DFO May Unveil "Streamlined" Aquaculture Regulations in August

Hill Times; July 28, 2014.

Fish farmers are expecting good news in the upcoming federal aquaculture activities regulations to be released in August, while conservationists fear the government is prioritizing industry over wild salmon stocks.

The regulations, which, according to a government document, aim to develop “aquaculture in a sustainable manner” and to “address key barriers to industry growth,” were originally expected by the end of July, but are delayed because of “logistical challenges,” said Trevor Swerdfager, assistant deputy minister, Ecosystems and Fisheries Management at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in a phone interview last week in Ottawa with The Hill Times.

Details of the new regulations are not yet available, but the changes are meant to make the rules “more transparent, more clear, more consistent, more harmonized,” while protecting the environment, said Mr. Swerdfager.

He said under existing rules fish farm operators could get an approval to use chemicals and pesticides by one federal department and a denial to use the same product by another department. These products are considered essential by the industry to fight infections and diseases in farms.

Ruth Salmon, executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, said some regulations currently conflict with one another and that has “really been one of the barriers for moving forward with Canada’s seafood farming industry.” She said the industry operates under a “confusing regulatory environment” that “was pulled together in sort of a patchwork quilt” when the industry developed about 35 years ago.

Mr. Swerdfager agreed with that assessment. “We have a set of provisions in place that are administered by Health Canada that allow for the use of certain drugs, or pesticides,” he said. “The Fisheries Act is structured in such a way that when it was written it didn’t take those Health Canada-administered provisions into account. All we’re doing is making the regulations on the Fisheries Act side of things consistent with the ones that are [...] administered by Health Canada,” said Mr. Swerdfager.

Ms. Salmon, who expects the industry to double in the next 10 years, said she looks forward to having the industry operate under a “clear and coherent set of rules” that reduce regulatory duplication while protecting the environment.

“We’re producing a food product so it’s critical that we have strong regulations,” she said.

While the aquaculture industry is eager to see how the government will deliver on its promise to “address key barriers to industry growth,” the environmental community is worried that its concerns are being pushed aside. Conservationists are concerned about open net salmon farms in the ocean, which allow for water and waste to flow in and out of net containments. Salmon farming, according to Ms. Salmon, accounts for 80 per cent of the aquaculture industry in Canada.

Wild salmon conservation activist Alexandra Morton said fish farms are ideal for spreading diseases and making viruses more virulent than those diseases spread to migrating wild salmon that pass by farms.

“It’s like walking your child through the infectious disease ward of the hospital before you take them to school,” said Ms. Morton in a phone interview from Echo Bay, B.C., with The Hill Times.

Ms. Morton said the chemicals to fight those diseases are not good for wild salmon.

Sue Scott, vice-president of communications for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, said the industry is having a harder time controlling sea lice and “wants to use stronger pesticides and drugs for disease. And I’m afraid [that] the new regulations will allow this.”

Both Ms. Scott and Ms. Morton said they would prefer more closed containment facilities instead of open net farms, because they do not impact the larger environment. Ms. Scott said farm salmon sometimes escape and weaken the instinct of wild salmon to return to their breeding grounds and that results in a reduction of the species.

“The aquaculture fish are bred to be complacent, to grow quickly and to swim in circles,” said Ms. Scott in a phone interview from St. Andrew, N.B. “Whereas our wild Atlantic salmon are genetically made up to return to the very river where they were born and they have the genetic makeup and muscular development to survive migration for thousands of miles. And that ability and instinct is bred out of them when they breed with farmed salmon.”

The government said the new regulations would not affect wild salmon and “really have no tie what-soever to wild salmon populations,” according to Mr. Swerdfager.

“There are people in the environmental community and others who feel that aquaculture has and will continue to have a negative impact on wild salmon and that’s the views they’re welcome to, but we really don’t see that this regulation will have any effect on that whatsoever,” said Mr. Swerdfager.

NDP MP Robert Chisholm (Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, N.S.), his party’s fisheries critic, takes issue with that. He said any growth of the aquaculture industry should take into consideration the findings of the Cohen Commission, a three-year, $26-million investigation into the decline of sockeye salmon in British Columbia’s Fraser River. Environmentalists praised the report’s recommendations, which were released in 2012, and have since criticized the federal government for its lack of action on them.

Mr. Chisholm pointed out that the Cohen Commission recognized that fish farms do have an impact on wild stocks, but did not determine to what degree.

Mr. Swerdfager said the new regulations do “not really” take into consideration the Cohen Commission report recommendations, but are “consistent with the spirit and intent [of them],” in terms of environmental regulations and required reporting by industry.

Liberal MP Lawrence MacAulay (Cardigan, P.E.I.), his party’s fisheries and oceans critic, said he fears the government will repeat some of the things they did with the changes to the Fisheries Act in 2012, with these regulations. He told The Hill Times that the environment was an afterthought and that government did not consult with industry enough for the Fisheries Act changes and said he “couldn’t find a fisherman they discussed anything with.”

Mr. Chisholm and Mr. Scott echoed the Cohen Commission report, which stated that DFO is in a conflict of interest by overseeing the protection of wild fish in addition to regulating the aquaculture industry.

“What the Department of Fisheries and Oceans should be doing is controlling the impacts on wild Atlantic salmon and other fish and the environment but instead they have become promoters of the aquaculture industry and that has led to a conflict of interest,” said Mr. Scott.

The Cohen report stated that the government “should remove from [DFO’s] mandate the promotion of salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product.”

But Mr. Swerdfager rejected the assertion that DFO promotes aquaculture and is in a conflict of interest.

Ms. Salmon said she would like the aquaculture industry to have an act on its own, separate from the Fisheries Act, under which aquaculture is governed.

“We have a much better idea now of what kind of a regulatory framework we actually need,” compared to when the Fisheries Act was originally written, said Ms. Salmon.

Mr. MacAulay said an Aquaculture Act is “going to become essential” as the industry expands.

Mr. Swerdfager said the government is not opposed to an Aquaculture Act some time in the future, but that the new regulations are “pragmatic and [are dealing with the] short-term at this point.”

After the regulations are published as a draft in the Canada Gazette there will be a chance for the public to comment on them before the regulations are implemented later this year.

Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Gail Shea (Egmont, P.E.I.) was not immediately available for comment for this article.


The Hill Times