Aquaculture Report Nets a Consensus


EDITORIAL: Aquaculture report nets a consensus
Published January 9, 2015 - 5:29pm

Darrell Dexter got a failing grade from voters as premier. But he did have a knack for picking commissions and panels that produced good work on important, thorny issues — for the next government.

The Ivany commission on economic renewal and the Wheeler panel on fracking are two examples, with different outcomes. Ivany’s advice was embraced by the Liberal government that replaced Mr. Dexter’s NDP. Wheeler’s balanced recommendations on shale development were regrettably ignored when the Liberals chose the politically expedient route of a hasty fracking ban.

But there’s a third jewel in this good-advice crown — the regulatory review on aquaculture conducted by Dalhousie law professors Meinhard Doelle and Bill Lahey, who handed their report to the government in December.

The excellence of their work was plain to see Thursday at a gathering of the Nova Scotia Coalition for Aquaculture Reform at the Halifax Lord Nelson Hotel.

Dozens of community, fishing and conservation groups and hundreds of people who want open-pen fish farms banned were there to call on the government to adopt Doelle-Lahey’s framework for regulating aquaculture — even though it doesn’t recommend banning open-pen farms.

These critical stakeholders were saying they’re prepared to give the “regulatory excellence” proposed by D-L a chance to prove itself — as long as the government doesn’t cherry-pick the recommendations.

They have good reason to want the report left whole. D-L’s regulatory framework is an impressively comprehensive effort to ensure aquaculture has a “social licence” (i.e., takes the interests of its neighbours seriously) and achieves the big goal of becoming a low-impact, high-value industry.

The report, for example, proposes a proactive rating system to determine which coastal sites are suitable for fish farms and which are not — independent of any licence applications.

It also recommends legislated rather than discretionary licensing requirements, better containment systems to prevent interbreeding and spread of disease to wild fish, tougher rules on chemicals, and separation of government promotion and oversight of aquaculture.

It advocates transparent reporting on performance, and, indeed on all aspects of regulation.

It would require fish farms to meet water-oxygen standards. That limits the number of healthy fish a site can support.

D-L says a regulatory advisory committee should include community stakeholders. The public should have a process to seek revoking of licences when there is a pattern of non-compliance. Licences should be terminated for ongoing violations.

The head table at Thursday’s conference seemed as long as the carrier USS Nimitz — and the message it repeatedly launched was a feeling that D-L consultations seriously listened to community concerns. “We finally felt we were being heard,” said Wendy Watson Smith of the Association for the Preservation of the Eastern Shore.

For Doelle-Lahey to convince this broad swath of Nova Scotia to give credible aquaculture regulation a chance is a real achievement, given the strong opposition to open-pen farms. The government, too, should give the full D-L package a chance to create an industry that does live up to the low-impact, high value ideal.