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October 11, 2005
What is aquaculture?
Aquaculture is farming of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants in fresh or salt water. Aquaculture products are grown on land in freshwater recycling facilities, in ponds, freshwater lakes and bays, or in the open ocean. The fish are fed and cared for to ensure optimum health and product quality. Once the fish or shellfish reach an appropriate size, the crop is harvested, processed and shipped to market, generally arriving within hours of leaving the water.
What is government's role in aquaculture?
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is the lead Government of Canada department responsible for aquaculture management. We work with the provinces to create the policy and regulatory conditions necessary to ensure that the aquaculture industry develops in an environmentally responsible way while remaining economically competitive in international markets.
All aquaculture operations are subject to rigorous environmental monitoring under a number of federal and provincial acts to ensure they meet high standards of environmental sustainability.
What is DFO's role in aquaculture management?
The aquaculture-related activities of DFO include:
What role do Provincial governments play in aquaculture management?
Aquaculture management is a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial governments. The aquaculture-related activities of Canadian provinces typically include:
Why farm fish and seafood?
Fish and seafood are farmed to bridge the gap between the supply of wild catch and the demand for fish and seafood.
As a result of the growing world population and a shift in western societies towards healthier eating patterns, there is likely to be a continuing increase in demand for seafood. Over the last 15 years, aquaculture has emerged as an increasingly important contributor helping to supply the global demand for fish and seafood.
How long has aquaculture been practiced in Canada?
Aquaculture is not a recent undertaking in Canada. Aquaculture practices trace back to the 1850s when governments engaged in the incubation and hatching of different species of finfish and shellfish. By 1950, a network of federal and provincial hatcheries were producing approximately 750 million freshwater fish and fresh-water spawning fish annually for wild stock enhancement and non-commercial stock expansion.
Aquaculture on a commercial basis first began in Canada in the 1970s, and grew quickly throughout the 1980s. It has now become a significant national contributor as a food product supplier and in economic and employment terms, directly employing approximately 6,000 Canadians, 95 per cent of which live in rural or coastal communities.
Commercial marine aquaculture operations in Canada began approximately 25 years ago. It evolved from a series of small local experiments on the East and West coasts, and has become a thriving industry with extensive operations in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Quebec and British Columbia. In British Columbia, the beginning of shellfish farming can be found as far back as the 1920s, through the cultivation of Pacific Oysters.
Where is it done?
Aquaculture is practiced in every province, as well as the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) produced an Aquaculture Atlas which will show where in Canada our fish and seafood products are produced. From this site, you can also access a series of fact sheets on various species of fish and shellfish produced in Canadian waters.
What species are grown commercially in Canada?
In Canada, many species of fish and shellfish are grown commercially. The main commercial salt-water or ocean fish species are Atlantic salmon and Pacific Salmon (Chinook and Coho). The main commercial fresh-water fish species are Rainbow trout and Arctic Char. The main commercial shellfish species are Blue Mussels, Pacific oysters and American oysters. There are also commercial seaweed farming operations in Nova Scotia and British Columbia.
Are there any other species being examined for aquaculture potential?
New species such as halibut, sablefish or black cod, Atlantic cod, wolffish, striped bass, eels, haddock, abalone, geoducks, and sea urchins are in the experimental stages of development.
What are sea lice?
Sea lice are small, salt-water crustaceans with soft bodies which are ordinarily enclosed within a hard, protective outer shell. Sea lice have a rounded body shaped like a cylinder and have many legs for swimming and collecting food. The term sea lice actually refers to several species of copepods that infect fish. Sea lice attach to the outside of fish, either on skin, fins, or gills where they live and feed on the mucous layer secreted by the fish's skin.
How many salmon farms are there in the Broughton Archipelago?
There are 22 approved or tenured salmon-farm sites in this area. However, depending on the individual production cycles of each farm, not all sites are in operation at one time. There are approximately 15 salmon farms that are currently stocked with fish.
Are fish farms in the Broughton causing the dramatic increase in sea lice levels?
This is unlikely. Sea lice were not originally a salmon-farming phenomenon. Sea lice have existed on wild salmon for tens of thousands of years before the first salmon farm was established in Canada and wild salmon have adapted to them.
There are two possible sources of sea lice in the Broughton Archipelago; from natural sources, like other fish, or from salmon farms. From last year's studies we do know that the contribution from other fish (sticklebacks) was significant. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the increased sea lice levels negatively affected the growth and condition of infected adult pink salmon.
