Last month, the provincial government approved an application by AquaBounty Canada Inc. to expand its current facility in Rollo Bay by building two 40,000-square foot structures where the company will rear AquaAdvantage salmon, a sterile genetically modified salmon, from eyed egg to market size.
Many were surprised by the application, as the company originally said its plans would only involve producing the salmon eggs in P.E.I. and then shipping them to Panama to grow to full size. They were to be processed into fillets in Panama and then sent back to Canada for sale.
Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker says the fact this change in plans did not require a whole new environmental assessment is a case of “regulatory acrobatics.”
“There’s lots of levels in which this is problematic for me, but I think first and foremost it’s the regulatory dance that’s being played here. It just doesn’t sit well with me and, instinctively, I don’t feel good about that,” he said.
Bevan-Baker says he is also concerned about the amount of taxpayer money that has been handed to the company.
The province recently provided AquaBounty with a $14,000 grant for its grow-out facility.
A spokesman for the economic development department said the money was to assist the company with the requirements of its environmental assessment.
“It is not uncommon for IPEI (Innovation P.E.I.) to provide grant assistance to companies working their way through expansion projects of this nature,” the spokesman wrote in an email to The Guardian.
Since 2002, the province has provided $818,000 in non-repayable support to AquaBounty, including grants and labour incentives.
In July 2016, Island Investment Development Inc. (IIDI) also approved a provincial loan to the company of $717,000.
AquaBounty has also received money from the federal government.
In 2010, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) provided AquaBounty Canada Inc. and Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc. with a conditionally repayable contribution of $2.87 million. ACOA also gave the company an unconditionally repayable contribution of $337,000 in April 2016 to develop its hatchery.
Bevan-Baker says he believes the company is large enough to fund its own operations.
“The fact that government is willing to give so much taxpayers’ dollars to something which, and I think I speak for a lot of Islanders when I say, I have instinctive concerns about, is troubling,” Bevan-Baker said.
“The money behind this organization is considerable. And it’s my personal opinion that they should be able to fund all R&D (research and development) and all applications for whatever regulatory hoops that they have to jump through without any public funds being put in there.”
He says he has heard from a number of nearby residents who have concerns about the facility, notably about the pre-existing deep-water wells the company acquired when it purchased the property in Rollo Bay.
“I think it’s problematic that we’re actually in the process of writing the first Water Act for our province and something as important as this went through. I don’t think that was the right thing to do.”
Environmental advocacy groups from across Canada were in P.E.I. last week and called on Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to halt the development of the AquaBounty facility until more study and consultation has been held on the environmental and ethical concerns involved in growing genetically modified animals.