AQUACULTURE IN CANADA'S ATLANTIC AND PACIFIC REGIONS

The Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries

Interim Report


ISSUES RAISED

A. The DFO’s Support of Aquaculture
B. Employment and Economic Development
C. The Siting of Fish Farms
D. Environmental Concerns About Salmonid Aquaculture
E. Escaping Farmed Salmonids
F. Fish Health
G. Shellfish Aquaculture, Enhancement
H. Science, Research and Development


ISSUES RAISED

A. The DFO’s Support of Aquaculture

I do not see finfish aquaculture as a replacement for wild stock but only as an addition to economic opportunity. – The Honourable Herb Dhaliwal, PC, MP, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Proceedings, 15 February 2000

I am planning to develop a full comprehensive communication strategy. The Department will do the same. The aquaculture industry has been subject to a fair bit of negative campaigning. ... More and more we see bumper stickers that read "wild fish do not do drugs," among other things. – Yves Bastien, DFO Commissioner for Aquaculture Development, Proceedings, 22 February 2000

We now have a federal Minister of Fisheries who has clearly stated his position on aquaculture. All provinces ... can see a change in the attitude of senior bureaucrats in Ottawa. Historically, it was clear that they were not supportive of moving forward on aquaculture. – Jerry Ward, Assistant Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Newfoundland and Labrador, Proceedings, 4 October 2000

We believe that it is unconscionable and completely inappropriate to allow DFO, as a regulating agency, to act ... as a proponent for the salmon farming industry. – Laurie MacBride, Georgia Strait Alliance, Brief, 22 February 2000

... (S)enior officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said that their top objectives relating to aquaculture were to increase public confidence in the industry and to increase its global competitiveness. These are not the tasks of a regulatory agency; they are the tasks of a public relations firm. – Lynn Hunter, Fisheries and Aquaculture Specialist, the David Suzuki Foundation, Proceedings, 9 May 2001

The DFO’s vision for aquaculture is to improve and enhance the sector so that it "reaches its full potential in a sustainable way." To this end, the Department has concentrated its efforts in a number of areas: reviewing the legal and regulatory framework as led by the Commissioner for Aquaculture Development; developing a better and more consistent departmental policy framework for aquaculture; enhancing federal/provincial/territorial cooperation through the new Council of Canadian Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers (CCFAM); and enhancing DFO programs in support of the 1995 Federal Aquaculture Development Strategy (FADS).

It soon became apparent during the course of this review that not everyone supports the Department’s objectives. The DFO’s mandate, for both the promotion of aquaculture development and the protection of wild fish stocks and habitat, obviously puts the Department in a difficult situation. Committee members were often told that there is an inherent and growing conflict of interest between the two, that there is a "lack of balance," and that the Department has assumed an advocacy (or "cheerleading") role in support of fish farming at the expense of its responsibility for wild fish and their habitat.

Also questioned was the creation of the Office of Commissioner for Aquaculture Development, who has been described as a separate node of activity within the Department, and the Commissioner’s $600,000 annual budget to promote aquaculture (under the Aquaculture Partnership Program). Critics argued there was no need for this, given the many associations that already represent the fish farming industry and its strong voice in the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance.(11) In British Columbia, the more vocal opponents of aquaculture alleged that the DFO had become the "public relations arm of the industry," and by actively promoting aquaculture, especially sea-cage salmon farming, had failed to protect wild fish and their habitat from the ecological impacts of that industry. It was suggested that the Department had not only written off the wild fisheries, but had also abdicated its legal responsibility for wild salmon stocks on which coastal fishing communities depend.

In contrast, supporters of fish farming stated that Canadian aquaculturists had been operating under an outdated policy and regulatory framework that, for the most part, had been designed for the traditional capture fisheries and thus conflicted with the further development of the industry. They stressed that they did not want weak regulations, but rather regulations that were appropriate to their business. Generally speaking, they viewed government regulation as unduly restrictive, especially when compared with that of other countries, and as an erected obstacle to increased production and competitiveness. Complaints were made about "bureaucratic red tape." Some said that, over the years, federal agencies had been reluctant supporters of fish farming because of their traditional working relationships with the commercial wild fishery and because of the DFO’s mandate for the protection of the marine environment and fish stocks. Because, in their view, their industry had not received the recognition or support it deserved from the Department, they believed that a re-balancing of governmental priorities was needed to recognize aquaculture as "a legitimate user of the aquatic resource." The following illustrate the comments made on this theme:

The challenge for the Department is to successfully integrate its lead agency role for aquaculture with its mandate of ensuring the protection of the wild resources and the oceans. This integration will be completed when the 9,000 employees of the (DFO) will be convinced that aquaculture does not create any more impact on the environment than fisheries, and that aquaculture represents the only valid alternative to obtain sustainability in the overall fisheries and seafood sector. – Yves Bastien, DFO Commissioner for Aquaculture Development, Proceedings, 22 February 2000.

...

The recent appointment of the new federal Commissioner for Aquaculture Development, the establishment of an aquaculture directorate within DFO, and Minister Dhaliwal’s public support of the aquaculture industry have been very encouraging to our association. However, strong opposition to aquaculture within the DFO bureaucracy has thwarted any positive actions that these initiatives may have had. … When there is a conflict with traditional fisheries, no matter how small or insignificant, aquaculture is the loser. Fundamental change and leadership is required within DFO. There needs to be a developmental attitude towards this growth industry, rather than a regulatory attitude. … This industry, up to now, has been built on hopes and dreams with not a lot of support – in fact, with many obstacles thrown in our path. However, we are pioneering Canadians and we will continue to fight the good fight. – Ruth Salmon, Executive Director, B.C. Shellfish Growers Association, Proceedings, 30 May 2000.

...

We are facing a revolutionary change which will require the privatization of a previously 100% public resource. The government often plays the role of guarding the public resource against all new intruders and those who presently have pseudo-ownership of the public resource through the present licensing system ... don’t want to have to share the resource with others. Those who are the current owner – fishermen and environmentalists – see new participants in the ownership of resources as a threat. As these are ownership issues, government gets involved and this adds to the resistance to change because historically the wild fisheries have been the government’s "clients" and "environmentalists" have developed ways to have a disproportional influence on governments. – Dr. Brad Hicks, Brief, 31 March 2000.

Committee members were told that, compared to other countries, such as Japan(12) (where no distinction is made between aquaculture and fisheries and where the two are integrated and perceived to be complementary activities with the common purpose of "providing fish to a growing market"), the two sectors in Canada had become polarized to the extent that some believe that we can only have one or the other. Spokespersons for the industry said that aquaculture complements the traditional wild fishery (e.g., by evening the seasonality of fish processing), and repeatedly cautioned that the debate had resulted in the dissemination of "highly accusatory" and "erroneous information." They warned Committee members not to be misled by the "counterproductive opposition." Salmon growers believed that the communication of this message would be a major challenge.

DFO officials who appeared before us stressed that the Department was not focusing on aquaculture to the detriment of its other responsibilities (e.g., the conservation of wild fish stocks, the protection of fish habitat, marine and navigational safety, and the implementation of integrated oceans management). Rather, its priority was to ensure – through legislation, regulations, policies and programs, and in its relations with other federal agencies and levels of government – that aquaculture is recognized as a legitimate user of the aquatic resources. As one spokesperson for the Department put it:

Whatever changes are made to federal regulations respecting aquaculture, they will be made to recognize the legitimacy and promote the sustainability of the industry, while acknowledging and respecting other interests. – Michel Leclerc, Special Advisor, Aquaculture, Policy Sector, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Proceedings, 4 April 2000.

It is noteworthy that the Auditor General’s December 2000 report gave the DFO a failing grade in carrying out its regulatory responsibilities to enforce the Fisheries Act with respect to salmon farming in British Columbia. The Auditor said there was a widely held view within the Department that salmon farming, in some instances, had adverse effects on fish habitat. 

 

B. Employment and Economic Development

For local and coastal communities, there are tremendous opportunities. We have the longest coast line of any country in the world. We have three oceans around us. This is a huge asset for Canada. – The Honourable Herb Dhaliwal, PC, MP, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Proceedings, 4 April 2000

... I foresee the day when these two sectors will be fully integrated into a seafood sector where the distinction between an aquaculturist and a fisherman will not be important because everyone will be involved in producing wealth from our oceans co-operatively, in a sustainable manner. – Yves Bastien, DFO Commissioner for Aquaculture Development, Proceedings, 29 May 2001

I hope I did not mislead you on the issue of jobs. It is not my view that traditional fishers and those associated with the traditional fishery will be made into aquaculturists. If that is the impression I left, then it is the wrong one. – David Rideout, Executive Director, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, Proceedings, 8 February 2000

The industry does not have the ability to raise the capital required from the traditional charter banks in this country. ... (The Farm Credit Corporation is) not mandated to take risk. They are mandated to make a profit. – Jerry Ward, Assistant Deputy Minister, Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Newfoundland and Labrador, Proceedings, 4 October 2000

I am a displaced fisher. ... There is no employment in fish farming. Out of 40 sites, there are 80 jobs, and there are 8,000 Kwakuitl – 40 jobs when there used to be at least 400 jobs a couple of years ago. That has happened because of the displacement of fish stocks by fish farming. – Pat Alfred, President, Kwakuitl (First Nations) Fisheries Commission, Proceedings, 9 May 2001

All of these jobs have been replaced by computer – particularly the more labour-intensive jobs such as cleaning nets, which is now automated. The idea that aquaculture will provide income for coastal communities is somewhat, I would say, in doubt. – John Volpe, Department of Biology, Centre for Environmental Health, University of Victoria, Proceedings, 9 May 2001

For many, aquaculture has emerged as an unquestionably bright light in the development of the seafood industry. Governments tend to view aquaculture in terms of economic development. Advocates of aquaculture on both the East and West coasts argue that further expansion will revitalize remote and economically depressed coastal communities, particularly those hit hardest by declining traditional (capture) fisheries and industry restructuring. For them, fish farming holds the promise of diversifying local economies, expanding employment, increasing capital investment, and strengthening the commercial fishery as a whole; however, a more conducive policy and regulatory environment must first be established.

