Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner (left) shakes hands with We’koqma’q chief Rod Googoo following the announcement on June 1 at the We’koqma’q Mi’kmaq School.

WHYCOCOMAGH: A local First Nations community is moving forward with plans to grow its economy with help from the federal government.

Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner joined leaders of We’koqma’q First Nation at the We’koqma’q Mi’kmaq School on June 1 to announce a contribution of $1 million to help with the expansion of the community’s aquaculture operation.

“Reconciliation, as most people understand, has been central to what we’ve wanted to accomplish as a government, and this goes beyond that. This is a great business investment,” Cuzner said following the announcement.

The investment will allow to We’koqma’q First Nation to expand its operations by purchasing new cages, nets, moorings, and a work barge, as well as upgrading docks, performing electrical work, and adding a fish counter. The funding will create 10 new jobs and will enable over one million fingerlings to be grown for market annually.

Cuzner made the announcement on behalf of Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) Minister Navdeep Bains. The investment is allocated through ACOA’s Business Development Program.

In addition to the federal contribution, We’koqma’q First Nation will invest $750,000 from its operating revenue.

“Last year, we harvested 27 cages and we processed $2.6 million worth of fish. This year, we’re going to be harvesting 64 cages and processing $4 million worth of fish,” said We’koqma’q chief Rod Googoo.

He predicts that with the latest investments, $14.9 million worth of product will be processed through the facility next year.

We’koqma’q First Nation officially took ownership of the facility in 2015. At the time, it employed eight people. Currently, Googoo says the project provides work for 50 people, and all of the employees are from the community of We’koqma’q.

“Imagine the spin-offs when you have that many people gainfully employed, and making good money. Even in Port Hawkesbury, people will come and buy cars and furniture, or by things for their children,” Googoo said.

In January, the federal government announced an investment of $545,000 in non-repayable contributions to expand the steelhead trout growing operation, and upgrade the processing facility. We’koqma’q has recently acquired a fish hatchery, and has developed an agreement with New Brunswick-based company Sea Farm Limited for the purchase and marketing of all fish harvested.

Despite the significant growth over the past three years, Googoo said the community is focused on taking the appropriate steps to operate the facility responsibly.

“All the food that we feed our fish is organic. There are no additives, no hormones, nothing that would harm the environment. All our fish are always inspected and they’re all disease free,” he said. “We’re very sensitive to the environment, so we’re not going to put anything in the water that’s going to hurt the environment or any of the fish.”

Googoo said the strong relationship between We’koqma’q First Nation and multiple levels of government has contributed to the success and growth of the project.

“It’s a good time to be in Nova Scotia. While the rest of Canada is talking about truth and reconciliation, In Nova Scotia, we’re living it,” Googoo added.