Senate report on aquaculture wants database and transparency


Senate report on aquaculture calls for national database and transparency
Halifax — The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, Jul. 30, 2015 4:12PM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Jul. 30, 2015 4:14PM EDT

Environmental groups are raising concerns about a new federal report on Canada’s $1-billion aquaculture industry, saying the study appears to be focused on ramping up production at the expense of the environment.

A spokeswoman for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, which is opposed to the use of open-net pens in salmon farming, says the Senate report released Thursday calls for more research instead of tougher regulations and enforcement.

“We cannot wait years for research to give us the data and then have changes implemented,” Sue Scott said in an interview from St. Andrews, N.B.

“Research is important but we have known for about 15 years about the impact of (farmed salmon) escapees on wild Atlantic salmon. We’ve been out there with the data and it hasn’t made much of an impact on the government or the industry to improve operations.”

Scott said ocean-based salmon farms require more transparency and less self-regulation.

The Senate’s three-volume report offers 10 recommendations, including a call for a new federal Aquaculture Act and more research on finfish aquaculture and the impact of pesticides used on sea lice.

“The science is still lacking on a number of topics,” Sen. Elizabeth Hubley told a news conference in Ottawa. “This is particularly so in relation to transfer of pathogens from aquacultured to wild salmon.”

The Senate’s standing committee on fisheries, which studied the industry for 18 months, is also calling for a national database that would offer the public access to information about every aquaculture operator in the country.

“There didn’t seem to be an avenue for the general public to be able to obtain information ... on industry activity,” Sen. Fabian Manning said after the report was released.

The 70 pieces of federal and provincial legislation that govern the industry require streamlining under a new, federal act, said Manning, the committee’s chairman.

As well, he said the committee endorsed the idea that the industry should be given the tools to double its production in the next 10 years.

Aquaculture represents about 30 per cent of Canada’s total seafood production, with British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and P.E.I. leading the way. The industry produces finfish, shellfish, aquatic plants and other species, such as sea cucumbers and sea urchins.

British Columbia’s salmon farming industry accounts for almost half of the country’s total production.

“Canada is well positioned to supply the growing global demand for fish and seafood and to do so sustainably, environmentally, economically and socially,” Manning said.

He called for accelerated harmonization of provincial and federal regulations, and better industry access to veterinary drugs, fish feed and pest control products for the finfish aquaculture industry.

As for the environment, Manning said there should continue to be regular inspections and consistent enforcement of regulations across the industry.

Conservation groups say the call for a new aquaculture act has been a long-standing request from the industry, and critics say it could lead to less protection for wild fish.

The Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, which is also opposed to ocean-based salmon farming, says there should be more of an emphasis on land-based, closed-containment fish farming.

Rob Johnson, the centre’s sustainable seafood co-ordinator, said a new aquaculture act could be used to water down existing regulations in the name of clearing red tape.

“The need is for stronger regulation and enforcement,” he said.

“It’s going the other way and deferring to industry self-regulation ... The priority is pushed off onto research rather than stronger regulations and enforcement that we know we need now.”