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

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

DFO is committed to a regulatory approach that ensures the aquaculture industry operates sustainably and with minimal impacts to wild fish stocks. Prior to 2015, all marine finfish licences were licensed on an annual basis. As of 2015, marine finfish facilities outside of the Discovery Islands are eligible for a six-year licence term. Facilities in the Discovery Islands (Fish Health Zone 3.2) are not eligible for a multi-year licence and licence holders must apply to have these licences renewed each year.

The Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard may revise the licence conditions at any time during the licence term if there are conservation concerns or in response to legislative changes. The inspection component of the field program can change if there is a change in licence conditions or monitoring priorities.

Monitoring and audits: Fish health

Fish health management plans

Aquaculture companies are required to regularly report to DFO on the health of their stocks, and any treatments they have used. These reports are reviewed by DFO veterinarians to assess whether appropriate measures are being taken and to detect any potentially serious diseases as early as possible.

DFO fish health professionals also inspect sites and ensure that aquaculture licence holders farming salmon are complying with their Health Management Plans (HMPs), or in the case of nonsalmonid facilities, their Carcass Management Plans (CMPs). The methods and protocols for this monitoring can be found at www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/aquaculture/reporting-rapports/health-sante/index-eng.html.

At active salmon farms, DFO staff conduct fish health and sea lice audits and inspections throughout the year to check that the farmed fish are healthy and that the facility’s HMP is being followed.

During on-site fish health inspections, DFO staff check the following:

During inspections, DFO staff collect recently dead (“silver”) carcasses to audit and compare the reports that are submitted by aquaculture companies each calendar quarter. For example, 820 carcasses were sampled in 2015 and 845 were sampled in 2016.

Fish health in 2015

Figure 7 summarizes the results of Fish Health Management Plan (HMP) inspections by DFO in 2015. A total of 124 HMP inspections were completed. No Carcass Management Plan (CMP) inspections were conducted.

DFO observed no deficiencies in 78 of the 124 HMP visits in 2015. A total of 3544 HMP components were assessed during the 124 HMP inspections and 73 deficiencies were observed. The most frequently observed deficiencies included: carcass retrieval protocol or record keeping needs improvement, lice protocol or lice records as per the conditions of licence needs improvement, and mooring signage needs improvement.

Figure 7. DFO Fish Health Management Plan Inspections at Salmon Aquaculture Facilities in BC, 2015
Figure 7. DFO Fish Health Management Plan Inspections at Salmon Aquaculture Facilities in BC, 2015 - Table version
Number of HMP components assessed 3544
Number of deficiencies observed 73

Deficiencies observed

Fish health in 2016

Figure 8 summarizes the results of the Fish Health Management Plan inspections by DFO in 2016. A total of 118 HMP inspections were completed and no CMP inspections were conducted.

DFO observed no deficiencies in 74 of the 118 HMP visits in 2016. A total of 3043 HMP components were assessed during the 118 HMP inspections and 59 deficiencies were observed. The most frequently observed deficiencies included: carcass retrieval protocol or record keeping needs improvement, disease contingency or mass mortality information or records needs improvement, and lice protocol or lice records as per the conditions of licence needs improvement.

Figure 8. DFO Fish Health Management Plan Inspections at Salmon Aquaculture Facilities in BC, 2016
Figure 8. DFO Fish Health Management Plan Inspections at Salmon Aquaculture Facilities in BC, 2016 - Table version
Number of HMP components assessed 3043
Number of deficiencies observed 59

Deficiencies observed

Sea Lice

Licence holders must count sea lice at active Atlantic salmon facilities throughout the year subject to a few exceptions outlined in the conditions of licence. Sampling for sea lice occurs monthly from July 1 to February 28, and every two weeks from March 1 to June 30 when wild salmon smolts outmigrate. The licence holder must report to DFO within seven days if the average number of motile Lepeophtheirus salmonis (a species of sea lice) exceeds three motiles per fish during the wild salmon outmigration period.

Pacific salmon must be monitored for sea lice on a quarterly basis; observations must be recorded and made available to a Fishery Officer or Fishery Guardian for inspection. If the average number of motile sea lice exceeds three lice per cultivated Pacific salmon, the licence holder must notify the Department within seven days of discovery.

