Scotia Rainbow, aquaculture, fish farm, politics – equals controversy and conflict. Such was the case with the short-lived Scotia Rainbow aquaculture project in Arichat.

In the beginning, all was well; there was a shiny new processing plant, and cages of trout were scattered across the harbour. There was a feeling of hope and optimism on Isle Madame. The economic and emotional sting caused by the closure of the island’s largest employer, Richmond Fisheries, in the early 1990s, began to fade as men and women went back to work in an industry in which they were skilled and comfortable.

Rumours of a fish-farming operation in Arichat harbour began to circulate and gain credibility in 1998. October 17, 1999 marked the official opening of Scotia Rainbow. In attendance were provincial Minister of Tourism and Economic Development, Manning MacDonald, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Keith Colwell, and Richmond MLA Michel Samson.

From the beginning, governments, federal, provincial, and municipal had enthusiastically supported the development of an aquaculture industry on Isle Madame. In total, the two levels of government contributed $12 million to the project, $10 million of which was in the form of loans to be repaid with interest.

However, problems began very early in the tragic saga of Scotia Rainbow. The first was the disposal of waste from the processing of the fish. Residents complained of noxious odours emanating from the harbour. A meeting of ratepayers was held and by a vote of 32 to 28 a motion passed to demand that the municipality disconnect the aquaculture facility from the sewage service.

What ensuing backroom politics took place one can only imagine. In any event, the newly-minted NDP Member of Parliament for the riding, Michelle Dockrill, took exception to $650,000 earmarked for Scotia Rainbow and refused her endorsement as she had for a number of unrelated grants.

To put the situation into perspective, it must be remembered that the Jean Chretien Liberals were in power federally although the deeply entrenched Liberal stalwart, Dave Dingwall, had been defeated by newcomer Dockrill for the NDP. This was a totally unexpected blow for the Liberals. The wound was still raw when Dockrill stubbornly refused her support for Scotia Rainbow knowing full well the federal government had energetically championed the aquaculture project from the start.

This spelled the beginning of the end for the fish farm experiment in Arichat harbour. Couple this with the loss of an exclusive contract with one of the world’s biggest fish buyers, a Japanese firm, Hanwa. This deal promised a sale of $20 million in steel-head trout, a fish only Scotia Rainbow could supply. However, when terms of the agreement ran out, the deal fell through.

As is the case with most fledgling companies, government assistance is essential until a foothold is gained in a relatively new industry. Add this to the unreliability of overseas contracts and Scotia Rainbow was unable to weather the financial storm. By 2000, Scotia Rainbow had been declared insolvent.