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POFO - Standing Committee

Fisheries and Oceans


Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on 
Fisheries and Oceans

Issue 15 - Evidence - May 7, 2013

OTTAWA, Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans met this day at 6:30 p.m. to study the regulation of aquaculture in Canada and future prospects for the industry.

Senator Fabian Manning (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: I want to sincerely apologize to our witnesses. It is beyond our control and we have to stay sitting until we are told to stand up; we cannot help that. In the essence of time, our witnesses have to leave. I wanted to have the opportunity to see them, because this is the beginning of our study into the aquaculture industry. I wanted to have an opportunity for them to at least make a presentation this evening. I understand that we have the presentation in print in both official languages and it will be emailed to all members tomorrow. If senators do not have a hard copy now, there are copies available to assist.

To the witnesses, we want to reserve the right to call you back at another time, and certainly as soon as possible, to follow up on your presentation this evening. If there is time for a couple of questions, we will have that. If not, we will try to conclude at 7 p.m., which is time for you to leave.

Once again, I apologize for this, but I felt we needed to start this evening because we are planning a visit to Newfoundland and Labrador and we have other witnesses coming in, so I wanted to start with the department officials.

Please proceed with your opening remarks.

Guy Beaupré, Director General, Aquaculture Management Directorate, Program Policy, Fisheries and Oceans Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I do not have formal opening remarks, but I will present myself and my colleagues. I am Guy Beaupré, Director General, Aquaculture Management Directorate, Program Policy. With me are Jay Parsons, the Director, Strategic and Regulatory Science Directorate, Ecosystems and Oceans Science Sector; and Eric Gilbert, Executive Director, Aquaculture Operations, Ecosystems and Aquaculture Management.

If you allow me, I will go through the presentation quickly.

The purpose of the presentation is to give you a brief description of aquaculture in Canada, the profile of the industry, describe how aquaculture is managed in Canada, and also raise a few issues that we see generally related to aquaculture.

On the following page there is a chart that presents different types of aquaculture operations in Canada. If you go from the left, for example, this is freshwater net pen, which is usually used to raise trout in Central Canada and many provinces. There are land-based systems, and you have heard of closed containment, so that is what it is. There is also bottom culture enhancement, intertidal aquaculture, for example to raise oysters. There are longline rafts, usually used for mussels, net pens for salmon. Culture-based fisheries would be what we have in hatcheries, for example, and bottom culture enhancement subtidal would have clams and geoduck at the very bottom.

There are different kinds of operations which occur for some of those operations in many provinces, and others in smaller numbers.

On page 4, if you look at the demand for aquaculture products globally, it is increasing. As you probably know, capture fisheries have tended to be rather flat over the last 20 years or so and are expected to remain fairly flat in the future. There is a gap that would be created in the long run if aquaculture was not growing and the FAO is estimating that this gap could be to the tune of 40 million tonnes by 2030.

Actually, the FAO forecasts that aquaculture globally could grow by 7 per cent per year. There is a growing demand for aquaculture products, fish and seafood, and Canada is one of the countries that can participate in that demand.

In Canada, the sector has been growing steadily through the 1990s, but growth in the last 10 years or so has been fairly flat. If you look at the blue bars, you will see that from 2001 it is generally around 160,000 tonnes, and it has been maintained at about that level in terms of volume. If you look at the line and the scale on the right side, this is the value. In the period from 2001 to 2011, you mostly see the effects of price changes in the line. The value has been fluctuating in accordance with the prices, whereas the volumes have remained fairly flat over the time.

Over a number of years, growth in other countries has been much stronger than in Canada. For example, lately Norway has been growing at about 11 per cent per year and Chile is growing at about 20 per cent per year. Chile has been recovering from years when the production was down quite a bit. As a result of that, Canada's share of world markets has decreased substantially by about 40 per cent to 0.2 per cent. That has been the impact over the last number of years.

Page 6 shows how aquaculture happens in Canada, what kind of products are raised. As you will see, the biggest part of the pie is representing salmon at 69 per cent. The other important species growth is mussels at 17 per cent, and oysters and other finfish like trout, for example. This is in terms of the volumes that occur in Canada.

