November 12, 2019
Mowi CEO apologies for recent die-off of salmon in Newfoundland, Canada
Mowi CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog has apologised for mistakes surrounding the die-off of more than two million of its salmon this summer in Newfoundland, Canada.
In a letter to Newfoundland Premier Dwight Ball and Minister of Fisheries Gerry Byrne, Aarskog said that the company made a mistake as it responded "to a significant, unexpected, and unfortunate climate event this summer that took half our fish in Newfoundland and Labrador."
He added: "In not providing mortality information properly after the mass mortality was first reported in September, we did not live up to both your, and our own expectations. For this, I personally and sincerely apologise as CEO on behalf Mowi ASA."
In response to the incident, authorities in Newfoundland and Labrador have beefed up aquaculture policies and procedures and mandate companies to be more transparent.
The Department of Fisheries and Land Resources of Newfoundland and Labrador also suspended 10 of the 47 farming licenses it had issued to Mowi subsidiary Northern Harvest.
Mowi Canada suffered a mass mortality event involving more than 2.6 million salmon in August and September. The cause of deaths were attributed to high water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels.
The Atlantic Salmon Federation and other NGOs have criticised Mowi's response to the die-offs, highlighting that both the company nor government regulators did not do enough to prevent the accident or keep the public informed about it.
Aarskog met with Ball and Byrne on November 7 to discuss the die-off and the company's response to it.
According to the CEO, Mowi has made the following changes in response to the accident:
- Adding data logging and real-time monitoring of oxygen levels, water temperatures and salinity; and regular reporting of that data to the provincial government;
- Fitting out all current and future aquaculture sites in the province with nets that have a total minimum depth of 25 meters, to ensure all salmon have access to optimal water temperatures;
- Equipping all salmon-farming net-pens with aeration systems to protect against temperature and oxygen issues;
- Improving the firm's mass mortality response plan in conjunction with federal and provincial regulators, including more rapid removal ability, and access to greater boat capacity;
- Enhancing training for company personnel "so that they can be better prepared for future emergency events";
- Working with the Canadian federal government to secure timely access to well boats, seiners, and other craft that are able to assist with emergencies in the future.
"We have already taken steps to ensure training and reporting mechanisms are in place at the site level to ensure timely reporting of mortalities in the future. This is part of how we ensure that it never happens again," Aarskog said.
Aarskog added that Mowi made few changes to Northern Harvest's operations after purchasing the company in 2018, and that it had not seen any data predicting water temperatures would rise as high as they did this summer.
"Regarding the mass mortality event itself, this is the first time we have seen such water temperature extremes that resulted in fish death in Newfoundland and Labrador. Temperature data that we received while we were contemplating the purchase of Northern Harvest Sea Farms did not indicate that such events were possible," Aarskog said.
"Mowi did not change the nets that were already in use because we had no way of knowing that this climate event would occur. We have learned that the environment on the south coast is more unpredictable than expected, and we clearly recognise that changes must be made."
Aarskog closed out his statement by requesting for the creation of a closer working relationship between the industry and the provincial government.
"Mowi is committed to developing sustainable salmon aquaculture in Newfoundland and Labrador, just as we have in other countries … We have also already invested close to $400 million (US$302 million) in Atlantic Canada," he wrote.
"We want to continue to make positive contributions and investments that benefit the industry in this province, provide employment, and contribute to a more robust future for rural families and communities. However, we cannot do this without a predictable and transparent regulatory framework, access to sites, and a clear pathway to be able to stock those sites with smolt."
On November 8, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador updated its "Aquaculture Policies and Procedures Manual," which sets the rules governing the aquaculture sector in the province.
Among the new requirements added into the manual were rules mandating the use of aeration devices, minimum 20-meter depths of net pens, certification of all net-pen engineering and design, reporting of sea lice abundance, and the issuance of notification to the government within 24 hours of the detection of any disease or the issuance of any quarantine warning.
In response to the new regulations, the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association, which represents Mowi and other salmon farming companies operating in the province, said it "welcomes the new policies and procedures."