HALIFAX: A multinational aquaculture company that wants to establish salmon farming sites in the Strait area has been granted more time to consult with the community.

In March, the province granted Cermaq Cananda four lease options in three areas of the province, including two in the Strait area, south of Canso in Guysborough County and in Richmond County, around Isle Madame and St. Peter’s.

But recently, the Government of Nova Scotia granted Cermaq a six-month extension on a $500 million proposal to develop 20 open-pen Atlantic salmon farms sites, two hatcheries and a processing plant, within a 20,000 metric tonne operation.

Linda Sams, Cermaq’s sustainable development director, explained the project is divided by regions because of the scope of their plans. Sams said they are considering 14-18 leases split up among three regions. In addition to investing in their own facilities, Cermaq is also hoping to out-source supplies and services.

“For us, it would be a full development here,” said Sams. “We don’t have any supporting infrastructure, it would be a large investment, so we need about that size to be able to make it a viable business development.”

“We would have a shore-based facility at each region and we’d probably have one head office,” Sams noted. “I think for hatcheries or processing, obviously for logistics, dictate that it’s good business sense to have those close to your marine site.”

Sams told The Reporter the main reason for the extension was to allow for more community consultation.

“With Cermaq Canada not operating in Nova Scotia, and the east coast, we really needed to understand and engage and really ask the questions of how best to engage,” Sams explained.

Cermaq is in the process of establishing an information office at the Guysborough mall and is in the final steps of hiring local employees to help lead the engagement process and act as community liaisons.

Cermaq’s sustainable development director, east coast, Vicki Savoie, explained they have been speaking with commercial fishing organizations, Mi’kmaw nations and municipal governments, but there is more to do.

“We are still continuing to introduce ourselves, and we find as we go along and learn more about the community context, that there’s constantly new advice or new individuals that we identify that we should be talking to, and that we should be receiving feedback from,” Savoie noted. “There are definitely people that we still need to talk to.”

Sams noted that Cermaq is approaching the public engagement and meeting stage with the broader community to “have a larger engagement platform.”

“We’re looking to set up our community advisory committee in the regions we have our option areas right now,” Savoie said. “It’s our thought that representation on that committee would be from different communities that bridge those regions.

“We’re continuing receiving advice from people who may not approach us but we might be approaching them.”

Savoie said the company is responsive to any requests for engagement from the public.

“We really do try and be responsive to any engagement that you want to have with us,” Savoie went on. “So you really don’t have to be sitting on a committee, that might not be the way you want to have a conversation with us. We’re really comfortable with the one-on-one or e-mailing back and forth, and some of that more passive engagement.”

One benefit from this extension is the ability to gather more information on water depths, water quality, currents, wave heights, temperatures, storm data, and oxygen levels, which can assist their climate change calculations, according to Sams.

Cermaq has launched a Web site specifically for the engagement and feasibility process at: www.HelloNovaScotia.ca.