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Fisheries and Oceans’ interim approach on movement of live fish in the context of aquaculture

Global demand for fish and seafood as a high-protein food source has increased significantly in the last decades. This demand is projected to increase as the world’s population continues to grow. At the same time, and with pressures on global fish stocks, aquaculture is recognized as having a valuable contribution to food security. Ensuring the environmental sustainability of Canada’s aquatic resources requires a robust regulatory structure and a suite of policies that guide decision-making.

On December 10, 2018, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard presented a new vision for aquaculture in Canada and announced the implementation of an area-based approach which would complement a risk-based decision-making framework for aquaculture. These new tools help ensure that the precautionary approach will guide DFO’s decision-making and that the industry continues to improve its environmentally sustainabity.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s new approach to aquaculture means we are continuously seeking the best scientific knowledge and aquaculture management practices available to make significant improvements in the way we regulate the industry to meet the global demand for our farmed seafood products, while making sure our aquatic ecosystems are healthy and wild fish populations are protected. As well, DFO will continue its work in support of economically viable innovations related to technology in aquaculture.

Achieving these goals requires engagement with Canadians across a broad range of interests; we work with provinces, territories, federal partners, Indigenous Peoples, environmental groups, industry, and members of the public to arrive at informed decisions.

Objective for sustainable aquaculture

The Department’s goal is to ensure that wild fish and their habitats are protected, using tools like avoidance, mitigation, monitoring, compliance and remediation approaches.

Implementation of an area-based approach

In achieving its objective, it is important to consider local environmental conditions, the status of local wild fish populations and their habitats, and how both interact with aquaculture operations in time and space. Specific local management objectives might also consider cultural and societal values, economic goals, Indigenous and local knowledge. In this way, information inputs and management approaches may differ among geographic locations. An area-based approach recognizes that appropriate risk management may require additional mitigation measures in locations where specific geographic or population-level conditions warrant extra consideration.

Framework for aquaculture risk management

DFO has developed a framework for assessing and reducing risk related to the management of aquaculture. This process is rooted in DFO’s legislative mandate and is consistent with its Sustainable Fisheries Framework, which provides the foundation for an ecosystem-based and precautionary approach to fisheries management in Canada. The framework for aquaculture risk management relies on the best available science-based risk assessments and analyses, and an understanding of uncertainties, and incorporates risk management approaches to avoid and/or mitigate risks to the environment. On-going monitoring and evaluation of new findings are key components of this framework. By incorporating new information in an on-going way, additional interventions can be rapidly applied should any unanticipated environmental or ecosystem change be detected.

Applying the precautionary approach

DFO applies precaution at multiple steps of the risk management approach to its decision-making. When assessing risk, it is important to understand the extent of the effect of the activity on fish and fish habitat and the uncertainties associated with the assessment of these effects. When information is less certain or complete, additional management actions are imposed to reduce risk to the wild population and/or to increase the level of certainty that informs decision-making. The most effective precautionary measures are those expected to reduce the risk to the ecosystem or its components. In some cases, where uncertainty and risk are high and cannot be mitigated, actions may not be allowed.

Addressing uncertainty

The level of certainty associated with DFO’s analyses is clearly described in its science-based risk assessments and analyses. This type of information is critical to decision-making. The greater the uncertainty in our available information, the less confidence DFO may have that the potential impacts of an action can be estimated or predicted accurately. Characterizing how the uncertainty in the data affects the overall assessment, and particularly if it is anticipated to result in an overestimate or underestimate of the assessment, is key. In circumstances where the uncertainties are likely to underestimate the risk, or could either over or under estimate the risk, more risk adverse measures will be implemented and efforts made to increase the level of certainty associated with our evidence base.

Communicating decisions

A critical component of DFO’s new approach to managing aquaculture is the effective communication of the rationale for its decisions. In addition to the development of and consultation on an interim policy suite that describes the DFO decision-making framework for aquaculture in Canada, additional measures are underway to review and communicate the evidence-base for decisions.

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