By Richard Bell
The Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF) has opened a new front in its battle against the proposed Cochrane Hill open-pit gold mine in Guysborough County with an unprecedented underwater video of salmon spawning in a stream immediately downstream from a tailings pond that would millions of tons of mine waste.
“This was an extremely challenging assignment and it’s the first time to our knowledge that anyone has successfully filmed wild Atlantic salmon spawning in Nova Scotia,” said Tom Cheney, a freelance producer and wild salmon advocate. Cheney and fellow photographer Nick Hawkins worked with representatives of the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, St. Mary’s River Association, and Atlantic Salmon Federation over 10 days in November 2019 to capture the images.
The Australian company St. Barbara already owns the operating open-pit mine in Moose River. The company has plans for at least three more along the Eastern Shore (including Cochrane Hill in what the company calls “a string of pearls. The estimated life span of Cochrane Hill is only seven years. (St. Barbara acquired these mines when it bought the previous owner, Atlantic Gold, for $722 million in May, 2019.)
At a press conference for the video release in Halifax on February 12, Mike Crosby, president of the Nova Scotia Salmon Association, said, “ Cochrane Hill would have such a short life and leave behind a toxic legacy to be managed forever. The mine is a serious threat to water quality and water flows in McKeen Brook and the St. Mary’s. It’s high risk for a very small reward.”
According to ASF, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been doing regular surveys of McKeen Brook since 1990. These surveys show that the brook ranks among the highest juvenile salmon densities in the entire St. Mary’s watershed. The watershed is home to one of the last sizeable populations of salmon on Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast, where the species is considered endangered.
Scott Beaver, President of the St. Mary’s River Association, said in a press statement, “Over decades there has been an incredible amount of work put into the river. We have invested more than a million dollars since 2014 to improve habitat for wildlife and recently received a $1.2 million federal grant to continue the work. This development could undermine everything we’ve done.”
St. Barbara is also seeking to build another open-pit mine, Beaver Dam, that could threaten a major salmon restoration effort on the West River in Sheet Harbour.
There has been a 15-year project on the West River to mitigate the effects of acid rain by adding lime at an upstream location.
A quick look at St. Barbara’s financial report for its 2nd quarter operations ending in December 2019 shows that the return on the Moose River mine is almost double the return on its mines in Australia and Papua New Guinea. The “all-in sustaining cost”(AISC) of Moose River was $823/ounce; at the Australian mine, the AISC was $1,471/ounce, and $1,851/ounce in PNG. The world price of gold averaged $1,960 during this quarter, more than double the cost of the AISC at Moose River. With Moose River producing 29,067 ounces of gold in the 2nd quarter, the company cleared $56,972,320 at a cost of $23,922,141, or a net of $33,050,179. [All figures in Australian dollars.]
St. Barbara’s gold mine in Nova Scotia is even more attractive financially because the province’s royalty rate for gold is only 1%, half or less than the rates charged in Australia and Papua New Guinea. (The actual royalty paid to Nova Scotia may be less than 1% due to various accounting measures.)