Sablefish facilities do not require sea lice monitoring as there is evidence that these fish do not carry sea lice.

DFO performs sea lice counts at selected active Atlantic salmon farms to assess industry’s sea lice counting procedures. DFO also audits records to verify the accuracy of industry reporting.

At certain times, counting sea lice may be risky or harmful to farmed fish because some natural phenomena, including algal blooms and low dissolved oxygen (hypoxia), can stress or kill fish. During these natural events, handling of farmed fish to perform sea lice counts is curtailed. All possible effort is made by DFO biologists to reschedule these audits.

Although various species and life stages of lice are counted, management actions are only required when the motile Lepeophtheirus salmonis threshold has been exceeded at a farm. Figure 9 below illustrates the percentage of sites where the average number of motile Lepeophtheirus salmonis lice per fish exceeded the threshold, as reported by industry.

Figure 9: Industry’s Counts of Motile Sea Lice Lepeophtheirus salmonis between March and June, 2015-2016
Figure 9: Industry’s Counts of Motile Sea Lice Lepeophtheirus salmonis between March and June, 2015-2016 - Table version
  2015 2016
March April May June March April May June
% facilities below threshold 38 44 42 38 42 40 45 44
% facilities exceeding threshold 12 12 9 11 2 6 2 4

In 2015, during the wild salmon outmigration period from March 1 to June 30, licence holders conducted 206 sea lice counts at active farms and reported that an average of 78.6% of counts were below the management threshold of three motile lice per fish. In 2016, licence holders conducted 185 sea lice counts with an average of 95.8% of counts below the sea lice threshold.

DFO audited 31 farms in 2015 and 24 farms in 2016. Approximately 25% of the farms were audited during the outmigration period in select fish health zones. DFO’s audit results can differ from industry’s results since fish are not sampled at the same time, and sea lice levels can fluctuate over time. Audit count agreement is evaluated statistically and agreement between DFO and industry’s results are about 93%.

Higher than normal sea lice abundance in 2015 in some areas was associated with a warm and dry fall and winter in 2014/2015. Under these conditions, lice management strategies effective in normal years failed to keep abundance below threshold during the outmigration period. As the figure demonstrates, management strategies were effective again in 2016. DFO and the industry both recognized that it was an anomalous year, and saw that sea lice abundance returned to a normal level in 2016.

More detailed monitoring results can be found on DFO’s website: www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/aquaculture/protect-protege/parasites-eng.html.

Fish Mortality

Licence holders are required to report on the numbers and causes of fish deaths at aquaculture facilities. Low levels of mortality normally occur in any large population of animals. A Mortality by Category report describes the number of dead fish within specified mortality categories at the farm and must be submitted quarterly to DFO. This report also lists any therapeutants, pest control products or anaesthetics used to treat the cultured fish during that quarter. The licence holder must send an Urgent Notification to DFO within 24 hours of discovering a “mortality event” as defined by the licence conditionsFootnote 1. This notification provides as much detail as possible to DFO about the nature and extent of the event. After the Urgent Notification, a detailed report with information on the total weight of dead fish (or percentage of the population), number of dead fish, and cause of the mortality event must be submitted within ten days. For events that persist, updated reports must be submitted every ten days until mortality levels return to normal.

Table 1 summarizes the number of reports and the cause of the mortality event reported by industry. In 2015 and 2016, the most common causes of mortality events were harmful algal blooms and low dissolved oxygen. During this two year period, 49 reported mortality events were attributed to those causes. During the same period, causes such as non-infectious disease, bacterial disease, other environmental conditions, maturation and mechanical causes accounted for the other 13 mortality events.

Table 1. Event-based Report – Mortality Events
Table 1. Event-based Report – Mortality Events - Table version
Year Number of Events Type and Number of Reported Mortality Events
2015 27 Harmful algae (8)
Low dissolved oxygen (15)
Other environmental (2)
Maturation (2)
2016 35 Harmful algae (10)
Low dissolved oxygen (16)
Non-infectious disease (2)
Bacterial disease (3)
Other environmental (2)
Maturation (1)
Mechanical (1)