Canada’s aquaculture sector currently employs about 14,300 people (7,300 in production and processing, and 7,000 in supply and services) across the country, mostly in rural and coastal areas, where 90% of production and processing jobs are located. This number is said to have been growing at an annual rate of 12% since 1995. Members of the Committee were told that workers under the age of 30 hold approximately half of those jobs, and that about 90% of the aquaculture businesses in Canada is Canadian-owned. Indirect benefits have been created in related industries, such as equipment manufacturing, feed production, processing and transportation, and marketing and consulting services. Technical expertise such as veterinary services, seed collection, lab testing, and ongoing research and development in many areas are all required. As the industry matures and becomes more based in science and technology, there will undoubtedly be many more employment opportunities for workers with higher skill levels.

On their tours of fish and shellfish rearing sites, Committee members were often reminded of beneficial economic effects in rural areas where unemployment is relatively high. Unquestionably, aquaculture is a significant economic generator in some parts of the country. For example, in New Brunswick, we were told that salmon farmers produce the largest "crop," or twice the value of the potato industry, and that one in four private-sector jobs in Charlotte County is related to aquaculture. From its in-the-field visits, the Committee can certainly attest to the fact that there are many examples of vibrant and very successful enterprises on both of Canada’s coasts.

At first glance, aquaculture would appear to be suited to rural Canadians, Aboriginal communities, and small entrepreneurs. Sometimes it is proposed as a means of employment or self-employment for displaced commercial fishermen who already possess the necessary handling skills, boats and gear. Others note, however, that the expertise and mind-sets required in traditional (capture) fishing are very different from those required in fish farming. As the Commissioner for Aquaculture put it when he appeared before us, "not all fishermen want to be aquaculturists. They want to fish."(13) Fishermen, for their part, tend to view aquaculture as a competitor affecting the environment and market prices, and their access to fishing grounds. In a related vein, fish farmers do not consider themselves to be fishers and tend to view their activity as being more like agriculture. On employment, some people stated that there was a shortage of persons with adequate training and experience to fill technical and management positions in new commercial ventures, especially where new species are being developed.

The hope was expressed that fishers, who are able to see for themselves the merits of fish farming, will support or participate in this activity in a meaningful way. On this, Committee members learned about the seasonal growing-out of cod in Newfoundland (on the West, Northeast and South coasts of the province). Akin to aquaculture, this activity has been conducted on a limited basis in recent years to demonstrate its commercial potential. Live wild fish are caught in conventional cod traps and transferred to licensed holding cages sites for six to eight months. In 2000, there were 18 active sites. This type of endeavour has a number of advantages, including: no need whatsoever for hatchery or early rearing facilities,(14) and a relatively short payback time. Fishermen are able to double the size of their fish in as little as three months, and bring their product to market when prices are highest. The results of this initiative were said to be very encouraging in terms of creating economic activity in rural communities that have been affected by the collapse of the northern cod fishery. The constraints to its further development were said to be the cost of feeding the fish and the unreliability of access to cod.

For other types of finfish, access to investment and operating capital was deemed to be a major challenge or constraint to new entrants and the further expansion of aquaculture. Several people spoke of the substantial funds needed, particularly during the start-up years of a fish farming operation. It was explained that aquaculturists often have difficulty obtaining loans because of the time it takes for their "crops" to reach marketable size and generate a return on the investment. The time required in turn depends on the species cultivated. With respect to finfish, the possible outbreak of disease makes it more risky for lenders. Unlike terrestrial agriculture where land can be used as collateral, the lender has no such security if an aquacultural crop fails. On this, one positive development for some was the Farm Credit Corporation (FCC), a federal Crown corporation, which offers financing services to primary producers in aquaculture to assist with the expansion or upgrading of hatcheries, grow-out-sites, or processing businesses (e.g., for the purchase of barges, cages, nets, smolts, feed, tanks, pumps, processing equipment, construction costs, land and site leasing). A number of projects are also funded through other federal agencies, such as the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, Human Resources Development Canada, and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA). We were told that without ACOA, there would not be an aquaculture sector in Newfoundland.

As earlier noted, the DFO’s strategic plan for aquaculture consists of two main objectives, one of which is to increase the industry’s global competitiveness. On this matter, some critics stated that the global growth of salmon farming, the production from which has exceeded that for all other species, had changed the economic viability of the wild fishery. Moreover, because salmon aquaculture had become such a highly competitive business on the global market, Canadian producers have become price-takers who will need to reduce their production costs in order to remain competitive. One witness put it this way: "The market is tremendously saturated. You have to be a big player now to get a return on your investment because your margins are so small."(15) Others said that capital had fled from this country to Chile and elsewhere, where the investment and regulatory climate is more welcoming. Some saw aquaculture, particularly salmon aquaculture, as experiencing the same trends toward consolidation that have been evident in terrestrial agriculture. Still others argued that the market price of farmed salmon is artificially low because the industry does not bear the environmental costs of production.

In British Columbia, there were accusations that government and the aquaculture industry had been "spinning a one-sided tale of economic opportunity." In that province, salmon farming was said to be dominated by large businesses that had undercut markets and prices for wild salmon, thereby damaging the traditional fishery. Others said that Canadian farmed salmon represents an amount considered to be too small to influence prices. There were also contradictory assertions in regard to the adequacy of wages paid to fish farm workers. In both British Columbia and New Brunswick, the economic values generated by salmon farming were questioned, with two submissions describing the situation in the following terms:

StatsCan figures for 1997 show that the fish farm industry was a money loser, that the number of jobs the industry supplies is decreasing, and that taxes and fees returned to government amounted to less than $1 million, or less than half a percent of the industry’s revenues. While the industry might argue that these figures were a result of the province’s moratorium on new farms, the reality is that during the four years that the moratorium was in place (i.e. prior to the province’s policy announcement last fall), the BC industry actually expanded its production by 60%. Thus the industry was a money loser even during a time of expansion. … Figures from Scotland show a similar pattern: increased production at the same time as lessening employment, a financial loss and taxpayer subsidies. – Laurie MacBride, Georgia Strait Alliance, Brief, 22 February 2000.(16)

...

It isn’t only the indirect cost of environmental damage that the public has borne. Our incomplete survey revealed that up until 1997, tax dollars had directly supported this industry to the tune of at least $40 million, $34 million of this from ACOA. This tally does not include indirect support to the industry through government-funded services, research, training and promotion (including the Office of Aquaculture Development inside DFO). The tax payer has also had to bail out the industry out of trouble. According to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, between April 1998 and June 2000, 55 farms were infected with the ISA virus... . A total of $44 million of government funding was allocated to the crisis. – Janice Harvey, Director, Marine Conservation Program, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Brief, 24 April 2001.

 

C. The Siting of Fish Farms

It is really more of an issue for the province than for us. …(I)t is really not something for which we have a direct responsibility. – Lorne Anderson, Acting Director General, Aquaculture Restructuring Adjustment, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Proceedings, 21 March 2000

Let us be as efficient as we can. Let us not keep people waiting ten months for an approval if there is no need to because we do not have enough people to do the work. Let us ensure that we streamline processes, and do things as efficiently as possible. – Liseanne Forand, Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Proceedings, 2 May 2001

This industry needs to be able to plan for the future without fear that they will lose tenure. – David Rideout, Executive Director, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, Proceedings, 8 February 2000

Recreational property owners and developers almost always oppose aquaculture development. ... Protection of the environment is the most commonly stated reason for opposition. ... ... (O)ne of the major impediments to the growth of the industry right now is our ability to gain community acceptance of the industry and deliver sites... Ultimately, the decision whether or not to grant a lease is a political one. – Peter Underwood, Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Nova Scotia, 15 May 2001

We would like to see harmonization – one-stop shopping – whereby our industry would deal with one level of government in the local area and would be able to take care of the bulk of the issues that they need to resolve before proceeding. – David Rideout, Executive Director, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, Proceedings, 1 May 2001

We were never consulted before placement of these fish farms in our territory; nor did we provide our consent. ... Without consulting to receive consent from my people, you will have a war every time. – Pat Alfred, President, Kwakuitl Fisheries Commission, Proceedings, 9 May 2001

When selecting a site for aquaculture, many factors are taken into account, such as water depth, current flow, salinity, temperature, wind and waves, oxygen content, pollution, ice conditions, proximity of other resource users and tourist sites, patterns of marine traffic, and proximity to suppliers and services (e.g., wharves, roads, air transportation, communications). Thus, the industry is generally constrained by the availability of suitable grow-out sites. Although Canada has approximately 244,000 kilometres of coastline on the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans, the environment, in particular, is an important limiting factor. For example, in Newfoundland, finfish aquaculture is located in Bay d’Espoir, the only area of the province where the water temperatures are suitable for the growing of salmon and steelhead trout (the primary species raised).(17) Some of the difficulties include high winds and limitations on the number of over-wintering sites as a result of the movement of ice.

