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Move fish farms onto land, conservation group says
By Oliver Moore

Globe and Mail

3rd June 2004

East Coast salmon farms should be moved onto land in a bid to control the spread of a contaminant that can cause “dead zones” in the ocean, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick said Thursday.

The lobby group said the government needs to make reducing the flow of nitrogen into the sea an urgent priority, similar to the effort a generation ago to remove phosphates from the freshwater system.

The nitrogen comes into the ocean from sewage plants, fish farms and fish-processing plants, Inka Milewski told from Fredericton. Once in the ocean, the nitrogen can cause the growth of algae blooms that starve the area of oxygen, creating the so-called dead zones.

“Fish that do swim into these dead zones just go belly-up, because there's no oxygen in them,” said Ms. Milewski, a marine biologist and science adviser for the Council.

She said the contamination has become so severe in some places that it has begun to come off the ocean in the form of gas. A recent study of 10 local estuaries found seven with signs of excessive nitrogen, she said. And while she conceded that they are not nearly as bad as the Gulf of Mexico – where there is a vast dead zone – action is needed before the situation worsens.

“It think [government] has to act now. There are things that the government can do now. Stop the discharge, put in place the technology,” she said.

The group is proposing that the fish-farming industry – which they say contributes to excessive nitrogen levels through uneaten food left on the bottom of the sea and through faecal matter – be given five years to move their operations out of the water and onto land.

“We're not looking to be unreasonable here. Five years is a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem,” Ms. Milewski said. “Industry needs to be put on notice by the federal government and the province that this is not going to be acceptable.”

Officials from Environment Canada were not immediately available for comment.

Ms. Milewski said that the council is sensitive to the fact that consumers are accustomed to inexpensive farmed salmon, but she questioned why East Coast residents should have to put up with the resulting pollution.

“If the consumer has to pay more for farmed salmon, so be it. Having cheap salmon at the expense of the environment is just not acceptable, it's just not acceptable.”