Regulating and monitoring British Columbia’s marine finfish aquaculture facilities 2015-2016: Monitoring and audits: Environmental

Table of Contents

  1. Summary of marine finfish aquaculture in British Columbia
  2. How aquaculture facilities are regulated
  3. Assessing compliance
    1. How DFO assesses the performance of aquaculture facilities
    2. Enforcement options
    3. Summary of charges and convictions, 2015-2016
    4. Enforcement activities
    5. Violations in 2015
    6. Violations in 2016
  4. Reporting requirements and reports submitted
    1. Reporting requirements
    2. Scheduled reports
    3. Event-based reports
  5. Monitoring and audits: Fish health
    1. Fish health management plans
    2. Fish health in 2015
    3. Fish health in 2016
    4. Sea Lice
    5. Fish Mortality
  6. Monitoring and audits: Environmental
    1. Benthic (seabed) monitoring
    2. DFO’s benthic audit program
    3. Escapes
    4. Incidental catch
    5. Interactions with marine mammals
    6. Use of lights
    7. Use of chemicals, and feed and other substances
    8. Aquaculture activities regulations
  7. Monitoring and audits: Inventory and aquaculture statistics
    1. Inventory plans and stock transfers
    2. Annual aquaculture statistical report
  8. Summary

Benthic (seabed) monitoring

The aquaculture industry is required to conduct benthic, or biochemical oxygen-demanding matter (BOD), monitoring at all of their farms that grow more than 2.5 tonnes of fish annually. This ensures that the impacts of organic waste (mainly fish feces) from the sites are restricted in extent and intensity. As part of its monitoring program, DFO staff conduct benthic audits as well as informationgathering surveys. During the audits, DFO follows the same procedures as industry, samples within the same time frame (within 30 days before or after the peak biomass date), and samples similar locations. DFO benthic audit results are therefore directly comparable to industry results.

At sites with a hard ocean substrate (seabed), video data is gathered using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) with underwater cameras. At least two transects (lines along the seabed) are monitored at each site. Video is taken from the cage edge to at least 140 metres away on at least two sides of the fish farm site.

The video collected is assessed by industry representatives and DFO staff, who observe and record various types of information. The zone of compliance for hard bottom sites is between 100 and 124 metres from the cage array, although video is always also taken closer and farther away.

The zone of compliance is divided into six segments, each four metres long, and each of the segments is assessed. If required, the postcompliance zone (124–140 metres away from the cage array) is also assessed.

To affirm that hard-bottom sites comply with the regulated standards, DFO staff check the video footage to assess the area of the seabed covered by two indicators of organic waste: Beggiatoa- like species, which are bacteria that form visible mats in areas of organic enrichment, and opportunistic polychaete complexes (OPCs), which are worms found in the seabed and in areas of organic enrichment. Although these species actually help break down accumulated waste, their abundance indicates impact due to organic enrichment.

When allowable thresholds of Beggiatoa-like species or OPCs are exceeded, the farm must be fallowed (left empty) until further monitoring shows that it has recovered sufficiently.

Industry submits benthic monitoring data to DFO prior to stocking a farm, at peak production, or every 24 months for farms with fish continually on site. Table 2 summarizes the number of samples reported and the number of reports that were complete and on time.

Table 2. Event-based Report – Benthic Monitoring Reports
Table 2. Event-based Report – Benthic Monitoring Reports - Table version
Year Number of Sampling Events Number of Reports Complete and On Time
2015 67 65
2016 50 41
Figure 10. Industry-reported Benthic Monitoring Events 2015 and 2016
Figure 10. Industry-reported Benthic Monitoring Events 2015 and 2016 - Table version
  Industry – Below threshold at all stations Industry – Exceed threshold at one or more station
Hard Mixed Soft Hard Mixed Soft
2015 9 2 40 1 1 8
2016 8 4 30 1 1 5

At sites with a soft ocean substrate (seabed), at least two transects (lines across the seabed) are monitored by taking sediment samples at 30 and 125 metres from the cage edge and analyzing their physical and chemical properties. Sediment sampling must occur at two sides of the cages and where the most impact is expected. Additional sampling may be required as outlined in the AAR or as prescribed by DFO.

