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Harbour Grace shipbuilder optimistic about Placentia Bay aquaculture project

Last year, Harbour Grace Ocean Enterprises' launched its first boat. The company has a lot riding on a proposed ocean-based salmon farm in Placentia Bay currently tied up in legal proceedings.
Last year, Harbour Grace Ocean Enterprises' launched its first boat. The company has a lot riding on a proposed ocean-based salmon farm in Placentia Bay currently tied up in legal proceedings.

HARBOUR GRACE, NL — A local shipbuilding company remains confident about the future of Grieg Aquaculture's ocean-based salmon farm proposal in Placentia Bay.

Harbour Grace Ocean Enterprises (HGOE) has a memorandum of understanding in place with the fish farming company to build at least seven fibreglass service vessels for the first phase of the project, plus 12 state-of-the-art feed barges with computerized features.

"And (there's) a huge, huge opportunity for projects beyond this one for the international markets for Harbour Grace and Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole," HGOE operations manager Wayne Reid told The Compass last week.

Though he was reluctant to pinpoint an exact dollar value for work related to the MOU, Reid suggests it would be in the high millions, creating approximately 200 jobs at HGOE.

When that work might get underway is uncertain in light of a recent Supreme Court decision requiring the Placentia Bay project to undergo an environmental impact statement.

Then-environment minister Perry Trimper released the project from environmental assessment last year. It would represent the largest expansion of salmon aquaculture in eastern Canada and the first commercial use of a European-strain triploid salmon in the region.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation took the minister's decision to court. Last month, Justice Gillian Butler ruled there was significant public concern about the proposed salmon farm and the potential for serious environmental effects.

Grieg Aquaculture released a statement following the court's ruling that said it remains committed to the project and deemed the court's decision to be of "low risk" to the company's plans. The company also expects the province will appeal the decision.

Wayne Reid is Harbour Grace Ocean Enterprises’ operations manager.

Reid said he understands there's a need for due diligence when it comes to projects like the one Grieg is proposing.

"At the same time, we believe this has been done," he said. "We've been following this story for the past few years, and there has been quite a bit of due diligence put in place so far I think that the public's not quite aware of."

Reid and one of his business partners have visited existing sites in Norway similar to what's proposed in Placentia Bay.

"When you look at some of the sites that are already existing and the economy in Norway because of this aquaculture farming and the way it's done, it's an extreme eye opener for Newfoundland."

Harbour Grace Coun. Hayward Blake is concerned about what delays in the project will mean for the community, given the number of local jobs waiting in the wings.

Harbour Grace Coun. Hayward Blake.

"I think it's important that we be world players in this market," he said. "I mean, we all hear of food sustainability and we need to produce that as a food supply. We only need to look at the Coast of Bays region, where I was born, and see the employment that was generated there and see the activity and see that they are producing significant volumes of salmon and filleted trout that hit the Boston markets daily. That's proven to be a renewal for the communities — Hermitage and Harbour Breton, St. Alban's and places like that. Now this particular project was proving to be a significant boost to the areas in Placentia Bay, and places like Harbour Grace would benefit … All of that has now been delayed and stalled for an indefinite amount of time."

While there's no clear answer to how things will play out in the future, HGOE has lots of work on its plate. The company is building vessels for Nova Scotia and Labrador, and it recently launched the largest fibreglass fishing vessel ever built — a 90-by-28-foot ship. The company employs anywhere from 65-85 workers year-round.

"We have three years of bookings right now for shipbuilding," said Reid.

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