Archived - Government Response - Aquaculture in Canada's Atlantic and Pacific Regions

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Fisheries & Oceans Response to the Interim Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries Entitled "Aquaculture in Canada's Atlantic and Pacific Regions"

Recommendation 1

Given the shared jurisdictional nature of aquaculture in Canada, the Committee recommends that the Government of Canada and the provincial and territorial governments, and other appropriate jurisdictions, increase their efforts to work collaboratively toward clarifying their respective roles and responsibilities in the regulation of the sector.

Departmental Response

Jurisdictional responsibilities for development and regulation of the aquaculture industry within Canada are shared between the federal government and the provinces and territories. To distinguish federal-territorial/provincial roles with respect to aquaculture, the federal government has entered into a number of bilateral Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the coastal provinces since the late 1980s. These MOUs are designed to delineate responsibility, avoid duplication, and improve support for the industry. They enunciate the federal government's aquaculture responsibilities, being scientific research, fish health and inspection, and protection of fish and fish habitat. The territories/provinces' responsibilities include promotion, development and regulation.

As well, the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers (CCFAM), which includes federal, provincial and territorial Ministers, has worked since the 1999 signing of the Agreement On Interjurisdictional Cooperation With Respect To Fisheries And Aquaculture to identify and resolve harmonization issues. The CCFAM Task Group on Aquaculture is seeking to develop a seamless approach to aquaculture development. The CCFAM Task Group on Aquaculture 2001-2002 Workplan includes:

To continue the momentum, during its September 2001 meeting, the CCFAM also recommended that outstanding items from the 2000-2001 workplan (being Industry Code of Conduct, Aquatic Animal Health, Service Standards, and Federal-Provincial Harmonization) continue to be followed in 2001-2002.

Additionally, in September 2001 the CCFAM officially approved the implementation of the National Code of Conduct on Introductions and Transfers of Aquatic Organisms to ensure that decisions to transfer aquatic organisms from one body of water to another are based on consistent and rigorous scientific criteria across Canada. The code recognizes the need for socio-economic analysis as part of the overall decision-making process. Committees have been established in each province and territory and a registry put in place to prepare annual summaries of introductions and transfers. The Code, developed under the leadership of Saskatchewan, is consistent with Canada's commitments under the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and follows several years of consultation with all provinces and territories as well as industry. The CCFAM has directed the task group on introductions and transfers to review the implementation of the Code after 18 months and report back on recommendations for improving the Code.

Further to initiatives being pursued through the CCFAM and various MOUs, DFO's recently released Aquaculture Policy Framework commits the Department, as the lead federal agency for aquaculture, to work with other federal departments and with provincial and territorial governments to coordinate policy development, integrate regulatory frameworks, and improve service delivery.

On January 31, 2001 the Government of British Columbia announced it would begin accepting applications for new finfish aquaculture sites once its regulatory framework is finalized. DFO is working with the Province on the development of a joint management plan that will provide a coordinated and compatible approach on standards, reporting and approvals for the industry. Both governments are also committed to cooperating on enforcement and compliance activities in order to ensure that they are both effective and efficient.

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that the Auditor General of Canada undertake a comprehensive audit in the Atlantic region, similar to that conducted last year in the Pacific region, to determine whether the DFO is meeting its legislative obligations under sections 35 and 36 of the Fisheries Act, and its obligations under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act when carrying out environmental reviews of aquaculture project proposals.

Departmental Response

With regard to the Auditor General's report, the Auditor General recommended that DFO further clarify the application of sections 35 and 36 of the Fisheries Act to aquaculture operations, strengthen its capacity to better monitor and enforce its regulatory responsibilities, identify areas of priority research to be able to make informed decisions and increase resources dedicated to the Atlantic Salmon Watch Program. The Department has taken the Auditor General's recommendations seriously and is taking the necessary action to address the points raised in both the Pacific Region and on a national basis, where appropriate.