Compliance at soft seabed sites is determined by measuring the level of free sulphides. Free sulphides are related to the amount of oxygen in the sediment, which in turn contributes to the biodiversity (variety of living organisms) that the sediment can support. The standards for free sulphides are designed to manage the intensity of impact and ensure that the seabed can recover in a reasonable amount of time when fish are removed from marine net pens. When thresholds of free sulphides at the 30 metre and 125 metre stations are exceeded, the site must be fallowed (no fish) until further monitoring shows that it has recovered sufficiently.

Figure 10 summarizes the seabed sampling reports submitted by industry between 2015 and 2016.

Industry-submitted data showed that an average of 84% and 86% in 2015 and 2016, respectively, of all sampled farms were below the allowable environmental thresholds.

DFO’s benthic audit program

DFO assesses industry’s benthic monitoring results by reviewing every incoming report and by conducting site audits. DFO site audits fulfill four purposes:

  1. To compare industry-generated data with DFO-generated data to ensure that industry is following the correct procedures and that the two data sets are similar
  2. To determine whether the compliance sampling stations or transects used by industry are appropriate
  3. To investigate sites with poor environmental performance
  4. To learn more about benthic impacts during different parts of the production cycle and site recovery cycle

For facilities with soft seabeds, DFO conducts field assessments in the same location as industry to compare the results. For facilities with hard seabeds, DFO reviews the video data captured by industry and conducts a field assessment at the same location as industry.

Benthic sampling reports submitted by industry between 2015 and 2016 generally matched DFO’s field and video audits. Twenty-six site audits were conducted in 2015 and 29 site audits were conducted in 2016. DFO’s audits indicated that 81% and 93% of results were consistent with industrysubmitted reports in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Disagreement can arise if industry finds more or less impact than DFO. If there is disagreement, DFO directs industry to use the monitoring results that show greater impact and to respond to the results as required by their licence.


The aquaculture industry must take all reasonable measures to prevent the escape of cultivated fish, but in the unlikely event of an escape, the licence holder must take immediate action to control and confine it. Escapes are reported to DFO upon discovery, and a follow-up report is submitted within seven days after the escape or suspected escape.

During site inspections, DFO staff visually examine site integrity as well as records of cage maintenance and net integrity to ensure that nets are of the appropriate strength and age, are in good repair, are inspected regularly, and are deployed correctly.

Table 3. Event-based Report – Escapes
Table 3. Event-based Report – Escapes - Table version
Year Number of Incidents Number of Confirmed Escaped Fish
2015 3 3
2016 4 23

Table 3 summarizes the total number of escaped fish reported by industry in 2015 and 2016. Detailed information on the escape of cultured fish, including the description of each incident, can be found at

Incidental catch

Incidental catch are any wild fish caught or found dead within the farm during harvest, while fish are being moved within or between facilities, or during net removal. Wild fish sometimes swim into containment nets at marine finfish facilities and grow along with cultured fish until they are too large to swim out of the nets. Aquaculture operators are not allowed to cultivate or sell any species of fish not listed on their licence. All incidental catch during transfer of fish and harvest must be recorded and reported to DFO. The aquaculture industry must take reasonable care to reduce the risk of incidental catch and immediately return live incidentallycaught fish to waters outside the aquaculture facility in the least harmful manner possible.

Table 4. Event-based Report – Incidental Catch
Table 4. Event-based Report – Incidental Catch - Table version
Year Number of Incidents Incidental Catch Quantity (Pieces)
2015 49 39,475
2016 54 50,060

Table 4 summarizes the total number of events where wild fish were discovered in an aquaculture farm, as well as the estimated number of fish reported by licence holders in 2015 and 2016. Fish that are released live are not included in this report. For detailed information on incidental catch, including the number of fish and species killed, please visit:

Conditions of licence require companies to submit incidental catch reports within 15 calendar days after harvest; a follow up report is required if more incidental catch is discovered after nets are removed. For farms that continuously have fish present, records must be submitted annually for the previous 12 months. Industry achieved 45% compliance for incidental catch reporting in 2015 and 54% compliance in 2016. The low compliance rate for incidental catch reporting was mainly due to late report submissions.

