What is aquaculture

Aquaculture is the farming of fish and seafood in fresh or saltwater. Aquaculture has been identified, both internationally and within Canada, as a key agri-food sector that will be important in supporting the world’s growing demand for animal protein, and contributing to food security and human health in a low-carbon production manner. Aquaculture in Canada occurs in all provinces and Yukon and employs thousands of Canadians, including many in rural, coastal, and Indigenous communities. According to 2018 data from Statistics Canada, the sector generated 3,500 direct jobs and produced over 190 thousand tonnes of cultured product, which directly contributed over $2 billion (plus associated economic activity) to Canada’s gross domestic product.

Aquaculture Regulation in Canada

In Canada, aquaculture has been regulated since the 1980s through existing federal-provincial/territorial legislation and regulations that apply to specific aquaculture activities. Over time, incremental changes to these multiple laws, regulations, and associated policies have created a complicated regulatory system with different requirements across the country. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is the lead federal regulator and manages aquaculture under the Fisheries Act—legislation which was designed for wild capture fisheries and does not reflect the distinct context and requirements associated with aquaculture management. However, aquaculture activities are regulated by multiple federal organizations and several different pieces of federal legislation.

There are currently three distinct regulatory approaches to aquaculture across Canada:

  1. In British Columbia, DFO issues aquaculture licences under the Fisheries Act’s Pacific Aquaculture Regulations and is directly responsible for environmental regulation of the sector. The Province is responsible for land management and issues leases to grant exclusive use of submerged provincial land for the purpose of culturing aquatic organisms.
  2. In Prince Edward Island, DFO issues aquaculture leases (with conditions on the lease agreements) to help ensure appropriate environmental performance of the sector through cooperative action with the Province.
  3. Elsewhere in Canada, DFO is also responsible for environmental regulation of the sector. Provincial and territorial authorities license aquaculture production operations (i.e., all activities related to the growing of finfish and shellfish), and authorize the allocation of space to carry out aquaculture operations. Many provincial/territorial jurisdictions also regulate for potential environmental impacts, animal welfare, fish health, and/or pest control product sale and use.

Overlaying these three approaches, the federal government plays a national, cross-cutting, coordination role in aquaculture governance.

What is the objective of the new legislation?

The proposed Act is based on the 2018 agreement between federal, provincial, and territorial ministers, as well as feedback provided by stakeholders and Indigenous partners during previous rounds of engagement. The new federal legislation is intended to:

  • foster national consistency, while respecting federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdiction;
  • improve clarity and certainty for the industry;
  • enhance environmental protection; and
  • help sustainably grow the industry for the benefit of Indigenous and rural communities.

The Aquaculture Act may adopt relevant elements from sections of the Fisheries Act that concern aquaculture and adapt them to the sector’s context, while some may be purpose-built for the proposed Act, providing an opportunity to improve aquaculture management in Canada. 

All elements are proposed for input and the proposed act is expected to draw much from, and be consistent with, the Fisheries Act, but the engagement process will allow for important public policy discussions that will help further refine the legislative proposals.

How will the Act support reconciliation?

The Act would respect Canadian laws, including section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and any other legislation, existing or to be developed, that would define and/or protect Indigenous rights. The Act would also contain provisions equivalent to the ones introduced in the Fisheries Act as part of the 2019 amendments to support the recognition of Indigenous peoples’ rights.

How can we be kept informed?

The Department’s web page will be updated when appropriate while the bill is being developed. Once the bill is introduced in the House of Commons, updates will be available on the House of Commons’ website.

What happens after public engagement is closed?

Once public engagement is closed, the Government will finalize the proposed legislation. Once the bill is introduced in  Parliament, input received by DFO can no longer be incorporated into the proposed legislation. However, input can still be provided through the parliamentary process.