Draft Pacific Aquaculture Regulations
Since salmon farms first appeared on the BC coast in the 1980s, they have been regulated by the provincial government. In September 2009, the provincial government relinquished control and management of marine fin-fish aquaculture to the federal government as a result of the BC Supreme Court's Hinkson decision.
As part of the process of taking over jurisdiction, Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) has drafted new federal regulations for the management of aquaculture in BC. This draft is now available for public review and comment until September 8, 2010.
The proposed regulations would not improve the way open net-cage salmon aquaculture is being practiced in British Columbia in any appreciable way. We initially hoped that the federal government would take its responsibility to protect Canada's wild fish stocks and the ecosystems that support them more seriously, but it is our opinion that they have failed to do so. In fact, the proposed regulations, with a newly streamlined licensing process, would allow for renewed expansion of the net-cage industry.
The proposed regulations contain language suggesting the management of aquaculture in BC will be more transparent, effective and efficient, but most of the regulation would be done through conditions that the Minister of Fisheries & Oceans may attach to individual licenses. This leaves us in the dark as to what would be required of a facility until we actually see the license.
DFO cites "building public confidence through the proper management of aquaculture, particularly with respect to protection and conservation of fish and fish habitat, in an open and transparent manner" as an objective of the proposed regulations - yet the regulations as laid out are too vague to meet that objective at this point.
Problems with the Proposed Regulations
- Protecting wild salmon and habitat
The proposed regulations do not prioritize DFO's primary mandate to protect fish and fish habitat as the foundation for the management of sustainable aquaculture.
- Environmental standards
The standards for environmental degradation in the proposed regulations are the same as those considered acceptable by current licensing. The proposed regulations do not require any improvement in environmental protection from the impacts of the open net-cages.
- Environmental monitoring
The new regulations call for environmental monitoring but DFO is unclear about who will bear the cost. This is because DFO is currently not proposing to include a fee structure in the regulations. Further analysis and consultation will be conducted with the aim of including a fee structure sometime in the future but otherwise it's business as usual for the farms and any increase in costs for licensing and environmental monitoring would be borne by the taxpayer.
- Public disclosure and transparency
Reporting requirements will be included as a license condition. These conditions are intended to create more public accountability in the industry thereby increasing public confidence in the management of the industry. However, DFO asserts that there may be substantive time-lags on the release of information to the public that may be considered to be proprietary in nature (e.g. "owned by the company") or that may be considered to be harmful to the interests of the company.
While the proposed regulations will allow for the establishment of "independent" observers at aquaculture facilities similar to those that are currently employed on fishing vessels, there is no definitive statement about how or when these observers would actually be engaged.
It is also not clear if public notification would be required during drug treatments at individual farm sites.
- Compliance and enforcement
The proposed regulations promise more and tougher enforcement. Under provincial regulations there were monetary fines and penalties for non-compliance for such activities as letting fish escape or failing to have a fish health management plan. However, there are no details given about how non-compliance would be assessed under the new regulations.
- Environmental assessment
Aquaculture operations in BC were required to undergo an Environmental Assessment pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) because they required an authorization under the federal Fisheries Act to allow for harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat (HADDs). Under the proposed new licensing scheme this would no longer be the case. HADDs will be authorized in such a way as to avoid triggering the CEAA. There would no opportunity for public comment as there would be no provision for public input on licenses or license conditions. Further, as farms grow larger both in number or size, there would be no mechanism in place to assess the cumulative environmental implications of this under the proposed regulatory regime, or opportunity for public input.
There is no evidence that open net-cage aquaculture regulations in any current form adequately protect wild fish, including those of the EU which are stronger. It is disappointing that DFO has not prioritized its mandate to protect wild fish and is instead creating the conditions that allow for net-cage salmon aquaculture expansion rather than encouraging the transition to closed containment technology.