Generally speaking, aquaculturists and their representatives told us they needed to have access to new sites, more secure tenures, and longer term approaches to leasing. Lease terms were deemed to be too short; the lack of security of tenure was said to make financing difficult to obtain. Comments were made about administrative problems and the time it takes to approve new sites because of the complexity of regulation and site management requirements. A number of presentations complained about difficulties in obtaining approvals from the Coast Guard.

The approval process for site leases is governed by Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) between the federal and provincial governments. The Memoranda (signed in the 1980s) were intended to establish a "one-stop shop" approach for lease applicants. They also address a number of other areas, such as research and development, education and training, provincial licensing and regulation, federal regulation, coordination between the parties, dispute resolution, compliance and inspection, the use of therapeutants and vaccines, and recording statistics. There are MoUs in place between the federal government and seven provinces and territories: British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and the Yukon. Except in the case of Prince Edward Island, the provinces were said to be the lead agency, and each has developed its own policies and site-specific approval process.

Decisions on siting are important because they directly relate to the types and the magnitude of the possible impacts of fish farming operations on the ecosystem. Ideally, aquaculture sites should be situated in locations where their potential adverse effects on the ecosystem are minimized while the economic viability of the operations is maintained. Marine environments are also common property resources with no individual owners; the characteristics that make a site suitable for aquatic farming may be similarly valuable for other types of activities (e.g., traditional fishing) or recreational uses of the shoreline. Understandably, the relatively recent appearance of farms in areas where people reside or where other activities already exist or are appearing (e.g., marine eco-tourism) have frequently led to conflict.

Because the use of marker buoys is required, fish farms have a visual impact. Many therefore view an expansion of aquaculture as a potential threat to the coastal tourism industry, one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy. During the Committee’s discussions, individuals and groups raised the following concerns: the aesthetic and economic values of frontage property would decline; recreational and commercial fishing sites might be disrupted; and sheltered anchorage areas, which are vital to the safety of recreational boaters and commercial fishermen, might be lost. On this, a number of aquaculturists and provincial government officials emphasized that good relations within the communities were vital for obtaining and securing lease sites.

The key to acceptance is employment and engaging the community in the process and in the assessment and monitoring. In those communities where a lot of upfront work has been done by the applicants involving the community, few problems were faced in getting community acceptance and project approval. – Peter Underwood, Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Nova Scotia, Proceedings, 15 May 2001.

We heard a number of complaints: the industry had grown in the absence of public information or input; local residents and the public generally were not provided with a strong enough voice or sufficient time to collect information when siting decisions are made; the process for evaluating and approving tenures had been conducted using incomplete or inaccurate information on fish habitat; and the individualized nature of site-by-site environmental evaluations did not allow for integrated regional or coast-wide planning, despite the fact that such assessments are essential so that the particulars of each site can be duly noted.

In some regions, particularly in the Bay of Fundy, it was suggested that salmon aquaculture had outgrown the capacity of ecosystems to support it. The L’Etang Inlet, for example, was described as having the world’s highest concentration of aquaculture sites per square km. New Brunswick officials, for their part, pointed out that the total leased area in the Bay of Fundy currently represents less than 0.2% of its total area. On both coasts there were calls for increased funding for estimating the "carrying capacity" of aquatic ecosystems, in order to make better informed siting decisions. We were told that in the case of New Brunswick, the carrying capacity has been exceeded, and that there are too many salmon being grown for the environment to handle. In Newfoundland, we learned that the province had spent $2 million studying the ecological carrying capacity of the ecosystem in that province before devising a strategy to develop the salmonid farming sector.

The siting of salmon farms is especially problematic when it does not adequately take into account proximity to wild fish migration routes. For example, concerns were expressed to us about "pit lamps" being used at night over salmon farms in British Columbia. Some witnesses explained that wild juvenile Pacific salmon that migrate in the vicinity of net cages are attracted to the lights and consumed by farmed fish (thus reducing growers’ feed costs, the major cost of production). Wild salmon may also be subject to predation by seals that are drawn to grow-out sites, or exposed to parasitic sea lice, which were said to be more abundant on farms. Other species of marine life, such as eulachons, a traditional food source of Aboriginal peoples, are also attracted and preyed upon by farmed salmon and other predators.

British Columbia has adopted a number of siting criteria for salmon farms (based on the province’s 1997 Salmon Aquaculture Review). Under the province’s Salmon Aquaculture Policy, salmon farmers are required to indicate that a proposed site for a new or relocated facility meets these criteria. Last year in our deliberations, several people called for a prohibition on farms near rivers and streams supporting wild stocks (i.e., "aquaculture free zones") to minimize interactions between wild and farmed fish. Some groups wanted to see more stringent controls on the spacing or density of salmon farms. We were told that fish farms are not permitted within 1 km of salmon streams and of each other (whereas Norway, for example, does not allow farms within 20 km of significant salmon-bearing streams), but yet there was no scientific justification for the 1 km minimum distance. In the four years that the salmon farm moratorium on new leases had been in place in B.C., the sector was said to have increased by 60% through raising more fish, or by adding fish pens.(18)

The First Nations we met on our fact-finding tour of British Columbia voiced their vulnerability to the risks associated with salmon farming. For them, the recent development of aquaculture was perceived as the newest industrial threat to traditional wild fisheries, following the onslaught of the exploitive industrial fishery. Other concerns included: the threat to Aboriginal cultures from any loss of their traditional wild fisheries; the unknown health impacts on Aboriginal people from potential contamination of traditional (and still dominant) food sources, especially shellfish; and inadequate involvement in tenure and licence decision-making. As well, Aboriginal people said that they had so far received very few, if any, benefits from aquaculture, and that their involvement in decisions regarding aquaculture over the past two decades had been minimal. They strongly opposed salmon farming in their traditional territories, the areas where most of the province’s salmon farming activity is located. They said that existing farming operations were infringing upon their constitutionally enshrined Aboriginal rights, that the government had authorized more than 30 fish farms without consulting them, and that any future expansion of the industry would require not only require consultation with Aboriginal peoples, but also their informed consent.

In British Columbia, the provincial government placed a moratorium on the issuance of new fish farm tenures in April 1995. In July 1996, the Province’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) was assigned the responsibility of conducting a Salmon Aquaculture Review (SAR), during which members of the public and other stakeholders were consulted and invited to make submissions. Following the release of the SAR report in August 1997, a new provincial fish farm policy was announced in October 1999. One major decision was to maintain the number of conventional salmon tenures at 121. However, it was explained to us last year that the number of farming operations could increase by 50% if all the permits become operational. The province’s October 1999 policy also commits the province to relocating poorly sited operations to new areas.(19)

On 6 February 2001, the Auditor General tabled his December 2000 report in the House of Commons (tabling had been postponed due to the 27 November election). Chapter 30 (on "The Effects of Salmon Farming in British Columbia on the Management of Wild Salmon Stocks") looked at whether the DFO was meeting its obligations under the Fisheries Act, while participating in the regulation of the salmon farming industry in British Columbia. The Auditor recommended, among other things, that the DFO identify areas of needed research to understand the potential effects of an expanded salmon industry, and that it assign research priorities to ensure the most effective use of limited resources within the time period remaining before new farm site proposals are reviewed.

In New Brunswick, the province is in the process of reviewing applications as part of its site allocation policy for the Bay of Fundy that was announced in October 2000. The policy: focuses on Bay Management Agreements (between growers) that cover issues such as husbandry practices, bio-security and fish health management; includes single-year class management and bay management, the concept of exclusion areas and restricted growth areas; and allows salmon growers already in the industry to either expand their sites or apply for new ones.

In the Canadian context, the subject of siting is primarily, but not exclusively, a matter of provincial responsibility. The DFO’s mandate requires it to conserve and protect wild salmon and its habitat, the main vehicle for regulation being the federal Fisheries Act. Last year, DFO officials informed the Committee that a legal review team of departmental personnel and staff from the Office of the Commissioner for Aquaculture Development had been established to review environmental regulations, including sections 35 and 36 of the Fisheries Act, which environmentalists feared would result in less stringent regulation.(20) Section 35 deals with harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat; section 36 prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances in waters frequented by fish. These two sections also provide the basis for the Department’s role in reviewing applications and setting conditions for fish farms licences. A decision by the Minister of Fisheries to authorize the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat triggers an environmental review pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which came into force in January 1995. Another trigger is the Navigable Waters Protection Act, under which the DFO assesses proposed aquaculture installations to determine whether they will substantially interfere with navigation.

In the view of industry proponents, existing regulations and decision-making processes impose added delays, expenses and missed opportunities that impede development and job creation. For example, we were told in Nova Scotia that the costs of environmental assessments were $70,000 per site, compared to operations that needed initial capitalization of only $80,000. The following statements illustrate the comments made by federal and provincial government officials on the matter of environmental assessments:

Many scientists and critics of aquaculture would say that sites should not be approved until all the questions have been answered. They want a modelling of the bay and input/output modelling and answers to all questions on impact. I think a more prudent approach is to proceed slowly and monitor the impact as you go. If no significant environmental effects are noted, perhaps operations can increase. There is a combination of upfront assessment and trying to answer as many questions as you can. We think it is as important to monitor the on-farm and off-farm footprint impacts over time in the real world, as opposed to trying to do all of the science in computer models up front. – Peter Underwood, Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Nova Scotia, Proceedings, 15 May 2001.