The Auditor General's report provides several recommendations that are consistent with the department's action and direction over the next five years. The investment of $75M over five years in a Program for Sustainable Aquaculture will enhance the sustainable development of Canada's aquaculture industry. Acknowledging the fact that the department must direct greater resources toward fulfilling its regulatory responsibilities, concrete steps were undertaken to ensure responsibilities are met with respect to Marine Safety, Habitat Management and Policy and Program Coherence. These steps have included significant increases in resourcing levels, organizational change at both headquarters and in the regions, and the development and implementation of clearly defined operational policies for DFO staff and stakeholders alike.

As part of the of the Program for Sustainable Aquaculture, DFO has committed $22.5M (over five years) to address policy and regulatory issues to ensure that aquaculture operations are subject to appropriate environmental and public safety regulations. DFO has developed operational policies for each of its regulatory responsibilities relating to aquaculture to clarify information requirements and the manner by which DFO administers its regulatory responsibilities. These will also contribute to transparency and effectiveness in decision-making resulting in greater consistency in application across regions.

This is providing the industry with an enabling environment and a clear set of rules within which to operate. This is also helping to further increase public confidence in aquaculture and will also encourage private investment in the industry.

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that the Minister of the DFO gives due consideration to the Department's legislative mandate for wild fish and fish habitat when responding to recommendations made by the Commissioner for Aquaculture Development.

Departmental Response

The regulatory role is an important part of DFO's mandate. The Department acknowledges the importance of meeting its responsibilities under the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). This includes ensuring that aquaculture facilities are in compliance with the habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act and that DFO conducts CEAA environmental assessments for all projects requiring specific approvals under its legislation.

DFO takes these responsibilities seriously and has ensured that they are not compromised in responding to the recommendations made by the Commissioner for Aquaculture Development. Indeed, DFO's recently published Aquaculture Policy Framework and the guidelines regarding the application of its regulatory responsibilities pursuant to the Fisheries Act, the NWPA and CEAA are recent and clear examples of the balanced approach DFO is pursuing in support of sustainable aquaculture and the importance it continues to place on the protection of fish and fish habitat.

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that before the recommendations and action plan outlined in the report of the Commissioner for Aquaculture Development are implemented, those recommendations be the focus of public consultation with all users of aquatic marine resources.

Departmental Response

It is important to note that consultations which led to the development of the Federal Aquaculture Development Strategy, as well as the June 1999 Ministerial Roundtable on Aquaculture, and the legislative and regulatory review conducted by the Commissioner for Aquaculture Development, have all informed DFO's Aquaculture Action Plan. This plan represents a balanced approach, having heard the various perspectives concerning Aquaculture.

DFO's recently released Aquaculture Policy Framework commits the Department to communicate with Canadians and be informed by their views on issues pertaining to aquaculture. As such, DFO is working with industry and the provinces to communicate with the Canadians by providing sound information regarding human health, environmental protection and the socio-economic benefits associated with aquaculture production. DFO carefully considers all correspondence it receives on matters relating to aquaculture and consults on aspects of DFO's Aquaculture Action Plan where appropriate.

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends, as general principles on siting, that:

  1. The federal government promote the development of the aquaculture industry in those areas where the potential environmental risks are lowest, where there is community acceptance, and where the long-term economic benefits to coastal communities are reasonably assured; 
  2. Grow-out sites for salmonid fish be prohibited near migratory routes as well as near rivers and streams that support wild salmon stocks; 
  3. When considering aquaculture lease site applications, government develop policies and measures to ensure that the decision-making process is open, transparent and fair. Ideally, local or municipal advisory committees - comprising a balanced cross-section of local interests and stakeholders - should be established to ensure full, meaningful and effective public participation and input in siting decisions; and 
  4. The possible economic opportunities of alternative uses of the shoreline are taken into account. 

Departmental Response

Provincial governments (with the exception of Prince Edward Island) are the lead agencies with respect to the granting of proprietary rights for leases and site allocation. 

The federal government plays an important role with regard to siting in terms of research, navigation, environmental assessments, and giving advice on conflicts in interactions between aquaculture and the wild fishery.