Sea lice levels can also be carefully controlled on the salmon farm thereby reducing the risk of infecting fish living outside the farm to a negligible amount.
What is the government prepared to do if levels of sea lice indicate they are posing harm to wild stocks?
DFO is conducting multi-year research on sea lice. To date, the research has found no evidence that sea lice from salmon farms have caused wild salmon stocks to decline. If it does, we will act quickly to protect wild salmon stocks.
DFO works closely with the Province of British Columbia to ensure the salmon farming industry is managed in a responsible way, minimizing impacts on the environment and other marine life.
Sea lice levels can be properly controlled on the farm. The BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (BC MAL) has implemented a Sea Lice Management Strategy which requires each farm to submit a sea lice response plan that includes monitoring and reporting sea lice levels on each farm. They have set precautionary levels for sea lice on farms (average of three adult lice per fish). The BC salmon farming industry has been compliant to these levels and treat the fish to minimize the risk of infecting fish living outside the farm. Licensed aquatic veterinarians are consulted to administer environmentally-sound treatments to infected fish when necessary. These reports are carefully reviewed by fish health officials in the BC MAL and DFO to examine if there is any harm or improvements, and for any additional measures required.
Will eating salmon infected with sea lice safe make me sick?
No, there is no risk to human health from sea lice. Sea lice live on the outside of the fish and feed on mucous on the skin of the fish. They would not affect human health if eaten, but the lice usually fall off or are cleaned off during harvesting or processing activities before the fish reach the consumer.
What sea lice research is being carried out by DFO?
As part of the pink salmon action plan announced in 2003, DFO is investing in a multi-year research on sea lice. Since 2003, DFO has conducted a marine monitoring program to determine the incidence and severity of sea lice infection rates of juvenile salmon in the Broughton Archipelago area. The program also examines whether corridors for migration of juvenile salmon exist in the complex passages in that region. The research is done in collaboration with other scientific agencies. It complements monitoring programs done by DFO to understand the interaction of salmon farming, sea lice, and wild salmon in the Broughton area. Visit our backgrounder entitled, "Scientific Research - 2005 Sea Lice Research Programs" for a detailed description of research activity currently underway.
Will the pink return numbers for this year tell us if the fallowing or emptying of some salmon farms in 2003 had an impact on their survival?
Pink salmon populations have varied greatly from year to year over the last fifty years. Stronger runs occur during odd-numbered years. Adult returns in 2004 to the area were approximately one million and consistent with our historical records for this type of run.
It should be noted that, coast-wide, pink returns were very high last year. In the Fraser River, numbers of returning pinks were the second highest ever recorded. Returns will probably be exceptional again in 2005.
Cause and effect have not been shown between lice infection and fish health, or for that matter, any other natural variable, thus it would not be scientifically defensible to speculate on the cause for an increase in returns.
Are there sea lice in other areas of the Pacific Ocean?
There is very little data from most of the coast. When comparing geographic areas it is most important that equipment and sampling methods are comparable, that the studies were made at the same time and in the same seasonal cycle. Lepeophtheirus salmonis is a common parasite of Pacific salmon and has been reported throughout the Pacific in areas including the high seas and coastal of areas of Russia, Alaska and Canada.
Observations in Clayoquot Sound along the West Coast of Vancouver Island, where there are several salmon farms, have not shown elevated levels of sea lice. Observations in south Alaska, where there are no salmon farms, have shown higher levels of sea lice infestation on wild salmon than what DFO observed on domestic wild pink salmon in 2004 in the Broughton Archipelago.
What is the sea lice situation on the fish farms in the Broughton?
As of November 2003, all salmon farm sites must have a Fish Health Management Plan. These plans are a condition of licence and are enforceable. All companies must provide the BC MAL with a plan for approval. Results of the sea lice monitoring program are reported on a quarterly basis to BC MAL and are posted on their website:
How do you respond to allegations that sea lice from fish farms in the area are killing juvenile pink salmon as they migrate out to sea?
Pink salmon populations have varied greatly from year to year over the last fifty years [see chart]. Our research to date has not shown that sea lice originating from fish farms are causing these fluctuations. Our findings from the 2003 monitoring study also did not show that juvenile salmon follow any predictable corridor therefore it is difficult to draw linkages to sea lice infestation of juvenile salmon to salmon farms. Our analysis of the data suggests that sea lice "over winter" or are being passed onto to juvenile salmon from other fish species, like sticklebacks.