...

While science does not have definitive tools to indicate allowable production on a site nor (does it) provide limits of production for any specific area, we have taken an adaptive management approach (i.e., on-going environmental monitoring with remediation should problems be identified). – Claire LePage, Deputy Minister, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Brief, 15 May 2001.

...

If the likelihood of damage is great and the uncertainty is great, we will take a very cautious approach. However, where the likelihood of damage does not seem so great, there might be a possibility of approving a site. ... (W)e will put in place what I have referred to as an adaptive management approach. We will monitor more stringently, look for more information, and seek to eliminate that uncertainty as much as we can as we go forward in partnership with the province and with the proponent. – Liseanne Forand, Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy, DFO, Proceedings, 2 May 2001.

In April 2001, the Aquaculture Commissioner’s Legislative and Regulatory Review of Aquaculture in Canada concluded that an "effective" and "efficient" environmental regime could be developed using the following process:

  • Clarify and make existing legal measures more transparent, with respect to sections 35 and 36 of the Fisheries Act as applied to aquaculture operations.
  • Explore and develop opportunities for industry-led, voluntary, non-regulatory initiatives (e.g., in the areas of fish containment protocols and operational codes of practice).
  • Explore and develop class screenings, within the provisions of the CEAA, as a means to bring a greater measure of predictability, consistency and timeliness to the environmental process. For each class of environmental projects, a detailed assessment should be conducted, including mitigation measures. Project applications would be reviewed on the basis of the designated report and only site-specific factors would subsequently need to be addressed.
  • The concept of a "single window" or coordinated approach to environmental assessment was deemed to have merit, especially if the process is built around a single, comprehensive review procedure covering environmental review and management, site selection and design criteria, operating conditions, compliance standards, and monitoring and reporting requirements.(21)

 

On "model class screening," the DFO’s Commissioner for Aquaculture Development suggests that this would reduce the costs and time needed for the review of applications by governments.(22) A spokesperson for the David Suzuki Foundation categorized the proposed screening process as just another subsidy to industry, and not in the public interest. On the East Coast, the Conservation Council of New Brunswick criticized the DFO for having assumed only an advisory role to the provincial government in siting decisions, and told us that the provincial government had, in some cases, ignored recommendations made by DFO staff against allowing certain sites based on fish habitat considerations. Council spokespersons also criticized the environmental assessment process, which they said did not allow meaningful public involvement and participation. Difficulties in accessing the information about new site proposals were mentioned, making it impossible to judge the veracity of scientific information submitted to government officials by the proponents of projects.

Over the past few months, we have had our first experience with the (Canadian Environmental Assessment) process, as at least 12 new site applications have been registered for review. Unfortunately, our experience has been disappointing and discouraging. Aquaculture applications are subject to the least rigorous of CEAA’s (the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act) three possible review procedures, called "screening." Screenings are carried out by the lead federal agency, in this case the DFO. We have found both (the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency) and DFO to be unwilling to apply the potential of CEAA to address the many public concerns with respect to industry expansion in this area. – Janice Harvey, Director, Marine Conservation Program, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Proceedings, 24 April 2001.

 

D. Environmental Concerns About Salmonid Aquaculture

Will (aquaculture) be a totally 100% clean industry? We have pulp mills out there that have limits on them as to what effluents they can put out. If we wanted zero tolerance, we would have to shut them all down in British Columbia. – The Honourable Herb Dhaliwal, PC, MP, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Proceedings, 15 February 2000

Generally speaking, those (environmental) impacts are already minimal in comparison to many openly tolerated human activities or Canadian industries. … The legal review I am working on will come up with some clear suggestion on environmental protection regime which will involve a collaboration and a co-operation between the two levels of government. – Yves Bastien, DFO Commissioner for Aquaculture Development, Proceedings, 22 February 2000

When the Auditor General’s team were doing their work one year ago, we were, at the same time, developing the elements of a proposal for a sustainable aquaculture program. Happily, our views of what we needed to do and what investments we needed to make, converged nicely with the comments that the Auditor General provided. –Liseanne Forand, Assistant Deputy Minister, Policy, DFO, Proceedings, 2 May 2001

The Conservation Council’s overriding concern with the aquaculture industry in New Brunswick is the cumulative environmental effect... To date this issue has not been addressed by regulators. – Janice Harvey, Director, Marine Conservation Program, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Proceedings, 24 April 2001

I do not think that DFO is a promoter of aquaculture, rather it is essentially an environment department. It no more promotes aquaculture than it promotes the wild fishery... . DFO has conservation and habitat as its primary mandate, and it does that effectively. – David Rideout, Executive Director, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, Proceedings, 1 May 2001

... (T)he devil is in the detail and in the doing. Thus, we will want to monitor, as Parliament’s external auditors, in the years ahead. – Ronald C. Thompson, Assistant Auditor General, International Affairs, Proceedings, 2 May 2001

The environment and fish habitat elicited much heartfelt discussion during our review. Like other forms of intensive animal production (e.g., poultry or hog operations), densely stocked salmonid farms produce wastes. However, unlike terrestrial farming, where the effluent usually reaches natural water bodies indirectly in runoff, the wastes pass through the net-cages and are released directly into the surrounding marine environment. The wastes include uneaten (excess) feed and faecal matter (said to be the bulk of discharges), chemical residues (e.g., antibiotics, pesticides, and anti-foulant paints used to prevent the growth of barnacles and other species), and other wastes (e.g., morts, shed fish scales). The obvious question is what effect this untreated effluent has on water quality and local ecosystems.

The possible consequences of wastes on the ecosystem were said to include the accumulation of sediments on the ocean bottom, decreased oxygen levels, increased algae growth,(23) the absorption of residues by marine life, and the mortality of bottom creatures and plants, especially in areas where there is poor tidal flushing of farm sites, shallow water, and slow currents. In British Columbia, the total quantity of untreated effluent produced by salmon net-cage operations was estimated by witnesses to be approximately equivalent to the amount of human sewage produced by a city of 500,000 people. On the East Coast, fishers were concerned about the possible impact that fish farming could have on lobster stocks.

In British Columbia, industry supporters often pointed to the province’s Salmon Aquaculture Review which concluded, in 1997, that salmon farming presented low overall risk to the environment. Others, however, pointed out that since the imposition of the moratorium on new salmon farm leases, the sector had increased by 60% through raising more fish. Many groups and individuals in that province called for the closer monitoring of farm sites and for immediate studies to properly assess their impact. For example, we were told that infestation of sea lice, an ecto-parasite found on the skin of salmonid, are killed using ivermectin, a highly toxic substance that the manufacturer does not recommend for marine applications because of its toxicity to other organisms.

Conservationists and environmentalists in B.C. repeatedly stated that the industry was reluctant or refused to provide information on its activities. Committee members were shown photographs that illustrate some of the other, more visible types of wastes and debris left behind when fish farms cease to operate or move.(24) They were told that the areas beneath salmon farms resembled "moonscapes," and that there had been no studies conducted on the biota in the vicinity of salmon farms before and after they had begun their operations. Spokespersons for the salmon farming sector, on the other hand, asserted that studies had shown that the accumulation of waste (if any) was generally limited to areas directly underneath the farms and does not extend very far beyond them. Later, in April 2000 following our visit to the region, the province announced a salmon aquaculture monitoring program that requires all farms to provide specific data on environmental conditions at and surrounding fish pens to help set environmental standards for future operations.(25)

In British Columbia, we learned of a private prosecution launched under the Fisheries Act against a salmon farming company (Stolt Sea Farms Inc.) operating off Vancouver Island. The prosecution alleged that the build-up of wastes underneath a salmon farm represented a harmful alteration of fish habitat under the Fisheries Act; it also took place at a time when the federal government was dedicating significant effort to the expansion of the industry. The charges were stayed on the grounds that licensing of the site (with knowledge of the effects) would reduce the chances of a conviction.(26)

On both coasts, Committee members were often reminded that salmon growers rely on a healthy environment for their existence, and that every human activity has an environmental or ecological "footprint." In the Atlantic region, one individual observed that fishing methods – such as trawling and dragging in the traditional (wild or capture) fisheries – had affected marine ecosystems more adversely than had aquaculture. While generally acknowledging environmental and fish habitat concerns, proponents of salmon aquaculture emphasized that it was in the farmers’ best interest to maintain a healthy and productive aquatic environment for their fish. At current levels of production, they maintained that salmon farming presents a comparatively low ecological or environmental risk when compared to the larger sources of pollution, such as municipal sewage systems.

Last year, DFO officials informed us that a legal review team of departmental personnel and staff from the Office of the Commissioner for Aquaculture Development had been established to review environmental regulations, including section 35 of the Fisheries Act (dealing with harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat) and section 36 (prohibiting the deposit of deleterious substances in waters frequented by fish). Environmentalists feared that the review, which has since been released to the public, would result in less stringent regulation. On these provisions, the Department was criticized for never having exercised its powers to deny permission to site a fish farm in New Brunswick where it might harm fish habitat, or to charge a farm for releasing substances in the environment that are deleterious to fish. The Auditor General’s December 2000 report on salmon farming in B.C. similarly noted that no salmon farm had ever been prosecuted for the release of a deleterious substance having an impact on fish habitat. Put simply, industry critics on both coasts asked the federal government to "act in the interests of the public."