DFO monitors fish harvesting and transfer activities to ensure proper handling, record-keeping, and identification of incidental catch. Although no non-compliance with incidental catch procedures has been found to date, ways to further mitigate incidental catch have been suggested and implemented. Several warning letters have also been issued to improve compliance around incidental catch reporting.

Interactions with marine mammals

Licence conditions require every aquaculture licence holder to take all reasonable measures to prevent marine mammals from coming into conflict with the farm infrastructure and farmed fish. Companies must:

DFO audits reports of marine mammal incidents to ensure that licence holders have taken reasonable preventative actions. If DFO has questions about the effectiveness of preventative actions, they follow up with the licence holder to review the details of the event.

DFO staff also review records on-site related to preventing escapes and managing marine mammal interactions. For example, dive records indicate net maintenance and repairs (often required as a result of damage by marine mammals) as well as incidents in which marine mammals became entangled and were released.

Table 5. Event-based Report – Marine Mammals Interactions - Drownings
Table 5. Event-based Report – Marine Mammals Interactions - Drownings - Table version
Year Number of Marine Mammals Drowned Events Species
2015 24 Harbour Seals (14)
California Sea Lions (10)
2016 7 Harbour Seals (1)
California Sea Lions (4)
Humpback Whales (2)
Table 6. Event-based Report - Marine Mammal Interactions – Authorized Predator Control
Table 6. Event-based Report - Marine Mammal Interactions – Authorized Predator Control - Table version
Year Number of Authorized Predator Control Events Species
2015 18 Harbour Seals (3)
California Sea Lions (15)
2016 1 California Sea Lion (1)

Tables 5 and 6 summarize the total number of marine mammals drowned and killed in 2015 and 2016. One interaction not recorded in the tables was a Humpback whale that was entangled at a fallow farm in 2016, but as it was safely released it was not included in Table 5.

Use of lights

Underwater lighting at marine finfish farms is used to delay the start of sexual maturation which improves feeding behaviour, growth rates, and the quality of fish flesh. Lights are used within net cages at night from autumn to spring, when there are fewer hours of daylight.

Research indicates that lights do not penetrate more than a few metres beyond marine nets, suggesting that their use has minimal effect on the surrounding environment. However, it is possible that lights may influence the behaviour of wild fish by attracting them to—or causing them to avoid— farm sites.

The licence holder must record and report on the use of lights to promote fish growth. This report is submitted to DFO annually by February 15 and summarizes data for the previous calendar year. For a detailed report on the use of lights by each farm, visit:

DFO audits each report for completeness. See Figure 6 for a summary of the industry’s compliance.

Use of chemicals, feed, and other substances

The Use of Chemicals, Feed, and Other Substances report included information on:

This report was submitted under Pacific Aquaculture Regulations (PAR) until July 2015 when the Aquaculture Activities Regulations (AAR) came into force. See Figure 6 (page 13) for a summary of the industry’s reporting compliance.

Aquaculture activities regulations

The Aquaculture Activities Regulations (AAR) clarify conditions under which aquaculture operators may install, operate, maintain or remove an aquaculture facility, or undertake measures to treat their fish for disease and parasites, as well as deposit organic matter, under sections 35 and 36 of the Fisheries Act. The AAR allow aquaculture operators to conduct these activities with restrictions to avoid, minimize and mitigate any potential detriments to fish and fish habitat. The Regulations also impose specific environmental monitoring and sampling requirements on the industry.

Under the AAR, owners and operators must notify Fisheries and Oceans Canada of:

These Regulations require aquaculture owners and operators to submit annual reports on their activities to the appropriate Regional Aquaculture Management Office no later than April 1 of the following year. The annual AAR report requires the submission of information on:

More information about the AAR and the reporting requirements under the regulation can be found at this link: See Figure 6 (page 13) for a summary of the industry’s reporting compliance.