Laws, regulations and policies
Every aquaculture site in Canada requires that a valid lease and current licence are in place before fish can be put into the water. The lease entitles the owner or operator to use the sea or lake bed for cultivation and/or anchoring of containment arrays (e.g. fish net pens, long lines, beach culture). The licence allows the owner or operator to put fish or shellfish into the facility, subject to conditions that form part of the licence.
There are three principal regulatory regimes for aquaculture in Canada:
- In British Columbia, where the province issues the lease and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) issues the licence and monitors licence conditions;
- In Prince Edward Island, where a management board with members from DFO, the province, and industry issues a lease which has a licence attached; and
- In all other provinces and territories, where provincial authorities issue both the lease and the licence.
Aquaculture facilities and activities in Canada are regulated under a number of acts, legislations, regulations, and programs related to environmental management and shared use of aquatic resources. These instruments are administered by various federal, provincial and territorial bodies including the following:
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Acts and Regulations
Through the Fisheries Act, Fisheries and Oceans Canada regulates the aquaculture industry in order to protect fish and fish habitat. The Act sets out authorities on fisheries licensing, management, protection and pollution prevention.
Ensuring that aquaculture operators meet environmental protection standards helps to protect our aquatic environment and keep marine resources productive and available for the benefit of future generations. Federal fishery officers assess compliance for all national and regional regulations under the Fisheries Act that apply to aquaculture, including the Aquaculture Activities Regulations, and in British Columbia, the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations.
Fisheries Act Regulations
As outlined in the General Aquaculture Regulations Forward Regulatory Plan, amendments are underway to improve aquaculture-related content within existing Fisheries Act regulations.
The following Fisheries Act regulations are relevant for aquaculture.
- Aquaculture Activities Regulations: the Regulations clarify conditions under which aquaculture operators may treat their fish for disease and parasites, deposit organic matter, and manage their facilities under sections 35 and 36 of the Fisheries Act. The Regulations also impose reporting on the environmental performance of the sector as well as specific environmental monitoring and sampling requirements.
- Fishery (General) Regulations: They set out Fisheries and Oceans Canada's authorities for approving the release of fish into fish habitat and the transfer of live fish to fish rearing facilities. They also support the Department's management of aquaculture in British Columbia in conjunction with the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations.
- Marine Mammal Regulations: They set out authorizations for the management and control of aquatic mammals that cause a nuisance to fisheries and aquaculture activities.
- Pacific Aquaculture Regulations: These Regulations set out Fisheries and Oceans Canada's licensing (including licence fees) and management authorities for aquaculture in British Columbia.
- Pacific Fishery Regulations: They set out Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s authorities respecting fishing in the Pacific Ocean and the Province of British Columbia.
- Management of Contaminated Fisheries Regulations: They authorize the Minister to close areas to recreational and commercial fish and shellfish harvests and to take other management measures when biotoxins, bacteria, chemical compounds or other substances are present in fish habitat to a degree that may constitute a danger to public health.
Species at Risk Act
Species at Risk Act sets out authorities to support the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada including fish, reptiles, marine mammals and molluscs. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, as competent Minister under the Species as Risk Act is responsible for aquatic species at risk.
Policies are established to guide aquaculture programs. Key documents include:
- Access to Wild Aquatic Resources as it Applies to Aquaculture.
- Aquaculture Policy Framework.
- Gulf Region Molluscan Spat Collection Operational Policy
- National Code on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms
- Prince Edward Island Leasing Policy
Province of Quebec: Request for an aquaculture site in a marine environment
In the province of Quebec, obtaining an aquaculture site in a marine environment is subject to a joint assessment process between the federal and Quebec provincial government. The assessment will determine the acceptability of the application and identify the authorizations to be issued to the applicant. To this end, a Joint Canada – Quebec guide, Application for or modification to an aquaculture site in a marine environment has been prepared to assist the proponent's efforts to obtain the necessary permits to operate an aquaculture site in marine waters.
- Joint Canada-Québec Guide – Application for or modification to an aquaculture site in a marine environment (PDF, 281.9 KB)
Other federal partners
Many other federal government departments and agencies are involved in the regulation of the aquaculture sector:
Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
- Canadian Environmental Protection Act: provides governance respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
- Feeds Act – sets out authorities governing the manufacture and sale of livestock feeds in Canada to ensure they are safe, effective and labeled appropriately.
- Fish Inspection Act – sets out authorities to regulate food quality, food safety and identity of fish and seafood products that are processed in federally registered establishments or imported into Canada.
- Health of Animals Act – sets out authorities to support the management of animal diseases, including aquatic animals (e.g. finfish and shellfish). The Act is delivered through the National Aquatic Animal Health Program (NAAHP) and Health of Animals Regulations.
- Food and Drugs Act – sets out provisions for the regulation of the production, import, export, and transport across provinces and sale of food, and drugs. It ensures that products are safe for people and animals, that their ingredients are disclosed and that drugs are effective. If the quantity of a drug manufactured or imported into Canada is sufficient, an environmental review is required under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act’s New Substance Notification Regulations.
- Veterinary Drug Directorate - Through the Veterinary Drugs Directorate, Health Canada evaluates and monitors the safety, quality and effectiveness, sets standards and promotes the prudent use of veterinary drugs administered to food-producing animals.
Pest Management Regulatory Agency
- Pest Control Products Act – sets out provisions for the regulation and registration of pest control products to ensure that pesticide and related products are safe for people, and animals, efficacious and of value, and that the environment is protected when products are used.
- Canada Shipping Act – amongst others, sets out provisions for the regulation of vessel-related pollution prevention and response, vessel requirements and inspections, and vessel personnel and safety.
- Navigation Protection Act – sets out provisions for the protection of the public right of navigation, ensuring infrastructure and other works in navigable waterways are appropriately reviewed and regulated. Recognizing the variety of users of open water, Transport Canada may require aquaculture operators to obtain a Navigation Protection Act permit.
Provinces and Territories Acts and Regulations
Provincial and Territorial Acts and Regulations
With the exception of British Columbia, Canada’s provinces and territories play an essential role in approving site applications, regulating operations and fostering industry development. The provinces have major powers and responsibilities related to aquaculture management and development.
Learn more about how provinces and territories manage aquaculture:
- Alberta Agriculture and Forestry
- British Columbia - Ministry of Agriculture
- Province of Manitoba – Conservation and Climate
- New Brunswick – Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries
- Newfoundland and Labrador - Fisheries, Forestry and Aquaculture
- Nova Scotia – Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture
- Ontario – Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
- Prince Edward Island – Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
- Québec – Agriculture, Pêcheries et Alimentation (available in French only)
- Saskatchewan – Department of Environment
- Yukon – Department of Environment
Learn more about provinces and territories, permits, leases and licences.
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