The industry put forward a variety of approaches to reduce pollution, such as using feeds with low fish meal content, avoiding overly dense siting of fish farm sites, and siting net-pens in areas with strong currents or tides that flush wastes (a strategy discredited by environmentalists as the "dilution is the solution" approach). More refined feeding schedules and underwater camera systems that monitor the feeding of fish are increasingly being used to ensure that feed (which is the major production cost) is not wasted, and this was said to dramatically reduce the amount of waste at farm sites. Another measure thought to reverse the adverse impacts of salmon farming is fallowing; this involves revolving the growing process so that some net-pens are left empty to allow sediments and the biota under them to recover, much as a land farmer circulates his pastures. However, we were told that there are no clear answers on how long it takes for a fish farm site to recover once an operation ceases, or when and how long sites should be left fallow.

Another concern in our discussions was the control of predators (fish, coastal mammals, and birds) that are attracted to farms because of the potential food sources there. Predators cause economic losses by consuming the stocks being cultivated, or by tearing and creating holes in net-cages which enable the fish to escape. The stocks being reared may be wounded, which reduces their market value and may increase their stress levels, making them more vulnerable to disease. However, lack of information on actual losses makes it difficult to estimate the economic impact. Because fish farmers’ desire to control predators by killing them conflicts with the desire of many members of the public to conserve wildlife, fish growers attempt to deter predators through a variety of other practices, such as the use of special netting and other physical barriers, scaring tactics (e.g., dogs, noise makers), electric fences, and trapping.

In British Columbia, underwater acoustic deterrent/harassment devices were introduced in the Broughton Archipelago in order to keep harbour seals away from salmon net-pens. This was said to have contributed to a decline in the abundance of harbour porpoises, and to be the primary cause of the orca whale’s avoidance of traditional travel routes in the Archipelago after 1993. Because such devices benefit the finfish farming industry, some witnesses felt that the DFO does not enforce the Marine Mammal Regulations under the federal Fisheries Act. The impacts of these devices on aquatic mammals are largely unknown because of the paucity of research.

It is noteworthy that the growth in public awareness of environmental issues has resulted in the launch of campaigns to protect global marine resources, and that environmental groups have been able to influence the demand for targeted seafood products (e.g., "dolphin-safe" labels were adopted by producers of canned tuna because of concerns that dolphins were getting caught in tuna nets). A number of organizations are demanding that the public be allowed to choose between products that are safe and friendly to the environment and those that are not. Last year, an "eco-certification" program was suggested to us in B.C. to inform and reassure consumers that the aquaculture products they purchase are grown in an environmentally sound manner, and to give aquaculturists incentives to produce products that can bring higher prices. We learned that standards for seafood were under development by an international organic-certification agency (the Marine Stewardship Council),(27) and that the State of Alaska, which does not allow sea-cage aquaculture, was in the process of getting Alaskan wild salmon classified as organic. Alaskan salmon is reportedly now classified as such, which should be of concern to Canadian salmon producers.

In the Pacific region, the Auditor General’s December 2000 report concluded that the DFO was: not fully meeting its legislative obligations under the Fisheries Act to protect wild salmon stocks and habitat from the effects of salmon farming; managing on the assumption that salmon farming poses an overall low risk to wild salmon and habitat; and doing little in terms of monitoring salmon farms for effects on wild salmon stocks and habitat.

The Auditor recommended that the Department: act immediately to strengthen its monitoring and enforcement capabilities for salmon farming operations; take immediate action to determine how section 35 of the Fisheries Act will be applied to salmon farming and how section 36(28) will be addressed; and provide the province with comprehensive comments on potential conflicts between the federal statute and provincial regulations that, at the time of the audit, were being developed.(29) With respect to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which requires that every screening of a project consider its cumulative environmental effects, the Auditor concluded that the DFO had no formal plan for assessing the potential cumulative environmental effects of proposals for new salmon sites in B.C. (should the decision be made to expand the industry), and that the potential cumulative environmental effects of multiple salmon farm proposals warrant a public review before a decision is made to lift the moratorium. Witnesses indicated that the Auditor General’s December 2000 remarks on the DFO’s regulatory performance in B.C. would also ring true in the Province of New Brunswick.

Put simply, on the environmental consequences and risks associated with salmon farms, science is inconclusive because there have been very few studies on the subject.

 

E. Escaping Farmed Salmonids

I just want to make sure it’s clearly understood that I’m not saying that right now ... Atlantic salmon populations are establishing in B.C. I’m just saying that if it does happen one day, there are some solutions to that problem. – Yves Bastien, DFO Commissioner for Aquaculture Development, Proceedings of the House of Commons Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, 22 February 2000

Clearly DFO has been pushing a "don’t worry, be happy" line while trying to minimize or ignore the very real potential for Atlantic salmon to take over the habitat of wild salmon. – Laurie MacBride, Georgia Strait Alliance, Brief, 22 February 2000

We need to focus our attention on the issues of research and development so that we can provide and achieve the level of commercially viable containment where there is a minimal risk of any escapes and an understanding of what would happen if there were escapes and how we can mitigate against that. – David Rideout, Executive Director, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, Proceedings, 8 February 2000

The (wild) fish are being "swamped" ... at a time when their populations are least able to cope with it. There is evidence that introduction of inappropriate genes through interbreeding between farmed and wild fish is contributing to the decline in wild populations. – The Atlantic Salmon Federation, Brief, 29 February 2000

(I)n the Bay of Fundy, the Atlantic salmon is virtually reduced to a handful. We are really counting those Atlantic salmon on our fingers and toes. – Inka Milewski, President, Policy, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Proceedings, 24 April 2001

Aquaculture escaped Atlantic salmon are capable of spawning in B.C. streams. We have shown this to be true beyond any shadow of a doubt. Although the aquaculture fish do not spawn quite as vigorously as we might expect wild Atlantic salmon to, they will spawn and produce viable offspring. ... Once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no turning back... – John Volpe, Department of Biology, Centre for Environmental Health, University of Victoria, Proceedings, 9 May 2001

A great deal of debate arose over another form of contamination, sometimes referred to as "biological pollution." Biological pollutants are non-chemical and result from the deliberate or accidental introduction of non-indigenous (or "exotic") species into ecosystems where they were not previously present. They can seriously disrupt ecosystems by consuming native species, infecting them with pathogens or parasites, competing with them for space, or by mating with them and changing the gene pool (i.e., producing hybrids). In Canada, a number of non-indigenous species of fish and shellfish are now farmed, including steelhead (or rainbow) trout on the Atlantic Coast, and Atlantic salmon on the West Coast.(30) On the potential effects of escaped farmed salmon on wild stocks, critics charged that the DFO had been avoiding the issue, which they portrayed as being the most devastating threat facing wild populations today.

Wild stocks of salmon are characterized by a large number of genetically distinct populations that are adapted to the specific conditions of the local river systems in which they were born and to which they return to spawn. British Columbia has more than 5,000 genetically diverse Pacific salmon stocks, and the Maritime provinces have more than 150 rivers supporting Atlantic salmon. In contrast, farmed salmon are bred to be genetically uniform and to have favourable production characteristics, such as rapid growth and low aggressiveness. "Selection pressures" in a cultured environment were said to result in "domesticated" fish. However, others asserted that there is very little genetic variation among different strains of Atlantic salmon.

Because salmon are reared in sea-cages, large numbers escape from their enclosures for a variety of reasons: damage due to storms, ice or predators, vandalism, accidents during transportation, improper upkeep of nets, and other avoidable human errors. Moreover, some escapes may go unreported because of the difficulty in verifying how many fish have escaped, and because it may not be worthwhile for fish farm operators to make insurance claims for small numbers of escaped fish. Fish may be lost through frequent small-scale escapes known as "leakage," which is said to go largely unreported. "Escape events" (as they are called) sometimes result in tens of thousands of farmed fish "getting loose" into the ecosystem. Critics of the finfish net-cage industry told us that such escapes are unavoidable in open-water pens, and that without a dramatic improvement in containment capabilities, the number of escapees will increase if the industry maintains its current rate of growth. We were told that public concern about escaped fish is growing in countries that practise salmon aquaculture. According to one DFO report, "monitoring on 30 Norwegian rivers in 1997 indicated that all but four had farmed fish present and the samples collectively on those rivers were composed of 29% farmed fish."(31)

In the Bay of Fundy–Gulf of Maine region, where wild Atlantic salmon populations are in a precarious state, the numbers of escapees are often large in comparison to the small numbers of wild fish. In February 2001, an Expert Panel of the Royal Society of Canada reported that in the only Canadian river for which annual data on escaped cultured fish and wild fish exist (the Magaguadavic River, New Brunswick), the number of cultured fish entering it between 1992 and 1999 had been two to eight times that of the wild salmon returning to the same river to spawn.(32) In our discussions, salmon aquaculture was said to pose a number of challenges to the recovery of wild salmon because, when strains of domesticated farmed salmon escape and interbreed with wild stocks, the new combinations of genes result in the weakening of the gene pool and the fitness of the remaining wild fish.(33)

Although the causes of the decline in wild Atlantic salmon are uncertain, it was speculated that escaped farmed salmon may have accentuated the deterioration in wild salmon runs because the depletions had occurred in areas where there had been dramatic increases in farmed production. Supporters of the industry responded that this view was unsupported by scientific evidence, and that other factors were affecting the survival of wild fish, including lost habitat, pollution, predation, harvesting outside the 200-mile limit, and global warming. They also emphasized that only local strains of salmon are allowed to be reared on the East Coast,(34) and pointed out that it was in the fish farmers’ own economic interest to reduce the risk of escapes.

