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EDITORIAL: Newfoundland and Labrador aquaculture controversy, uncaged

The removal of the 2.6 million dead Atlantic salmon in Fortune Bay.
Salmon pigment-tinted water is dumped in the ocean during the removal of the 2.6 million dead Atlantic salmon in Fortune Bay. — Atlantic Salmon Federation photo

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

That is a benchmark of Canadian law and should be kept in mind any time you read a story about a person or a company being investigated for anything.

But the aquaculture industry is, more and more in this province, under an unsettling amount of investigation.

The provincial government, through the Marine Institute, is already investigating what happened at sites belonging to Mowi on the province’s south coast after a die-off of some 2.6 million salmon in the company’s pens.

The company has apologized for the incident, and for failing to publicly release details of what happened. Five days after making the apology, the company’s CEO, Alf-Helge Aarskog, stepped down and was replaced by the company’s chief financial officer.

But this province’s investigation into the salmon deaths is not the only one that Mowi is facing.

But the aquaculture industry is, more and more in this province, under an unsettling amount of investigation.

Last week, the company issued a news release announcing that, in addition to an EU price-fixing investigation that raided several Norwegian salmon farming companies in February — and a series of class-action lawsuits about price fixing — the company is being investigated by American authorities.

Class-action lawsuits in the United States claim that salmon aquaculture firms, “participated in meetings and conversations among themselves during which they agreed to charge prices at certain levels, and otherwise to fix, increase, maintain, or stabilize prices of farm-raised salmon and products” in the U.S. as far back as 2015.

Here’s what Mowi officials had to say in a news release about the newest antitrust investigation: “Mowi has been informed that we will receive a subpoena from the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice in the U.S.A. where they are opening a criminal investigation involving allegations of similar conduct.

“Mowi considers that there (is) no basis for the EU inspection and that the class-action complaints clearly lack merit and are entirely unsubstantiated. This equally applies to any criminal investigation in the U.S.,” the company said.

“Mowi will fully co-operate with the Department of Justice and will provide as requested all information in relation to our U.S. subsidiaries.”

And it’s not only Mowi. The European investigation and U.S. consumer lawsuits, one of which says that “price increases — and the defendants’ co-ordinated behavior that caused them — have come at the expense of (the) plaintiff and the class, who have paid more for farm-raised salmon than they otherwise would have in the absence of collusion,” also name another company operating in Newfoundland waters, Grieg Seafoods, which is the parent of the massive Grieg NL open pen aquaculture project planned for Placentia Bay.

As we said at the top, companies and individuals are innocent of wrongdoing until proven otherwise in court. But with the ongoing investigations and the continued questions about the environmental effects of open-ocean salmon farming, it cannot be an easy time at anyone’s head office.


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