The next slide shows where aquaculture is taking place. It is taking place in all provinces, including the Yukon. However, as you can guess from the previous slide, it is basically happening in British Columbia, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. These are the largest contributors to aquaculture in Canada. The slide shows the species profile and then the provincial profile.

In terms of management, aquaculture in Canada is a shared jurisdiction. Generally, provinces are the lead regulators, especially on the East Coast. Provinces issue leases to the land or the sea floor upon which aquaculture will take place, with the exception of British Columbia and Prince Edward Island where the federal government manages aquaculture.

In British Columbia, you may recall, there was B.C. Supreme Court decision in 2009 that called aquaculture a fishery and said it needed to be managed as a fishery through conditions of licence. It is now under federal jurisdiction and we have established the federal Pacific Aquaculture Regulations that help us manage the aquaculture in the province.

In Prince Edward Island, aquaculture is jointly managed, but Fisheries and Oceans issues leases. This goes back to an agreement in 1928 under the Fisheries Act that we issue licences. This is the only province where it happens.

Federally, aquaculture is regulated through several statutes and regulations. Under the Fisheries Act, we have five regulations applicable, plus one proposed right now that we are developing with Environment Canada. The Health of Animals Act manages animal diseases and the Feeds Act, administered by CFIA, regulates feed composition.

Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act there are the Disposal at Sea Regulations and the New Substances Notification Regulations. Both are administered by Environment Canada and it is basically related to standards for substances such as drugs and pesticides. Then there is the Food and Drugs Act that regulates veterinary drugs, and the Pest Control Products Act which regulates the pest controls administered by Health Canada. Finally, there is the Canada Shipping Act for vessels, and it is administered by Transport Canada. There is quite a lot of legislation and also a number of departments that need to be coordinated in managing aquaculture at the federal level.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans' aquaculture program really focuses on four main areas: enhancing regulatory certainty for the aquaculture sector; improving the regulatory regime because, as we have just seen, it is complex, so we are trying to streamline the regulations as much as possible; conducting research in support of regulatory decision making; and reporting on the environmental and economic performance of the sector, per se.

The ongoing budget for aquaculture in the department is about $22 million a year. However, as you may recall, an amount of $57.5 million for five years to renew the Sustainable Aquaculture Program was announced in the latest budget. That was a program in existence for the past five years.

From page 11, the slides basically talk about a number of current issues that we see either in the media or other issues that you may have heard through time.

One particular issue is containment and escapes. There are a number of concerns about farm stocks breeding with wild stocks. If they escape from the pen — for example, if salmon escapes from the pen — it is a concern whether they are breeding with wild stock.

Benthic habitat is a concern focused on the waste and feed accumulating on the bottom and affecting, potentially, habitat.

Disease and sea lice are also a concern in terms of the transfers to wild salmon populations.

The last issue is therapeutant use, and this concerns aquaculture drugs and pesticides that may harm water and fish.

I will go through each of these various issues in the following pages.

On containment and escapes, over the last number of years, the number of escapes has declined in frequency and also in numbers as production has increased. This is basically a result of improved technology at most farms, better maintenance of nets and also better anchoring at the bottom. That helps prevent escapes.

There are also stricter guidelines for vessel operations near the farms, trying to better manage those activities. There are improved codes of conduct and staff training on how to handle the fish and also reporting. There are mandatory escape reporting and recapture plans. When there is an event, there are processes so that we are aware of the escapes, and measures can be taken to recapture the fish and to report on it.

In British Columbia, almost all farmed salmon are Atlantic as opposed to the wild populations, which are Pacific salmon. However, there is no evidence of interbreeding with Pacific salmon in the wild. Scientific information generally indicates a minimal risk for aquaculture activities to wild fish populations and habitats.

On the following page we talk about benthic habitat. Basically, the regulatory measures that are based on science are in place across Canada to ensure there is no significant accumulation of organic matter at the bottom or much beyond the edge of containment areas. Siting assessments help to ensure that the areas of significant accumulation do not occur over sensitive productive habitat, such as lobster pounds, for example. When the siting is decided, all of these considerations are taken into account to ensure that there is no negative impact on the habitat.

Where matter does accumulate, then the benthos will remediate naturally to background level in a generally short period of time when farm fish are removed. There are periods of fallowing before restocking.

