DFO not doing enough to manage salmon farm risk


Federal government not doing enough to manage risk of fish farms, environmental watchdog says

Canada also not on track to meet 2020 biodiversity targets, commissioner says in spring report

Susan Lunn CBC News Posted: Apr 24, 2018 10:54 AM ET

The federal government isn't doing enough to manage the risks associated with salmon farming, from failing to set national standards to prevent fish escapes to regulating how much drugs and pesticides companies can use.

That's the conclusion of a report tabled in Parliament Tuesday from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

"I suggest that the department is at risk of being seen to be promoting aquaculture over the protection of wild fish," Julie Gelfand said at a news conference.

She pointed to a number of imbalances, from little enforcement of existing regulations to no requirement to monitor the ocean floor beneath the fish farms.

The report also points to a lack of clear national standards for nets and anchoring equipment, which Gelfand says is key in Atlantic Canada, where escaped farmed salmon have begun to interbreed with declining wild salmon populations.

Because of severe storms off the East Coast, nets there are often damaged and more farmed fish escape into the surrounding water than on the West Coast, the report says.

The commissioner found that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans also wasn't doing enough to monitor diseases, and had only completed one-tenth of risk assessments for known diseases to understand the effects of salmon farming on wild fish.

As a result, the report states the department has no way of knowing what impacts salmon farming has on the health of wild fish stocks.

Gelfand is recommending the federal government do those risk assessments for diseases by 2020, which it committed to after the release of the 2012 Cohen Commission report.

In its response to the report, the department agreed, saying this commitment is part of the minister's mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The commissioner found the department has not clearly stated the amount of drugs or pesticides companies could use, while at the same time it isn't doing enough to confirm the accuracy of the information handed over by the aquaculture companies.

The report says this is important because drugs and pesticides used in aquaculture operations can harm wild fish, especially those living on the ocean floor.

Salmon farming takes place off both the east and west coasts, and Canada is the fourth-largest producer of farmed salmon in the world.

Biodiversity targets

The environment commissioner also tabled a report assessing Canada's efforts to meet various international biodiversity targets.

Gelfand found federal officials were focusing too much on going to international meetings and creating national committees than actually working to meet the 2020 biodiversity targets.

Those targets include placing 17 per cent of its land and 10 per cent of its marine areas under protection from development by 2020. Neither of those targets have been met.

At the same time, recent reports show plants and animal species are continually under threat.

Environment Canada in 2017 that more than 500 plants and animals were listed under the federal Species at Risk Act, and the list was growing.

In 2016, the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, created by the governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico, reported that some bird species had declined by nearly 70 per cent since 1970.

Recovery strategies are being developed for species at risk but there are rarely follow up progress reports, Gelfand noted.

For example, Environment and Climate Change Canada provided just one of its 143 required progress reports, while Parks Canada provided one of its seven required progress reports.

One key species the report used to highlight these delays is the woodland caribou, which is still in decline.

In her report, Gelfand notes that without strong national leadership, Canada may not meet all of its targets by 2020.

Environment and Climate Change Canada agreed with the commissioner's findings, but noted "that achieving these targets in Canada requires action and support from across all levels of government and from Indigenous people, municipalities, businesses, the scientific community, non-governmental organizations and individual Canadians."