ”HADD“.) And, in fact they created a HADD in the existing site. And the company suggests that it may seek an Authorization (that is permission to create a HADD)!

To repeat, neither the original site, nor the proposed site near Port Mouton Bay are suitable for intensive open cage aquaculture. Granting permission for a second site to operate means that further destruction of fish habitat would very likely occur.

What is Fallowing?

As mentioned above, build-up of waste and other debris causing "organic loading" which is problematic for the farmed fish, as well as the sea life below the sea cages. To reduce the impact of organic loading, aquaculture farms are using the "fallowing" management technique.

With fallowing, fish production is rotated through different areas of the lease site. It is claimed that the bottom will recover in a 6 to 12 month fallowing period, allowing fish production to resume.

Monitoring During the Fallowing Period in Port Mouton Bay

The existing fish farm site (#0835) near Spectacle Island, has been fallow since August 2009 when the last fish were harvested. Since that time Friends have undertaken a monitoring program documenting the recovery of the Bay. Our monitoring includes analysis of seabed samples collected around the Bay, and on the farm lease area.

Our studies demonstrate that the fish farm impact greatly exceeds the official lease area, and that recovery in Port Mouton Bay is a slow multi-year process. Read our latest detailed reports below:

There is other evidence to question the effectiveness of fallowing as an effective management technique:

“Unacceptable HADDs”

There is little doubt that the proposed fish farm would have very likely caused a HADD. Therefore, application for an Authorization to create a HADD would have been required. As noted in our Monitoring page, DFO will not grant authorizations “where adverse effects to fish habitat are judged to be unacceptable.”

Cited risks can include: loss of critical habitat, low suitability of the site, prior history, cumulative effects on fish habitat.

‘Friends’ has made a submission to DFO demonstrating how the current and proposed fish farms meet the criteria for unacceptable adverse affects to fish habitat. Read the full document: Unacceptable HADDs at Port Mouton Bay (PDF)


It is difficult to dispute, based on the evidence, that damage to fish habitat, and the marine environment as a whole, has already happened. Adding a second salmon farm to the "depositional" habitat would have only lead to more of the same. "Fallowing" only means one area is left to "recover" while another is damaged.

Port Mouton Bay cannot, in our opinion, support these salmon farms without suffering real environmental damage.