Then there is increased efficiency in feed conversions ratios. The feed is much better than it used to be, and there has been a reduction in the percentage of fish meal and fish food through greater use of vegetable-based proteins. That is very important in terms of the potential impacts on habitat.

Disease and sea lice are also important concerns, particularly on the East Coast. Again, that is in the context of potential interactions between the farm fish and the wild populations. Measures are in place requiring biosecurity and fish health management practices, including disease monitoring, no transfer of diseased fish, and rapid response to disease outbreaks when they occur. CFIA has a program called the National Aquatic Animal Health Program that ensures that the chances of introducing new pathogens are low and that there are robust response mechanisms in place, along with provincial measures.

Where the vaccines are available, the fish are vaccinated against diseases. Research is continuing into animal husbandry practices to improve them, with subsequent incorporation into the fish health management practices to avoid basically any transfer of fish disease. As I said, there are ongoing research and management measures that are required to ensure sea lice levels remain low and to minimize the risk to the wild population.

Finally, the next page is about the use of therapeutants. Health Canada's requirements for withdrawal periods between treatments and harvest, and CFIA's food safety program ensure that the farmed fish are safe to eat. There are no growth hormones or other hormones used in Canadian aquaculture. Testing by CFIA shows that PCBs and other pollutants are no higher in farmed fish than in wild fish.

Chemicals entering the environment is at times also a concern. Veterinary prescriptions are required for all treatments. Treatments to promote growth or used ``just in case'' are not allowed. Therefore, while pesticide use can affect non-target species, the pesticides are evaluated by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, or PMRA. They do an environmental assessment and there are measures put in place. Basically, there is a label on how to use the products, so the industry is using the products in the way described on the label.

All treatment events must be reported to the regulator, so we are aware of when they happen and how they happen. Good management practices help reduce the amount of therapeutants that need to be used. As mentioned before, research continues to ensure that we can improve the treatments and reduce any potential outbreaks.

That provides you with a quick summary of aquaculture in Canada. We could go into a lot more detail. We thought of giving you this as a start, and we are ready to answer your questions.

The Chair: Thank you very much. That is a great start. It gives us a clear picture of what we are dealing with.

I know there are many questions, but I will say we have about 10 minutes. I will entertain a couple of questions. I will ask that we do not have preambles; there is no time for speeches this evening. We will have lots of time for that as time goes on. Get to your question. I will allow one question per senator. There will be no follow-up questions, to be as fair as possible. When it comes time to cut things off, I will cut things off.

Senator Stewart Olsen: I have lots of questions, but I will go with one for right now. I am concerned with the declining growth in the industry. How do you see a way forward with that to improve the growth in our industry?

Mr. Beaupré: Certainly it is very important for the government to try to streamline the regulatory system as much as possible, with a view of improving the investment climate. Reducing the complexity of the regulations or legislations that are involved is quite important, in our view, to ensure that there is a good understanding and that access to those regulations is quicker. A stable environment is particularly important for investment for the companies to be able to compete on the international market.

Senator Raine: I also have a lot of questions. I presume that we can get the breakdown of the production volume and the value by species, because the chart shows an aggregated figure.

Mr. Beaupré: The background by species, yes.

Senator Raine: Yes, because the aggregated one does not really tell the story.

Mr. Beaupré: Yes, okay.

Senator Raine: I was curious about the Canadian Environmental Protection Act on page 9, and the Disposal at Sea Regulations. What exactly do you mean by that?

Mr. Beaupré: These are provisions to prevent the disposal at sea of products in the ocean that would not be allowed under those provisions because they would affect either the habitat or other species. There are international provisions that Canada needs to respond to that are under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act as well.

Senator Raine: Thank you.

Senator Wells: It is nice to you see you again after a couple of years, Mr. Beaupré. I am looking at page 9 of your presentation regarding the regulated aspects of the industry. It must be frustrating for businesses to go through at least five federal departments, many regulations and whatever provincial statutes and regulations are present, and I know there are many.

Can you comment on the opportunities for consolidation of regulations under either one act or one or fewer departments as it stands there now? It is a question that we can talk about for an hour, and we might, but not this evening.

