Environment Canada now has four active investigations into the possible release into the waters around Passamaquoddy Bay or Grand Manan of a pesticide that is not permitted for use in Canada but is used in other locations, including Maine, to control sea lice outbreaks in salmon farms. Along with the ongoing investigation into the death of nearly 1,000 lobsters last fall around Deer Island, Grand Manan and Pocologan, the department recently opened two new investigations, following the detection of the pesticide cypermethrin at area salmon farms that are owned by Northern Harvest Sea Farms and Ocean Legacy. Cypermethrin is toxic to lobsters, and fishermen's associations have been calling for the elimination of the use of pesticides in the marine environment.
Throughout the winter and spring Environment Canada and provincial and federal partners monitored salmon sites for illegal usage of pesticides, according to Robert Robichaud, operations manager for the district of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island for Environment Canada's environmental enforcement branch. During May, July, August and September the department conducted routine and sporadic inspections at sites to verify compliance with the federal Fisheries Act's pollution prevention provisions that prohibit the release of harmful substances into the waters. Lab results from samples taken in May and July showed that farms owned by Northern Harvest Sea Farms and Ocean Legacy, which are headquartered in Letang, had detectable levels of cypermethrin in fish samples. Those results triggered the opening of two more investigations on September 8 and the issuing on September 22 of inspector's directions to those two companies, ordering them to ensure that all reasonable measures are taken to prevent the release of substances that are harmful to fish into fish-bearing waters.
Environment Canada will not release the location of the companies' farm sites or the number of farms that had detectable levels of cypermethrin in fish samples. However, according to the provincial Department of Agriculture and Aquaculture's listing of marine aquaculture sites, Ocean Legacy has a site located near Back Bay that is off the western side of Frye Island and just north of Douglas Island. Northern Harvest has three salmon farms at Harbour de Loutre, Campobello; a single farm site off the western side of Deer Island, just north of Davidson's Head near Hersonville; a farm in upper Passamaquoddy Bay, just north of McCann Head, St. Andrews; two farms just east of Frye Island in Bliss Harbour; and a farm in Letang Harbour.
In addition to those investigations, on September 8 Environment Canada received a report from fishermen of a possible lobster kill in the area of Harbour de Loutre on Campobello. Robichaud cannot confirm if lobsters were actually killed. Two days later, on September 10, officers conducted a routine inspection of nearby salmon farms, and fish samples are presently being analyzed at Environment Canada's Moncton lab. Robichaud says it can take four to eight weeks to receive the lab results. The alleged lobster kill was not reported to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Violations of pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act can results in fines of up to $300,000 for summary convictions and up to $1 million for indictable offenses. Also, separate penalties, up to $200,000, can be levied for noncompliance with inspector's directions.
Along with the two new investigations, Environment Canada is continuing to conduct two investigations into the lobster deaths last fall, with the investigation into the cause of dead lobsters found near Seal Cove, Grand Manan, having been opened on December 22, and one concerning the lobster deaths near Fairhaven, Deer Island, having been opened on February 10. Robichaud can only say that those investigations are ongoing, with evidence still being collected. So far, Environment Canada is only releasing that the lobsters were exposed to cypermethrin and is not commenting on the cause of the deaths. "Most environmental investigations take quite a bit of time," he says.
While some suspect salmon farms as the source of the cypermethrin, Environment Canada has not made that determination. Fish farmers have been challenged in controlling sea lice outbreaks this summer, particularly in the upper Passamaquoddy Bay area. They have been using other licensed chemicals to control the outbreaks, including hydrogen peroxide, Salmosan, SLICE and Calicide. New Brunswick aquaculture organizations have maintained that fish farmers would not use cypermethrin, which is not permitted for use.
Although cypermethrin's use in the marine environment is prohibited in Canada, the pesticide is permitted under certain restrictions for use at salmon farms in Maine, under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Investigational New Animal Drug (INAD) program. With the drug usage, FDA requires environmental monitoring of the water, sediments and any organisms in the environment, and the results must be provided to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Survey results following treatments in Cobscook Bay show that cypermethrin is at non-detectable levels in the waters or in any of the nearby environment where samples were collected. Well boats that are used to treat salmon at farms in Cobscook Bay discharge the water used near the farm sites, after the concentration decreases over time as the pesticide binds with organic compounds in the water. Salmon farmers believe the chances are virtually nil that cypermethrin used at Maine farms caused any of the lobster deaths in New Brunswick.