Role of the Federal Government
The primary mandate of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (known as DFO) is the conservation, protection, health and sustainable use of aquatic ecosystems including wild fish populations. It is DFO’s responsibility to ensure aquaculture does not negatively impact wild fish populations.
At the same time, the department has a politically driven mandate as the leading federal advocate for the aquaculture industry, devoting significant taxpayer dollars to both the promotion of fish and shellfish farming, as well as science undertaken in the interests of the industry (e.g.: growth and feed conversion rates, treatment of disease and parasites on farmed fish). This has resulted in a clear conflict within the department.
On December 18, 2010, as a result of the BC Supreme Court’s Hinkson decision, DFO assumed the management of aquaculture in BC, formerly regulated by the provincial government. In preparation for the change in jurisdiction, DFO developed new Pacific Aquaculture Regulations. CAAR initially hoped that the department would take this opportunity to draft regulations that would prioritize their primary mandate and protect the health of Canada’s wild fish stocks and the ecosystems that support them from the impacts of open net-cage salmon farming. However, the new aquaculture regulations lean more towards serving DFO’s political and economic mandate by creating conditions that could allow for net-cage salmon aquaculture expansion while reducing assessments of the environmental effects of fish farming.
Pacific Aquaculture Regulations
The federal Pacific Aquaculture Regulations bring some areas of improvement over the previous Provincial regime but CAAR has major concerns around the transparency of industry reporting and lack of clarity concerning possible exemption from habitat destruction provisions of the Fisheries Act.
The new regulations state that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Minister may require the industry to publicly report fish health data therefore framing transparency as optional. Given the long-standing struggle on the part of conservation groups to obtain fish health data in order to fully assess net-cage impacts, it’s disturbing to see that DFO didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to entrench transparency into the new regulations. While DFO bureaucrats are promising increased transparency the absence of a clear mandate in the regulations is a serious omission.
Also of great concern is a possible exemption of aquaculture facilities from authorizations under the Fisheries Act for Harmful Alteration, Disruption or Destruction (HADD) of fish habitat. These HADD Authorizations were a key element in DFO’s “no net-loss policy” brought in more than two decades ago to prevent the loss of wild fish habitat.
Finally, the biggest problem with the new regulations is that they allow for the ongoing use of net-cage salmon farms.
DFO Policy Fails to Address Negative Impacts of the Net-cage Industry
Lack of a Coast-wide Sea Lice Monitoring Plan
DFO’s aquaculture policy fails to include a mandatory coast-wide sea lice monitoring program to evaluate the cumulative impact net-cage farms are having on wild salmon populations and the marine environment. In an attempt to begin gathering at least some of the data required to research the interactions between farmed and wild salmon, member groups of CAAR and a number of other stakeholders initiated a multi-year sea lice monitoring and research program in the Broughton Archipelago. The other stakeholders include the three salmon farming producers in the Broughton Archipelago (Marine Harvest Canada, Mainstream Canada and Grieg Seafood), researchers from the University of Otago (Dr. Marty Krkošek) and DFO scientists – all under the guidance of Dr. Crawford Revie (University of Prince Edward Island).
This Broughton Area Monitoring Plan (BAMP) is the first program of its kind in BC to begin looking at these farmed-wild salmon interactions in this collaborative way. However, a voluntary program like BAMP which is jointly funded by all partners and which covers a relatively small geographic area, does not address the bigger issue of evaluating coast-wide cumulative impacts of net-cage farms.
The absence of a mandatory, industry-funded, coast-wide sea lice monitoring program within DFO policy illustrates the minimal expense and effort required of the salmon farming industry to measure and report their environmental impacts whilst operating in our coastal waters.
Denial of Science
While governments in Europe (with long experience in salmon farming) openly and frankly acknowledge that sea lice breed in open net-cage salmon farms and have negative impacts on wild fish, the government of Canada currently fights to deny, refute and debate the growing global weight of scientific evidence confirming the risks.
While questioning peer-reviewed and published studies by academics and independent scientists, DFO generally does not release their own studies or methodology to interested citizens and scientists, frequently opts not to subject them to external peer-review and seldom publishes, in reputable scientific journals, any information on the issue.
Those few studies that have been published by DFO researchers on the question of sea lice often conclude there are no impacts from the farms. The study design, however, is too often not relevant to the issue in question. For example, DFO studied lice on adult salmon when the acknowledged threat is to tiny juvenile wild salmon.
Optional transparency and lack of clarity around environmental assessments in the new regulations coupled with weak policies and the denial of negative impacts on wild fish as a result of net-cage fish farms reveals a department that continues to enable an unsustainable industry to externalize their massive environmental and social impacts.
Call on your MP to urge Canada’s federal government to:
- acknowledge the scientific evidence that links net-cage salmon farms to the decline of wild fish stocks.
- ensure DFO fulfills its primary mandate to protect oceans and fisheries.
- place a moratorium on any new open net-cage salmon farms in British Columbia.
- provide emergency protection for wild salmon through the removal of farms on wild salmon out-migration routes (beginning with the Wild Salmon Narrows in the Northern Georgia Strait) and a moratorium on increases in total production.
- allocate significant funds to facilitate the development of closed containment aquaculture systems, foster pilot projects and support the transition from net-cage salmon farming to closed containment.