Mr. Beaupré: At this time, we are focusing on trying to streamline the regulation as much as possible, ensuring it is clear which regulations apply in various circumstances and that the industry is aware of, for example in the case of therapeutants, where to go. Usually those would be used in an emergency situation and so what are the steps that need to be taken to get access to those products. It is very important. We are doing a lot of work to ensure that it becomes clearer and that access to those regulations is quicker, because we realize that many of those products have to be used in circumstances where there is not a lot of time. That is for improving the access to those products, but at the same time there is work that can be done in terms of ensuring there is a better understanding of which departments need to be involved at what point in time.

Unless you bring all of this under one legislation, it will remain this way. However, in addition to the federal regulations, there are provincial regulations. The environment is complex, but it can be compartmentalized into whether they relate to habitat, what needs to be done in those circumstances, or whether they relate to use of therapeutants or drugs. We are doing our best to streamline as much as possible.

Senator Harb: The key thing for you to do your job is to have the capacity to do research and you alluded to that throughout your presentation. The question to ask you is: Do you have enough resources in order to conduct research that is necessary in order for you to do your job? If not, do you need more resources?

Mr. Beaupré: As I mentioned, the Sustainable Aquaculture Program was a program of five years which ended last year. In the budget, it was announced that it would be renewed to the tune of $57.5 million for five years. That includes money for regulatory science research at about $7 million a year, in addition to money for regulatory work, monitoring and reporting. I could ask my colleagues if $7 million a year is enough. We have done a lot of research over the last number of years and I think the renewal will allow us to continue in that direction.

Senator Martin: In your presentation, you talked about the shared jurisdiction and the regulations that involve various ministries. On the overall coordination of your efforts and the challenges that you would face, would you speak to how that can be done effectively, because bringing stakeholders and then having the shared jurisdiction would be so complex. How would you lead in coordinating that and what are your greatest challenges? Again, another whole hour of question, but just briefly tell us.

Mr. Beaupré: We have committees with provincial regulators. We have discussions with them, of course. Under the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers, for example, there is a strategic management committee which is one forum where we can discuss how to improve the regulations, ensuring that there is no overlap or that we cannot further streamline the regulations. We use that committee quite a lot. That is one of the most important pieces of governance that I could refer to at this time.

Senator McInnis: I thought this was excellent and many of my early questions have been answered with respect to this. Two senators already mentioned the difficulty. I will not dwell on Nova Scotia, but I will use it now as an example.

New strategy was brought out last summer —

Senator Stewart Olsen: No preamble.

Senator McInnis: Companies are making large investments. It has to be done concurrently with the provinces, there has to be a set of guidelines, regulations, protocols put in place. You have already touched on it, but that has to be key. It is mass confusion. Was that a preamble?

You agree, you have already said that.

Mr. Beaupré: We do a lot of work with the provinces. We work very closely with them on all kinds of aspects, be it environmental assessment or other regulatory aspects, but we work very closely with all of them.

The Chair: We are up to our hour. There are many questions and we could be here for a long time. That is why I want to reserve the right to call you back for the simple reason that this gives us a great starting point and there will be many questions coming from this. We will definitely be getting you back in short order, but I want to give everyone an opportunity to focus for a moment.

I have a quick comment and a question.

This is the first meeting of what we intend to be many meetings. We are not planning on doing a rush job here. It is a very important industry. We believe, as the Fisheries Committee, that we will spend a year or a year-and-a-half, or whatever it takes to do it properly. We will travel across the country and hear from every stakeholder out there — good, bad and indifferent, those who agree and disagree.

I know it is an ongoing process within your department to be improving this industry, so I wanted to let you know we are here to assist in that regard. We are not here to be a detriment or, if something comes up of a nature you want to proceed with, we do not want to be seen as trying to stop that process from continuing. We are here to hopefully offer improvements and assistance to the industry, and not to be an impediment.

I want to ensure that you are aware that this is a process that will take some time for us. We welcome your input, but we certainly see that, if the department is for moving in the right direction or moving ahead with something, we do not want to be put to the side on that.

I am not sure when we will have the opportunity to have you back, but we certainly look forward to it. Thank you once again for your patience this evening and for your presentation.

We will recess for a few moments and then reconvene in camera to discuss our visit to Newfoundland.

(The committee continued in camera.)

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