On the East Coast, we were informed that the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO)(35) had recently agreed on guiding principles for developing codes of containment for farmed Atlantic salmon. These codes are to be applied throughout the NASCO Convention area, and are expected to address the prevention of escaped cultured fish by such means as establishing manufacturing standards for nets, cages, moorings, systems inspections, and handling standards. The aim is to create a level playing field in the competitive salmon farming industry. Access to non-local strains of salmon (e.g., from Europe) has not been permitted under NASCO Protocols between the United States and Canada since the early 1990s; however, it was reported to us that (prior to their signing) the State of Maine had imported strains of Norwegian Atlantic salmon because of their faster rates of growth. With the adoption of the Protocols, Canada had expected the United States to eliminate the use of these, but, despite pressure by Canada, this had not happened. As well, it was reported to us that the aquaculture industry in Maine has taken advantage of a legal loophole that permits the importation of milt from non-American (European) sources.(36) Obviously, those fish are escaping too.

In British Columbia, where both Atlantic and Pacific salmon are farmed, the risks posed by escaped Atlantic salmon were the most contentious.(37) The numbers of Atlantic salmon that escape are reported to have averaged about 43,900 fish per year between 1994 and 1998, and anywhere between 32,000 to 86,000 farmed Atlantics escaped from net-pens between January and September 2000.(38) Atlantic salmon, which represents about 85% of the province’s salmonid production, is a species imported from the East Coast and elsewhere because the fish are considered to be more resistant to certain diseases, have a lower mortality rate, are more tolerant to a higher density of fish, have a more favourable feed conversion rate, grow more quickly than Pacific salmon, and have an established market.(39) Last year, conservationists frequently pointed out to us that the decision to allow Atlantic salmon net-pen culture in B.C. had been made without proper study of its environmental impact. One fear was that escaped Atlantic salmon might one day cross-breed with wild Pacific stocks – a risk assessed by the aquaculture sector to be extremely low.

Another worry was the possibility of escaped Atlantic salmon feeding on Pacific stocks, out-competing them for food, disrupting spawning sites, and becoming established in the wild. Others assessed the risk of such colonization to be low given that several past government attempts to deliberately establish Atlantics for sport fishing along the coast in the early 1900s had failed. In fact, proponents of the industry portrayed the issue as the proverbial "red herring" of salmon aquaculture; the reason usually given was that, compared to Pacific salmon, Atlantic salmon are very poor competitors. One submission put it this way: "The Atlantic salmon is not a starling in Pacific waters but rather a banana plant in Stanley Park. And like a banana plant in Stanley Park, the Atlantic salmon is neither a threat to biodiversity … and neither (will) it displace native species."(40)

Recent scientific evidence, however, suggests otherwise because Atlantic salmon are present in a number of B.C. salmon spawning streams at all life history stages. Last year, we learned that surveys of 1% of the potential rearing habitat for Atlantic salmon on Vancouver Island had shown the presence of juvenile Atlantic salmon in three rivers (the Tsitika and Adams rivers, and Amor de Cosmos Creek); this indicated that Atlantic salmon escapees were successfully spawning in rivers. At the time, we were surprised to find out that so little study was being undertaken in this area (see Table 3): the only research being done on the ecological effects of escaped Atlantic salmon was by a doctoral candidate at the University of Victoria (an expert in invasive ecology) who explained that a previously reliable method for detecting the presence of Atlantic salmon (electroshock fishing) had been ineffective. He asserted that if you look for Atlantic salmon, "you find them." As of May 2001, John Volpe’s work remains the only scientific evaluation of potential ecological effects of Atlantic salmon farming in British Columbia.

With regard to past attempts, in the past century, to establish Atlantic salmon on the West Coast, it was explained to us that these were unsuccessful because the industry used eggs and alevins, unlike Atlantic salmon that now escape which may be fully or mostly grown and have a better chance of successfully colonizing. Current escapees may also be acclimatized to local conditions, given that they may be the offspring of generations of parents raised in the Pacific environment. As well, compared to the situation 100 years ago, the depressed state of native pacific salmonid populations, particularly steelhead trout, has left a vacant niche for feral Atlantics, which are capable of persisting in B.C. streams, adversely affecting native salmonids through competition for food and space. We were warned that an expanded industry would result in more escapes of Atlantic salmon – a species now found as far away as the Bering sea. In Alaska, where net-cage salmon farming was banned in 1990,(41) we were told that the Department of Fish and Game had evidence that farmed Atlantic salmon were establishing themselves in Alaskan waters.

 

Table 3

Status of Knowledge / Information Gaps on the Interactions Between Atlantic and Pacific Salmon
(Either recently escaped or wild spawned)

Area of Concern

Has it been examined?

Has it been demonstrated/
documented?

What is the potential for impact on wild Pacific stocks?

Marine

Competition for food No No Unknown
Interference/disruption of migration No No Relatively low risk
Attraction of wild salmon to net-cage sites (both lighted and not lighted) No No Possible interruption of seaward or adult return migration patterns

Freshwater

Interference with spawning (behavioural or egg consumption) No No Risk is anticipated, but magnitude is unknown
Pacific salmon eggs dug up by spawning Atlantic salmon No No Risk is anticipated, but magnitude is unknown
Competition between juveniles for food and space Yes Yes Potentially high; needs to be evaluated
Habitat displacement in freshwater among juveniles Yes – in laboratory Yes, but appropriate controls lacking Risk is anticipated, but magnitude is unknown

Source: Auditor General of Canada, Chapter 30; Fisheries and Oceans: The Effects of Salmon Farming in British Columbia on the Management of Wild Salmon Stocks, December 2000; Continuing Studies in Science at Simon Fraser University, Salmon Workshop Proceedings – Aquaculture and the Protection of Wild Salmon, July 2000.

 

In the Pacific region, Atlantic Salmon Watch (ASW) – a joint federal-provincial program initiated in 1991 – is the only dedicated program that monitors and documents reported sightings of Atlantic salmon. Since its inception, the Province has been the principal funding agency, with staff and facilities provided by the DFO. Last year, in February 2000, testifying before the Committee, the Commissioner of Aquaculture Development said that rivers in British Columbia were "monitored very closely." In December 2000, the Auditor General recommended that the DFO expand and improve the ASW to provide the information necessary to assess the effectiveness of its regulatory and management activities. However, it was brought to our attention that the number of Atlantic salmon in the wild are underestimated because much of the information generated by ASW comes from reports of Atlantic salmon taken in commercial catches. The reports are marginally informative because they reflect fishing effort and the seasonality of fishing (e.g., if fishing is curtailed, interceptions of Atlantic salmon are also curtailed). Also, reporting is voluntary and compliance is unknown.(42) To date, their presence has been documented in 77 rivers in British Columbia.

The following statement conveys the general nature and tone of our discussions with those who had fears about escaping Atlantic salmon in B.C:

Atlantic escapes have defied every prediction (the) DFO has made about them to date: at various times, the Department has assured concerned citizens that Atlantics wouldn’t know how to forage, they wouldn’t know mature to spawning ability, they wouldn’t know where to find a river to spawn, they wouldn’t know how to avoid being eaten by predators, they wouldn’t escape in sufficient numbers to spawn successfully and finally, their spawn would not be viable. – Musgamagw Tsawataineuk Tribal Council, Brief, 14 February 2000.

To reiterate, those fears have been substantiated.

Obviously, escapes are not to the advantage of salmon farmers; they are a financial disaster to those who own them. On both coasts, salmon farmers expressed their willingness to co-invest in research and development to minimize the risk of fish escapes. We were told that they had been developing and implementing codes of conduct for salmon farming practices, and that, whether indigenous or non-indigenous species are raised, measures can be taken to minimize escapes and the potential attached risks. For example, fish that have no chance of surviving and reproducing outside captivity may be cultivated.(43) The immediate retrieval of finfish that escape was cited as another means. Under the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers, a Task Group has been developing a national code on deliberate introductions and transfers of aquatic organisms, including a mechanism to arbitrate disputes affecting more than one province or territory. A number of submissions, however, suggested that the simplest way to eliminate escapes of non-indigenous species was closed containment on land-based facilities or not to raise them in the first place. Indeed, some groups will be satisfied only with a zero level of risk associated with the use of non-native species.