One of the major impediments to the growth of the industry at present is the inability to gain community acceptance of the industry and develop new sites. Both levels of government are working closely together to ensure that their respective processes for leasing and approval of new sites are harmonized and conducted in an efficient, fair and science-based fashion.

DFO has been proactive in completing a scientific review of siting criteria on the West Coast. In British Columbia, the Department, province and industry established a mechanism to provide advice on research priorities as well as a literature-review process. Cost-sharing (between the Department, Province and industry) and use of independent research organizations is underway via the Technical Advisory Group in the Pacific Region. These initiatives, and a broad application of the risk management approach to fish management as a whole, will continue to ensure that the proper protection of fish and fish habitat takes priority.

Siting guidelines are designed to provide a reasonable level of environmental protection, including protection against damage to all marine species and ocean habitat. In the last decade DFO spent approximately $3.4 M on research related to the environmental impacts of aquaculture, primarily near or under finfish net-cages. With this research, DFO better characterized the nature and extent of the near-field impacts from wastes released by the aquaculture industry, including organic matter and chemicals. Aquaculturists and regulatory agencies use these findings to inform decision-making on industry practices and regulatory decisions, including siting, licensing, evaluation of chemicals and feeding regime. 

Far-field and cumulative impacts are not as well known, and improved models are required to assess the impacts of aquaculture resulting from dispersal of wastes away from aquaculture sites, the potential and rate of recovery under finfish aquaculture sites after fallowing, and the fate and effects of chemicals related to finfish aquaculture. In addition, an East Coast team is studying nutrient and organic matter fluxes in coastal inlets influenced by agriculture and shellfish culture, with a focus on Tracadie Bay, Prince Edward Island. The siting guidelines will continue to be reviewed in light of new knowledge generated by DFO and other research organizations.

Integrated Management (IM) is a key component of Canada's Oceans Strategy. Through this strategy, DFO has committed to involving all interested aquatic resource users in the development of large-scale and local IM plans for Canada's Oceans. In addition to ensuring that aquaculture develops on an even footing with other legitimate uses of Canada's aquatic resources, active participation in IM will ensure that the use of aquatic resources takes into consideration the health and viability of ecosystems, thereby contributing to the long-term viability of aquaculture development.

In relation to this, DFO's recently released Aquaculture Policy Framework commits the Department toward addressing issues of public concern in a fair and transparent manner, based on science and risk-management approaches endorsed by the Government of Canada. Within the context of ecosystem-based and integrated management, DFO will encourage provincial and territorial governments, the aquaculture industry, communities and other stakeholders to begin working together to identify regional aquaculture growth objectives and to select biophysically and socially suitable areas for aquaculture development.

DFO is actively working with its partners to encourage transparency and the adoption of a more proactively planned and integrated approach for marine and freshwater aquaculture that builds on best practices and is consistent with the planning approach advanced in Canada's Oceans Strategy and the Oceans Act. Federal and provincial governments are discussing these approaches through the CCFAM in order to determine the best use of aquatic space and resources.

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that, in developing a national code for sustainable aquaculture, government and industry adhere to the principles and standards for aquaculture set out in Articles 9.1, 9.2, 9.3 and 9.4 of the 1995 United Nations FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Departmental Response

The Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance (CAIA), under the auspices of the CCFAM, is currently developing a national code for sustainable aquaculture. Industry efforts in this regard are striving toward ensuring consistency with generally accepted international standards in this area. As well, the industry has put in place regional codes of practice that address environmental management, and escape management and prevention.

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends, on a priority basis, that the federal government invests more research resources to:

  1. determine the assimilative capacities of aquatic ecosystems in areas and regions where salmonid aquaculture is taking place, or may in future take place. Such research is needed to ensure that the industry remains within ecological limits and that fish habitat and the sustainability of the wild fishery are not compromised. At present, the cumulative impacts of aquaculture on ecosystems where the majority of farmed salmon originates is unknown; 
  2. assess the presence of non-indigenous salmonid populations on both coasts of Canada, and their ecological interactions and impacts; 
  3. determine the probability of disease and parasite transfer between cultured salmon and wild fish; 
  4. determine the uptake in the food chain of therapeutants and other substances found beneath or near salmonid net-cage sites; and 
  5. reduce the environmental impact of finfish aquaculture, such as the development of new feeds that are environmentally friendly. 

