N.B. seafood giant vows change after hidden camera shows ‘unacceptable’ treatment of salmon

The CEO of New Brunswick-based Cooke Seafood is apologizing following a hidden-camera exposé of what the fish farming giant admits were “unacceptable” incidents at its salmon hatchery in Bingham, Maine.

The 4:41-minute video released Monday by Washington, D.C.-based animal rights organization Compassion Over Killing shows salmon being smashed against posts, stomped on and discarded. It also shows what the group says are deformed and diseased salmon at the hatchery.

The hatchery is part of Cooke’s global salmon farming empire, which includes facilities and offices on four continents. Cooke bills itself as the world’s largest privately held family-owned seafood company, employs around 9,000 people and has ambitious expansion plans.

“I am disappointed and deeply saddened by what I saw today,” company CEO Glenn Cooke said in a statement released Monday.

Compassion Over Killing bills the video as an inside look at the “cruel and unnatural world of salmon aquaculture.”

The Maine State Department of Agriculture confirmed Monday it is investigating a complaint related to activities at the facility.

Another still from video posted by animal rights group Compassion Over Killing shows a worker at a Cooke Seafood hatchery in Bingham, Maine, stomping on a fish. (Compassion Over Killing)

“Based on information received from the department, and after reviewing the footage issued today by the activist veganism organization, it appears that unacceptable fish handling incidents have occurred at the Bingham hatchery,” Cooke said.

The company declined an interview. Cooke said he only saw the video upon its release.

“I am very sorry that this has happened,” he said. “We are thoroughly reviewing the footage and we are working closely with the Maine Department of Agriculture to review and ensure all our practices are within compliance. We are speaking with all our employees, and we will institute a rigorous re-training program at our Maine facility.”

Cooke said company officials met with the Maine Department of Agriculture at the hatchery on Sept. 17 to discuss the complaint.

He said the company had no opportunity to view the video until it was released and does not know how it was obtained.

In this still from the video, an unidentified worker hits a live fish against a tank. (Compassion Over Killing)

Compassion Over Killing did not immediately respond to a CBC News request for information about the circumstances surrounding the video.

It appears to have been shot in the winter.

Cooke Seafood operates numerous salmon farms in Atlantic Canada and is currently seeking regulatory approval for a major expansion in Liverpool Bay, N.S. 

The company directly employs 205 people in Nova Scotia, where it has a feed mill and operates fish farms between the outskirts of Halifax and Digby.

Earlier this year, Glenn Cooke said approval of Liverpool Bay was a key to reviving plans to build a processing plant in the province.

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