Federal audit finds DFO doing little to protect wild fish from salmon farms


Fisheries department doing too little to protect wild fish from salmon farms, federal audit finds

The audit found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada is not doing enough to prevent the spread of infectious disease

Maura Forrest

April 24, 2018, 10:54 AM EDT

OTTAWA — The federal government isn’t doing enough to protect wild fish from threats posed by salmon farming in Atlantic Canada and British Columbia, according to a new report from the federal environment commissioner.

The audit found that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been slow to study the effects of Canada’s $1 billion salmon-farming industry on wild fish, and is not doing enough to prevent the spread of infectious disease. The department has failed to put limits on the amount of drugs and pesticides that salmon farms can use, and has limited capacity to enforce its own regulations, the report concluded.

“In other words… the federal government favoured the economic pillar over the environmental pillar,” environment commissioner Julie Gelfand wrote in a statement accompanying the audit.

In separate reports, Gelfand also found that Canada isn’t doing enough to protect biodiversity or to meet the United Nations’ 2030 sustainable development goals.

The audit comes amid debate over the future of salmon farming in B.C., after Washington State decided earlier this year to phase out open-net fish farms due to an incident that saw more than 250,000 Atlantic salmon escape into Pacific waters last summer. The B.C. government is now facing pressure from environmental groups and First Nations to change its approach to the industry.

But the federal fisheries department, not the provincial government, regulates most aspects of British Columbia’s aquaculture industry. The environment commissioner’s audit, released Tuesday morning, found a number of deficiencies in the department’s oversight of the industry, including a lack of long-term funding for research on the effects of aquaculture on wild fish. The department has also conducted only one of 10 risk assessments of key diseases that it committed in 2015 to complete by 2020.

The report also found that “key elements were missing” from the government’s measures to prevent the spread of disease from farmed fish to wild populations. The department’s audit program of B.C. fish farms, for example, hasn’t been updated since 2006 and may not address new diseases. The department also lacks a formal process to share information with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which is responsible for preventing the spread of disease.

The department has also failed to develop national standards for nets and anchoring systems to prevent fish escapes


The audit pointed out that the fisheries department hasn’t set limits for drug and pesticide deposits in open-net pens, and doesn’t require companies to monitor whether wild populations are harmed after drugs and pesticides are used. It does require companies to report on the type and amount of substances used, but it has no way to verify that the reporting is accurate.

The department has also failed to develop national standards for nets and anchoring systems to prevent fish escapes, though it does have standards in place for British Columbia, according to the report.

The auditors also found that the department lacks the capacity to enforce its own regulations. In Atlantic Canada, since new aquaculture regulations came into force in 2015, officers responsible for wild fisheries simply added aquaculture to their responsibilities, and no new officers were hired. In B.C., enforcement officers have limited options to deal with non-compliance. They can give out warning letters to companies, for instance, but cannot issue fines.

The auditors also found that the fisheries department doesn’t consistently publish industry statistics on disease outbreaks or drug and pesticide use. “In our view, information that is not sufficient, specific, or up to date can reduce public confidence that the department is effectively regulating the industry,” the report concludes.

Farmed salmon were identified as a potential threat to wild fish by the Cohen Commission, which published a 2012 report on the decline of sockeye salmon in B.C.’s Fraser River. The commission cautioned against the fisheries department’s mandate to both promote and regulate aquaculture. “When DFO has simultaneous mandates to conserve wild stocks and promote the salmon farming industry, there are circumstances in which it can find itself in a conflict of interest because of divided loyalties,” the commission found.

B.C.’s NDP government is now facing a decision about 22 provincial fish farm tenures coming up for renewal in June, many of which are opposed by First Nations. Last month, Doug Donaldson, provincial minister of natural resources, told the CBC the government is interested in seeing the industry move toward land-based, closed systems instead of open-net pens. However, closed-containment systems remain “energy-intensive and expensive to build,” according to the commissioner’s report.

Email: mforrest@postmedia.com | Twitter: MauraForrest