Departmental Response

New knowledge to improve risk identification of aquaculture relative to fish, fish habitat and marine ecosystems will be available through ongoing research projects funded under DFO's Environmental Science Strategic Research Fund and Program for Sustainable Aquaculture.

For example, DFO examines the environmental effects of aquaculture resulting from the dispersal of wastes away from aquaculture sites, and particularly the influence of nutrient and organic enrichment on the assimilative capacity of three coastal inlet systems (Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick; Broughton Archipelago, British Columbia; Bay D'Espoir, Newfoundland).

DFO is leading a review of ecosystem impacts of aquaculture in the freshwater and marine environment. The science review is aimed at documenting the state-of-knowledge on aquaculture impacts, identifying critical knowledge gaps related to protection and conservation of fish and fish habitat, the conservation of marine ecosystems and establishing research priorities.

DFO regularly collects data through its extensive stock assessment work and the Atlantic Salmon Watch Program (ASWP). Notably, the First Nations Atlantic Salmon Watch Program (FNASWP), a sub-program of the ASWP, carried out one hundred and three surveys from September through to December 2001. The surveys were conducted on forty-nine different river systems, covering over 230 kilometers. This program marked the most extensive effort to date to enumerate escaped Atlantic salmon in British Columbia. Of 350,000 salmonids counted during the surveys, only two were Atlantic salmon.

Federal funding and effort increased substantially in 2000, and DFO, the province and industry have steadily increased monitoring over the last three years. Recent investments through the Program for Sustainable Aquaculture demonstrate DFO's commitment to increase efforts to further strengthen programs for monitoring. As well, DFO and its partners will continue to expand ASWP through directed public education efforts to recreational and commercial fishers through trade shows, workshops and bilateral meetings.

DFO is also leading an initiative with the provinces and industry to develop a comprehensive National Aquatic Animal Health Program (NAAHP). The program will have 3 elements: strengthened legislation, regulation and programs for disease control and risk management; increased knowledge and infrastructure to improve fish health, diagnostic methods and understanding of disease distribution; and programs to respond to exotic and endemic diseases of concern.

The proposed NAAHP will address the issue of parasitic transfer, such as sea lice, through provincial/industry established fish health management plans and industry codes of conduct that will provide standards such as sea lice density numbers at which treatment must occur.

Section 36 of the Fisheries Act prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances (including effluent) in waters frequented by fish. There is uncertainty as to whether the various substances used or deposited by aquaculture operators are deleterious or not, leading to uncertainty over the potential for contravention of and prosecution under Section 36 of the Fisheries Act. DFO, in partnership with Environment Canada, is currently studying the scope, content and desirability of Section 36 regulations for aquaculture.

The risks of contamination from deleterious substances are reduced by having strict criteria for the allocation of sites, by regularly monitoring the sites, by implementing strong regulations governing pesticide safety and use, and by adopting good management practices, including the use of fallowing (the practice of leaving ground unfarmed or untouched/unused to give a recovery period). The industry has also adopted more nutritionally balanced, more palatable and better digestible feed, and new technologies to reduce waste discharges from feeding.

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that industry consideration be given to the identification and labeling of aquaculture products.

Departmental Response

Much of the Aquaculture industry within Canada already labels its packaged products to indicate a cultured origin.

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends that the DFO and the Department's provincial counterparts support and promote initiatives aimed at enhancing or "sea ranching" indigenous species of shellfish, such as scallops. The Department should provide the sector with an appropriate and supportive policy and regulatory framework.

