New panel to vet fish farm requests
MICHAEL GORMAN PROVINCIAL REPORTER
Published April 21, 2015 - 9:37pm
N.S. seeks ‘more transparent’ approach to granting aquaculture licences, leases
Decision power for aquaculture licence and lease applications is being turned over to a three-person independent review board.
The change is part of new regulations introduced by the provincial government Tuesday. Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell said the amendments create a “more transparent and rigorous” approach and builds on the recommendations of the Doelle-Lahey report.
Colwell said the new board, the selection criteria for which is still being finalized, will include a member with a science background and one with a legal background. Government’s only input will be at the beginning of the process in approving or denying site selection.
The board’s decision will be binding and based on science and fact, said Colwell. The hope is to have the new system in place by the summer to begin hearing applications, with the aim of expediting the process so it takes a few months as opposed to up to two years.
The minister said it was important that any perception of politics be removed from the process. He acknowledged that other changes, such as requiring applicants to do all necessary surveying and testing before an application is submitted, creates more work for industry.
“Will this be tough on business? Yes, it will, but business will clearly understand what they have to do (to get approval).”
The aim is to make the department a regulator only, said Colwell. Enforcement duties are being moved to the Environment Department.
The change will help “make sure the community has confidence that if they have an issue, they can bring it to us and we’re going to be the regulator,” he said.
To that end, the department will begin posting every bit of information they are legally allowed to make available on a new website that will be updated in real time. This is part of the process of building up trust among communities, government and industry, said Colwell.
“We’re going to have a very defined regulatory process, which we do not have now.”
Land-based operations will have a much easier approval process, he said, although the steps are still being finalized.
In an effort to generate more growth in the industry, the department has written to the leaseholders of the 168 inactive sites in the province advising them that they have six months to submit a business proposal and then six months to begin acting on that proposal or government will take back the leases and reoffer them.
“If we can get those in production, that means we’ll help our economy a lot quicker,” said Colwell.
Tom Smith, executive director of the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia, said it has worked with the government on understanding what industry needs to do to grow, particularly in rural Nova Scotia, while also being sustainable and responsible.
Smith said he is still waiting to see the new regulations, but the industry has developed its own codes of practice that should “make sure that we’re engaged in responsible farming.” That includes better community consultation and engagement, he said.
Raymond Plourde of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax said he has more questions than answers, starting with whether Colwell will endorse the rest of the Doelle-Lahey report. He is disappointed there hasn’t been a response to the report in its entirety.
“Where is the regulatory advisory committee and the science advisory committee? These are two of the most important things that Doelle-Lahey recommended.”