 

F. Fish Health

Transfer of disease is an important issue. … There are speculations, and environmental people put out all sorts of information that they say is conclusive. It is not. – The Honourable Herb Dhaliwal, PC, MP, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Proceedings, 15 February 2000

The Department acknowledges that it does not have enough information available to assess the risk of disease transfer from farmed salmon to wild (Pacific) stocks. ... This prevents any meaningful assessment of the potential implications on fish health of interaction between wild stocks and farmed salmon. – Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons, Chapter30, December 2000

I have no problem with comprehensive labelling, but that is not my mandate; that is not in my area. It is for the Minister of Agriculture and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with Health Canada to determine the labelling and all that. However, I would support any comprehensive labelling. – The Honourable Herb Dhaliwal, PC, MP, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Proceedings, 4 April 2000

... (T)he controlled environment in which our fish are farmed means that the consumer can have a more enhanced assurance of quality and safety from farmed fish than from wild fish, where the environmental conditions are unknown. – David Rideout, Executive Director, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, Letter to the Chair, 4 May 2001

(W)e have spent $40 million of taxpayers’ money over two years compensating New Brunswick salmon farmers for ordered fish kill because of serious disease problems. Before that there was a serious outbreak of sea lice, which cost the industry tens of millions of dollars. These crises that have occurred along the way are driving change. – Janice Harvey, Director, Marine Conservation Program, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Proceedings, 24 April 2001

The use of drugs, pesticides and other chemical substances, as well as the transfer of fish diseases between farmed and wild fish and between fish farms, were subjects of considerable debate and of primary concern to both salmon aquaculturists and non-aquaculturists alike. On fish health, the Committee can only skim the surface of what is obviously a highly complex and technical issue that involves several sub-issues.

Salmonids are susceptible to a number of bacterial, viral and fungal diseases, as well as parasites. Disease can be transmitted between fish, by other carriers, or by pathogens that are waterborne and that infect animals in their path. In Canada, marine salmonid farming operations are open net-pens. Compared to natural conditions, the physical stress of such crowding is believed to make finfish more susceptible to illness, or to cause disease to spread rapidly in captive populations once it occurs. As such, finfish farms have been described as disease amplifiers. In some areas, concern was expressed about the collection and disposal of morts (dead fish) from farms and fish processing effluent (blood, viscera) as potential sources of disease transference.

On both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, advocates of salmon aquaculture made the following arguments: pathogens (bacteria, viruses) are part of the natural world; pathogens are no different in farmed fish than they are in wild fish populations; there is no scientific evidence that diseased farmed fish have had an impact on wild stocks, or vice versa; and it is much more likely that wild fish infect farmed stocks because, unlike natural stocks, farmed fish are monitored for disease and treated. Moreover, while the impact of disease can be estimated in farmed fish, it is difficult to assess for wild stocks. Improvements in fish husbandry – including year-class separation, fallowing, selective breeding for disease resistance, improved nutrition – were also said to have reduced the risk of disease transfer. It was impressed upon us that fish farmers have a strong financial incentive to reduce losses due to disease. In the Atlantic region, where aquaculture strains are derived from local stocks of wild salmon and where the use of European strains is prohibited, it was frequently asserted that farmed fish do not create new diseases. On the West Coast, Committee members were told that, to date, diseases in farmed fish are endemic to the region.

In British Columbia, a major and consistent worry was that farmed Atlantic salmon (a non-native species) could transmit new diseases to indigenous stocks and cause irreversible damage, especially given the very low runs of Pacific salmon in some rivers. One submission suggested that the introduction of diseased Atlantic salmon smolts to the Broughton Archipelago in the 1990s might have resulted in a new strain of the fish disease called furunculosis. Proponents of salmon farming, for their part, responded that there had never been a documented case of disease being brought in from outside the province. They made the following points: under the Atlantic Salmon Importation Policy, Atlantic salmon smolts are not allowed to be imported from overseas; only fertilized eggs or milt from certified sources are allowed into the country; and these imports are limited, held in quarantine, and closely examined before they are introduced to farms. This testimony contradicted those who said that the disinfecting process required for imported salmon eggs treats only the surface of the eggs and does nothing to prevent the vertical transmission of disease (from parent to offspring). The more vocal opponents of sea-cage salmon aquaculture called for a total ban on the importation of Atlantic salmon eggs into the province.(44)

Although not known to be harmful to human beings, one highly contagious viral disease affecting Atlantic farmed salmon on the East Coast is infectious salmon anaemia (ISA) – a flu-like sickness with no known cure that attacks the kidneys of salmon. ISA is believed to be spread by the blood water, mucus, or faeces of diseased fish, or by carriers such as parasitic sea lice, farm personnel or contaminated equipment. First detected on Norwegian salmon farms in 1984, the disease was thought to be specific to that region until the virus started appearing in New Brunswick in 1996. The Committee learned that, in 1998, the government took the radical measure of ordering a slaughter of two million farmed fish to prevent this disease from spreading, and that millions of dollars of public money had been spent to compensate fish growers. Small operators were forced into receivership, so that the larger companies gained greater control of the industry. We were told that, for the first time, in October 1999, ISA had been detected in wild Atlantic salmon in New Brunswick’s Magaguadavic River.

Similar outbreaks of ISA have occurred elsewhere, for example in Scotland, Chile and the Faroe Islands. In Norway, the virus ravaged salmon farms in the early 1990s; the overcrowding of fish farms led to new regulations restricting size and concentration. In Scotland, the disease problem was said to be serious enough to force a quarantine of one-quarter of its fish farms.(45) In Britain, in the wake of the "mad-cow disease" outbreak, we heard that the major supermarket chains had stopped buying farmed salmon from Scottish fish farms suspected of or confirmed as having ISA. Considering the magnitude of the economic losses caused by ISA (and other diseases), very little is known about the disease. It is unknown whether ISA is endemic and found in wild fish which then transmit it to farmed fish, or vice versa. Last year, we were told that ISA had been a problem in the Bay of Fundy, yet a few kilometres away, salmon in the State of Maine remained disease-free. As of March 2001, this is no longer the case.

Although ISA has never been detected in B.C., conservationists and environmentalists speculated that it was only a matter of time before there is an outbreak in that province; this is because the disease is found in every country from which Canada imports Atlantic salmon eggs.

Another issue was the use of antibiotics to combat pathogens in farmed finfish, many of which are the same as those used to treat human infections. In salmonid aquaculture, antibiotics are administered by feeding fish medicated feed pellets that are thrown in the water. Critics stated that only a very small percentage of these substances is absorbed by the targeted fish, with the rest sinking below the fish pens where it persists in the marine environment, or is consumed by other fish, especially shellfish; many worried about the residual effects not only on the food chain, but also on human health. It was speculated that the use of antibiotics might one day lead to the development of drug-resistant strains of bacteria (or "super-bugs"). This was said to pose risks not only to the ecosystem, but also to fish farm workers and consumers of farmed salmon. In B.C., we were told that strains of fish disease that are resistant to certain antibiotics are already present in farmed fish. Although farmed salmon are required to undergo a drug removal period before being processed, we were also told that antibiotic residues may be present in some farmed finfish that go to market. Government inspection programs were also said to be severely under-funded, so that only a very small proportion of farmed fish are actually examined. Some foreign producers were said to be exporting products to Canada that may contain residues of substances not permitted in this country.

These assertions were vigorously challenged by industry supporters who painted a much different picture and who argued that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency routinely tests farmed salmon, like any other animals raised for food production, for antibiotics and contaminants, and that, compared to many parts of the world, relatively few therapeutants are legally available for use in Canada. They pointed out that: antibiotic use is less than in any other animal food industry; antibiotics are administered only for short periods (a few days) and in very small amounts to control outbreaks; after their use, there is a strictly regulated and lengthy withdrawal period and testing program; and advances in fish health management and husbandry practices, and in particular the development of vaccines for fish, have contributed to significant reductions in the overall use of antibiotics.

One witness stated the following:

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Fish Inspection Directorate (now under the Canadian Food Agency) has previously estimated that 1.6% of all feed used in the New Brunswick salmon farming industry is medicated. This figure, which is consistent with figures reported for salmon farming in British Columbia, which have not exceeded 3% in the last five years, represents perhaps the lowest medicated feed inclusion rate for food animal production in Canada. … How do we know that salmon are safe from drug residues? From 1991 to 1996, the DFO Fish Inspection Directorate randomly sampled 1,542 and 1,277 lots of farmed salmon in New Brunswick and British Columbia, respectively. Residues levels detected above Health Canada’s maximum residue limit (MRL) were found in only 3.5% of the samples from New Brunswick, and in less than 1% of the samples taken in British Columbia over the entire five year period. In almost all cases where follow-up samples were obtained, residues were below the MRL and no further action was required. Positive samples (residue above the MRL) were most prominent in the early 1990s. Since that time, … the occurrence of residues above the MRL have been nearly non-existent… – Dr. Myron Roth, VP Production and Regulatory Affairs, Aqua Health Ltd. and President of the Salmon Health Consortium, Brief, 22 February 2000.

Industry supporters made the following additional points: research into fish disease is in its infancy; compared to other countries (e.g., Norway, Japan), the number of government-approved chemotherapeutants in Canada is absurdly limited; this limited number of approved products restricts the ability of fish farmers to treat disease effectively once it occurs; and a broader range of products should be available to prevent and manage disease. Moreover, it was stressed that nearly all antimicrobial drugs are administered under the direct supervision of licensed veterinarians.(46) Industry critics, for their part, told us that although the amount of antibiotic used per kilogram of fish raised had decreased, any increase in salmon production will result in an absolute increase in drug use.

On the subject of disease control, it was also proposed that some form of crop insurance be made available to aquaculturists similar to programs in the agriculture sector. On a land-based farm or ranch, if a disease that is harmful to human beings or to other farms is detected, the infected animals are destroyed and the farmer is compensated for the losses incurred (under the Health of Animals Act). In aquaculture, it was explained that government-ordered fish kills also take place as a precautionary measure (even if only a few diseased fish are found). However, private insurance companies will compensate fish farmers for fish killed by disease only and not for healthy fish that are slaughtered as a precaution. It was also argued that crop insurance in the aquaculture sector would help stabilize the industry and make financing easier to obtain. According to one witness, the need for crop insurance was demonstrated in the Bay of Fundy in 1998, when ISA cost the industry over $70 million in direct and foregone opportunity costs. It was estimated that if an agriculture-type crop insurance program for salmon growers had been available at the time, the costs would most likely have been less than $4 million. This estimate is based on the following assumptions: a surveillance system would have been in place; farmers would have been required to report; and a pre-established rapid response would have dealt with the disease quickly.

