Grand Conseil: Credit for Estavayer fish farming called into question

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The Finance Committee of the Friborg Parliament is opposed to the commitment credit of 3.5 million for the restarting of the Estavayer-le-Lac fish farm.

If the credit of 3.5 million francs passes the Grand Council, the fish farm could be put into service in November 2025. © Alain Wicht-archives

If the credit of 3.5 million francs passes the Grand Council, the fish farm could be put into service in November 2025. © Alain Wicht-archives

Published on 06/24/2024

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

By 14 votes to one, the Finance and Management Commission (CFG) of the Grand Council of Friborg proposes to reject the commitment credit of 3.5 million francs for the restarting of the Estavayer-le-Lac fish farm which will be presented to deputies on Thursday.

Members of the CFG question the usefulness of these facilities while the State must tighten its belt. On the side of the Broyard deputies who are members of the ad hoc commission which largely voted in favor of the decree, there is still hope given the long road already covered.

“There are other priorities for the use of public money”
Claude Brodard

Remember that the fish farm, inaugurated in 2016 for 2.4 million francs, had operated for a very short time due to design problems leading to the loss of thousands of eggs. Following this debacle, the canton decided in 2019 to subcontract the rearing to the intercantonal fish farm of Colombier (NE). However, the submission of a popular motion with around 2,500 signatures requesting the restart of the Staviacoise installations was validated by the Council of State followed by the Grand Council in autumn 2021, with 87 votes against 10 and 9 abstentions. A parliamentary commission of inquiry, formed in 2020, issued a report at the same period also in favor of reinstatement. Two years later, the project was put under investigation without arousing opposition.

“Not necessary”

Today, opinions seem less unanimous. For the CFG, whose liberal-radical president Claude Brodard (Le Mouret) is the spokesperson, “investment is not necessary to guarantee the production of fry. The current collaboration with the fish farm in Colombier is satisfactory, it is not a question of dealing with a shortage, or a production which would be non-existent. There are therefore other priorities regarding the use of public money, especially since this project, estimated at 1.5 million, currently costs 3.5 million francs and future operating costs will be more important than today.”

The state of the canton’s finances also weighed heavily in the balance, the CFG having been invited to a session on this subject with a delegation from the cantonal executive, indicates Claude Brodard. “We have been informed that the preparation of budgets is very complicated. The challenges will be such that each investment must be carefully considered even if the sum is not significant. The message from the Council of State accompanying the decree is also surprisingly clear on this subject and indicates the non-necessity of this expenditure.

Fish farming will cost more

Indeed, in the document, the usefulness of having a fish maternity ward in Estavayer-le-Lac is called into question. It is written that “the project will not increase the number of fry released into the water in Lake Neuchâtel and will not contribute to the defense of fishing interests. On the other hand, the sanitation of fish farming leads to an increase in production costs without any added fish value.” Thus, the production capacities in Colombier as in Estavayer-le-Lac would be oversized, the number of spawners caught by fishermen remaining low. Costs have also increased in order to meet various standards imposed, in particular those of the Cantonal Building Insurance Establishment to deal with exceptional floods, the message further specifies.

“The vote will be close”

Note that these difficulties linked to frying were already part of the elements presented in 2021 by the Council of State, notes centrist deputy Eric Collomb (Lully), member of the ad hoc commission (CAH). “There has been no new element since 2021. If we built such a facility in Estavayer-le-Lac, it is to avoid putting all our eggs in one basket in the event that there is a problem in one of the fish farms and it’s still valid today.” And added: “Three years ago, 87 deputies said yes and more than 2,000 signatures were collected for the popular motion. I don’t understand why there is such a debate over 3.5 million francs, and I doubt that the vote will go in a totally opposite direction, but you have to expect anything.”

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“There were petitions, demonstrations, a popular motion, we must not forget that”
Nadia Savary-Moser

An opinion shared by liberal-radical MP Nadia Savary-Moser (Vesin), member of the CAH. She emphasizes that she intends to fight until the end and is already preparing her speech in the plenum. “We are hopeful. We expect a very close vote, but we are going to keep our line which has been the same from the start.” However, she is not surprised by the CFG’s vote: “It is their role to approach this issue from a financial angle, especially when we see the message from the Council of State. They just did their job.” She notes, however, that “any project that lasts like that of fish farming is subject to inflation or new standards, there is nothing surprising in that, it was to be expected.”

For the Broyarde MP, it is important to remember the history that led to this project. A history that not all MPs know or know little about, she believes. “Some are new and are not aware of all the steps taken, the ups and downs and the consequences. There were petitions, demonstrations, a popular motion, we must not forget that. Nobody stops at 41e kilometer in a marathon, and I will do this last kilometer with my head held high. The future of fish farming will therefore be decided on Thursday: if the commitment credit passes the ramp, its commissioning is planned for November 2025. Otherwise, the file will be definitively buried.

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