A salmon factory farm threatens Breton waters

Plouisy (Côtes-d’Armor), report

It’s a glorious day in February. Taking the expressway between Guingamp and Lannion, you can see a few agricultural plots on the right, surrounded by wooded embankments. In Plouisy, a small town near Guingamp, the Norwegian fish farming company Smart Salmon signed a compromise in June 2021 for the sale of this 10-hectare land, yet located a good thirty kilometers from the sea. His idea ? Set up a 50,000 m above-ground salmon farm there2slaughter and processing included, with the ambition of producing 8,000 to 20,000 tonnes of fish per year. If we reduce this tonnage to the pig, that makes 3,000 to 7,000 pigs. It would be the largest farm in the department in terms of livestock, the largest have around 1,300 sows »is alarmed Kristen Bodros, sheep breeder in a neighboring town and member of the Peasant Confederation union.

Difficult to swallow for some inhabitants, as the beaches of Côtes-d’Armor are already suffering from the consequences of decades of intensive agriculture. The Breton model has consisted for seventy years of raising livestock above ground to create work, wealthexplains Bernard Michon, one of the founders of the collective Dourioù Gouez (wild waters, in Breton), created last year in opposition to the factory. But water carries everything you put on the ground, pesticides, nitrogen, phosphorus, chemical fertilizers and animal droppings. Green algae are the very visible result. » The public money put into the green algae plans does not seem to change much.

The Smart Salmon project, presented in video. Smart Salmon Presentation Video Screenshot

Designed to operate in a closed circuit, the future plant is described on the company’s website as a self-sufficient and fully circular farm ». Controlled production from start to finish, fish protected from pollution and disease, no discharge into the environment, solar panels, an anaerobic digestion unit and on-site production of vegetables in greenhouses in order to reuse the effluents from breeding. Something to dream about. Or almost.

While administrative files are often very clean, greenhouse growers [les agriculteurs sous serre] claiming that there will be no discharge thanks to recirculation, in practice, the analyzes of the surrounding rivers show very high concentrations of nitrates, unheard of without pollution », nuance Sylvain Ballu, green tide monitoring project manager at the Center for the Study and Valorization of Algae (Ceva). According to the researcher, wild purges are regularly practiced in this type of so-called closed operation, for economic or technical reasons. These polluted waters, which should be spread on agricultural plots, sometimes end up directly in waterways, due to the cost of the process.

Farmer Kristen Bodros, a member of the Peasant Confederation, compares the salmon farming project to a giant pig farm. © Pauline Demange-Dilasser/Reporterre

250 tonnes of phosphorus discharged per year

While producing energy for the plant, the methanisation unit installed on the site would make it possible to transform the sludge from salmon droppings into digestate. They then become exploitable to fertilize the soil. But for opponents, this process does not solve the problem of the elimination of nitrogen and phosphorus, in particular produced in excessive quantities.

We pose a certain number of elements, without certainty. The project is currently secret, it remains in the pipeline », concedes Kristen Bodros, between two round trips to check her pregnant ewes, lambing period requires. Faced with the lack of information provided by the company on its project, the members of the Confédération paysanne and Dourioù Gouez carried out some calculations based on their investigations, their knowledge and the opinion of researchers.

Future site where the plant should be built. © Pauline Demange-Dilasser/Reporterre

For nitrogen, they remain cautious due to the large variations in estimates. All opinions agree on the other hand on phosphorus, resulting from the feeding of salmon, which could represent 250 tons of rejections per year. By reaching the mouth, the phosphorus discharges are released into the surface waters and saturate the algae. Doped, they then become even more efficient on the nitrogen cycle »too high in Brittany and the main cause of green tides, says Sylvain Ballu. The phosphorus that the algae do not use ends up offshore and unbalances the ecosystem, favoring the development of phytoplankton, including potentially toxic phytoplankton. » A significant risk for the shellfish farms installed in the estuary.

250 tons, this represents the equivalent of the annual discharges of 120,000 inhabitants, for which a use will have to be foundanalyzes the sheep breeder. We are supposedly in a circular system, except that all the phosphorus that goes into the breeding must go out. » With the possibility of spreading a maximum of 75 kg per hectare, almost 3,500 hectares would be necessary. At the risk of generating competition with farmers for access to local spreading plans. Unless the digestate is exported elsewhere, to lands not suffering from an excess of phosphorus. The project currently indicates no such thing, and affirms that the rejects will be reused in its vegetable greenhouses.

We need a revolution in the way we operate »

The sales agreement was voted unanimously by the elected officials of Guingamp-Paimpol Agglomeration in June 2021. We end up with this project since the elected officials were questioned on a single point: that of the sale of 10 hectares in the municipality of Plouisy to a foreign company. », Storm Kristen Bodros. The 76 elected officials, 69 of whom voted in favor and 7 abstained, had very little information at their disposal when they had to make this decision.

We have the impression that they did not measure the scale of the project and the potential impacts on the environmental, social and energy aspects. » Especially since a project of such scope using these techniques does not exist anywhere else. In France, the most important do not exceed 1,000 tonnes of fish per year.

The site where the factory should be built. © Pauline Demange-Dilasser/Reporterre

Vincent Le Meaux, president of Guingamp-Paimpol Agglomeration, did not wish to answer our questions on this subject, considering the face of the agglomeration distorted in a too polemical and political way ». On January 16, he told West France : I am presented with a process that could find its place in the activity area, I do not have to make a value judgment. » Arguing that if some opponents are legitimate to ask questions, others are in an ideological fight ».

Next stage of the project: a building permit which should be filed in the spring, followed by a public inquiry. The administration will then judge its feasibility. In the current ecological context, we need a revolution in the way we operate. The elected officials have not yet all taken into account this radical change of practice that we must operate. Our role is not to accuse them of incompetence, but to wake them up », assures Kristen Bodros. For its part, the Dourioù Gouez collective continues to noise the project » and plans new actions for the summer season.

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