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Newfoundland fisheries minister suspends Mowi's Northern Harvest salmon farming licenses over 'mass mortality'

Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne has also requested an 'in-person meeting' with CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog.

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Newfoundland Minister of Fisheries and Land Resource Gerry Byrne on Friday announced that he was suspending 10 farming licenses of Mowi Canada East's Northern Harvest operations after reports of additional netpens at the company's sites were impacted by a"mass salmon mortality" that first hit the company's sites last month.

"The additional mortality numbers make total numbers higher than initially reported by the company," Byrne said in a statement.

"As a result of the ongoing investigation and evidence of non-compliance, I am suspending all affected Northern Harvest Seafood Farms licenses and issuing a directive that requires the company to continue the cleanup of the sites. I will be amending license conditions to all unaffected Northern Harvest Seafood Farms and other associated MOWI license sites in the coming days."

Byrne said he has asked the "international president of Mowi" -- likely CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog -- for an in-person meeting with the Newfoundland government. In addition, the minister has asked company officials "to make themselves readily available to media and provide full disclosure, as per our recently amended policies and procedures for aquaculture."

Massive die-off

Mowi-owned Northern Harvest reported that as many as 1.8 million farmed salmon may have died in September, but at the time of the first incident, Jason Card, Mowi's director of communications for the province, told IntraFish the information was still being collected.

On Friday, following the minister's announcement,

Mowi announced a total of 2.6 million fish died -- around half of the company's Eastern Canada salmon.

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The die-off, according to Mowi, was due to prolonged high water temperatures at some sea sites on the south coast of Newfoundland. Workers are still processing the decomposing waste, as they have been for weeks, producing a pink fish sludge, processed on land then dumped back at sea.

The company said is would update its farming equipment in the region to combat the "new normal" temperatures, including the installation of deeper nets and aeration systems.

Northern Harvest reported the matter to the Newfoundland government when it was observed in early September, he said, noting the company sees the warmer temperatures as the "new normal" in the region due to climate change.

In his Friday statement, Byrne said the event "reconfirms" the importance of a third-party audit by Memorial University, which began earlier this month.

"I want to reassure the people whose livelihoods depend on the aquaculture sector that we continue to focus on solutions that strengthen policies and practices to ensure public transparency is ever-present," he said.

Mowi Canada holds 59 licenses in total in its Canada East operations, of which 47 are located in Newfoundland and 12 in New Brunswick.

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