Departmental Response

The Commissioner for Aquaculture Development identifies support for initiatives aimed at promoting and enhancing sea-ranching as one of the recommendations outlined in the recently released regulatory and legal review of aquaculture. DFO will take sea ranching into account as it assesses future options for strategic support of the Canadian aquaculture sector.

Recommendation 10

The Committee recommends that, in terms of government financial support, shellfish aquaculture be given high priority.

Departmental Response

Industry support programs are an integral part of DFO's Aquaculture Action Plan. In this regard, DFO will take under consideration shellfish aquaculture as it considers options for future programming in this area. In addition, through the Program for Sustainable Aquaculture, DFO has increased R&D capacity and resources in the area of shellfish aquaculture through funding under Biological Sciences and greatly enhanced resources for the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program.

Recommendation 11

The Committee recommends that the federal government fund multi-year research aimed at diversifying the species mix in aquaculture. As the main beneficiary, the aquaculture industry should share in the effort and cost of this research.

Departmental Response

As part of the Program for Sustainable Aquaculture, the $20M Aquaculture Collaborative Research and Development Program (ACRDP) has been established to provide funds for research and development projects that are proposed and jointly funded by the aquaculture industry. The ACRDP will increase funding available for essential research by levering investment from the aquaculture sector, and in some instances from the provinces. Funded projects could include research to generate knowledge on new species such as, but not limited to, sea urchins, sablefish and haddock.

Recommendation 12

The Committee recommends that the federal government play a leadership role in research and development by supporting and funding initiatives aimed at developing closed containment finfish-rearing technologies, both land-based and in marine waters.

Departmental Response

There are potential benefits from closed-containment systems, however, there are no economically viable systems at this time. While some prototypes are currently available, the technical and economic challenges related to developing such systems are considerable and will require significant advances in technology.

DFO has supported, and continues to support, initiatives to develop this and other green technologies that will improve containment for farmed fish. In this regard, the ACRDP is intended for industry-driven projects, including research and development related to enhancing the environmental performance of aquaculture.

The B.C. Government is also involved in the funding of alternate pilot projects. DFO officials in Pacific Region have been involved with the review of those projects and will participate in their assessment. Both of these initiatives can contribute to the development and testing of closed containment systems.

Recommendation 13

The Committee recommends that the commercial cultivation of genetically modified (transgenic) fish and shellfish for human consumption continue to be prohibited in Canada, and that research on them continues to be restricted to secure self-contained, land-based facilities.

Departmental Response

No genetically modified fish are being grown in netpens in Canada. Both government and the aquaculture industry are well aware that this is a sensitive issue for many Canadians. DFO's own non-commercial transgenic research conducted in the West Vancouver Laboratory is focused on understanding and forecasting the potential impact of transgenic technology. DFO will use the knowledge as the basis for future regulations under the Fisheries Act on transgenic organisms.

DFO is presently considering regulatory options for fish that are products of Biotechnology. Proposed regulations would cover, in part, the manufacturing and research aspects of transgenic fish. Transgenic fish as a food source would fall under the Novel Food Regulations of Health Canada. 

Until such regulatory mechanisms come into effect, all applications for research or commercial development of transgenic fish will be assessed under the New Substance Notification Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and be subject to the time provisions of these regulations. The environmental assessment would be covered with DFO expertise.

Recommendation 14

The Committee recommends that the DFO define the "precautionary approach" as it pertains to aquaculture, and issue a written public statement on how the precautionary approach is being applied to the aquaculture sector.

Departmental Response

DFO's decisions regarding aquaculture development are based on sound science and risk management approaches endorsed by the Government of Canada, including the precautionary approach. DFO recognizes the precautionary approach as a distinctive approach to managing risks of serious or irreversible harm where there is significant scientific uncertainty. Further, it recognizes that a lack of scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. DFO's use of the precautionary approach in the context of aquaculture development is informed by the legislative requirements of the Oceans Act and federal direction regarding risk management and the application of the precautionary approach.

A written public statement with respect to aquaculture in the context of the precautionary approach is provided in the recently released DFO Aquaculture Policy Framework. More work is also being done in this area to give further operational guidance on this issue.