Although a preventative vaccine has been recently developed for ISA, we were told it had been shown to be ineffective because the virus can lodge in the mucus covering of fish (which is not supplied by blood). At present, ISA (and other diseases) is being controlled by animal husbandry practices, adherence to hygiene and disinfection protocols, stocking and fallowing policies, site monitoring, and fish kills. On 29 May 2001, the Commissioner for Aquaculture Development told Committee members that the DFO was addressing the issues of aquatic animal health, government-ordered eradication of fish, and compensation (recommendations 21 to 24 of phase one of his regulatory and legislative review) through a National Aquatic Animal Health Program.

On the reporting of disease and antibiotic use, a spokesperson for the industry described the situation in the Atlantic and Pacific regions in the following terms:

There are essentially two systems in play at least in terms of the salmon industry, if I can use that as an example. In British Columbia, there are regulations that require reporting. The government is involved in managing that issue. ... On the East Coast, that government control is not there, so the industry has implemented what is called a "healthy salmon program," particularly in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It essentially mirrors what goes on in British Columbia but in this case it is done by the industry. It is seen to be quite effective. – David Rideout, Executive Director, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, Proceedings, 1 May 2001.

It is noteworthy that the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, the New Brunswick Salmon Growers’ Association (NBSGA), and other associations have established, or are developing, codes of practice to deal with the disease problem.(47) In New Brunswick, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture unveiled a new site allocation policy for the Bay of Fundy in October 2000; the policy focuses on Bay Management Agreements (between farmers) that cover issues such as husbandry practices, bio-security and fish health management, (mandatory) Fish Health Surveillance, and environmental management. Single-year class management and bay management are priorities under the new policy.(48) Other developments in that province include the Healthy Salmon Program (HSP) – a certification program launched by the NBSGA in November 2000 to foster the responsible use of therapeutants, and to serve as a mechanism for farmers to verify their compliance with established federal in-food drug residue tolerances set by Canadian and U.S. regulators. A semi-annual audit (and certification) procedure includes assessing a farmer’s fish health management practices, therapeutic handling, storage and use, as well as record systems for tracking treatments, withdrawal times, and harvest.

The NBSGA also funds (along with the provincial Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Aquaculture, and the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) the Animal/Aquaculture Productivity and Health Information Network (APHIN) – an Internet-based fish health management database run from the Atlantic Veterinary College of the University of P.E.I.(49) As part of B.C.’s October 1999 policy, the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA), in cooperation with the B.C. Ministry of Fisheries and the DFO, is developing a similar Fish Health Database. Information on individual farms will not be accessible because these databases are private-sector initiatives.

Lastly, the general public’s growing awareness of the need to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics was brought up during our deliberations. Many people may wish to avoid eating or handling farmed salmon that have been so treated, while others may wish to avoid farmed fish because of concerns about the aquaculture industry’s impact on wild stocks and the marine environment. The labelling of farmed fish was therefore suggested. At present, this was said to be at the discretion of the industry; because farmed fish is seldom, if ever, labelled as such, consumers are not able to differentiate it from wild fish.

 

G. Shellfish Aquaculture, Enhancement

I commend you for having decided to visit Madeleine Islands during the process of your hearings. Scallop fishermen there decided to do sea ranching. – Yves Bastien, DFO Commissioner for Aquaculture Development, Proceedings, 22 February 2000

Following a trip to Japan in 1989, some people wanted to meet with the fishers to propose another way of doing things, that is, to use aquaculture or mariculture techniques that would allow for the regeneration of fish stocks. That is what I call sea ranching in support of the fishery. – Sylvain Vigneau, Co-ordinator, Association des pêcheurs de pétoncles des Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Proceedings, 29 May 2001

All (that) we experienced leads us to the idea that an integrated approach is essential. In order for the industry to develop, all aspects must be considered and developed in some focused plan. Seed supply, environmental influences, grow-out technologies and efficiencies, processing, product development, distribution, financing, and regulations all must be considered together. – Jennifer Caines, Brief, 5 June 2000

Salmon farmers and environmental groups have sharp differences of opinion with regard to any future expansion of salmon aquaculture. With respect to shellfish (a sector that has not attracted much media attention), views do not seem to be as deeply divided. The major reason is that shellfish growing is generally considered to be a more environmentally friendly activity than salmon farming, with less of an impact on the ecosystem. Unlike salmon farming, which relies heavily on manufactured feed, shellfish are filter-feeders that consume nutrients already present in the water column. Consequently, there are no problems associated with wastes or residues (e.g., feeds, antibiotics) that enter the marine environment. In this regard, notwithstanding the visual impact of shellfish farms in some areas, shellfish growers do not have the same "public relations challenge" as do salmon farmers. In fact, it has been suggested that the cultivation of shellfish near or on salmon farms could help reduce excess nutrients generated by the latter.

Most finfish farming requires large capital investment which, in many cases, can be undertaken only by individuals and companies with access to substantial financial resources. In shellfish aquaculture, on the other hand, there is a predominance of small and medium-sized businesses and family operations, indicating opportunities for small entrepreneurs. Moreover, the species group is generally very much in demand and highly valued by consumers, and there are no costs associated with feed (a major production cost for finfish) or with escapes, given that shellfish are sedentary animals. Although First Nations in B.C. have at best "mixed feelings" about finfish farming, DFO officials said that they generally support shellfish aquaculture more than salmon aquaculture.

On shellfish, comments on both coasts were made to the effect that the regulatory system was inappropriate for the industry. For example, on the East Coast, Committee members learned that there are certain market advantages in growing smaller-sized oysters ("cocktail oysters"): revenues can be generated more quickly; production expenses are lower; and the costs associated with mortality are also lower. However, it was explained to us that regulations designed to protect the wild fishery cause unnecessary regulatory problems for shellfish aquaculturists. The product must pass through registered plants for intra-provincial sales, although no similar restriction is applied to large oysters harvested by either the wild fishery or aquaculturists.

In Northern B.C., Committee members heard that opportunities were actively being investigated and planned for oyster and scallop farming. Growers in that province also said that their sector was at a critical juncture in its development. In November 1998, the provincial government introduced the Shellfish Development Initiative, a plan that was expected to double the amount of Crown land available for shellfish aquaculture within a 10-year period. In the first step of the Development Initiative, Aboriginal people obtained tenures. The second stage, announced in April 2000, was the expansion of 66 shellfish farms on Crown foreshore. The next step will be to open up new areas of the coast for shellfish farms. Shellfish growers stated that an expansion of tenures for clams would remove only a small fraction of the total area fished by the traditional (wild) clam fishery, yet would provide a disproportionately larger return in terms of increased production and employment. For example, converting 10% of the ground currently used by the wild fishery to farming would result in at least a tenfold increase in clam production. One witness explained:

Currently, the industry has a footprint of about 2,000 hectares to produce approximately $12 million of farmed shellfish. That is equivalent in area to the new runway at the Vancouver International Airport. We are talking about doubling that land base in the next 10 years to generate $100 million in revenue. That comes with some other high value species like geoduck and scallops, as well as oysters and clams, with some further intensification of production. However, it is a very small part of the 27,000 kilometres of coastline in British Columbia. I think it is about 0.1% of the total land for tenure. – Sam Bowman, President, B.C. Shellfish Growers Association, Proceedings, 30 May 2000.

The following statement sums up much of the frustration of shellfish farmers on both coasts with respect to government regulation:

I do not think that the industry has a problem with regulation. What is important is that regulation be appropriate for the industry. What has been frustrating is that much of the regulations were originally designed for the wild fishery. As aquaculture comes into development, there is not a place where it naturally fits. Therefore, it has tended to receive the same regulations as the wild fishery, and that does not work for aquaculture. – Ruth Salmon, Executive Director, B.C. Shellfish Growers Association, Proceedings, 30 May 2000.

The future growth of the shellfish sector was also said to depend on: access to suitable sites of adequate water quality; consistent seed stock supply; disease prevention; and biotoxin avoidance. Under the Program for Sustainable Development announced in August 2000, the DFO has earmarked $20 million (over five years) to enhance the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program (CSSP). This was developed to ensure that: all shellfish growing areas meet approved water quality criteria; sources of pollution are identified; and shellfish sold commercially are harvested and handled in an approved manner. With that goal in mind, the DFO, Environment Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are to increase their activities in areas such as water testing, fish plant monitoring, the monitoring of shellfish toxins, the management of shellfish harvesting, and the publicizing and patrolling of fish harvesting closures.

On the East Coast, the "enhancement" of shellfish stocks (sometimes referred to as "sea-ranching") shows much promise if growers can secure consistent supplies of seed and be assured of private access to the stocks being reared. Essentially, enhancement comprises activities "in-between" capture fisheries and traditional aquaculture. It involves the collection of juvenile scallops (spat) in the wild, growing them in the collectors, and re-seeding or dispersing them in designated areas where scallop beds have been depleted and where they will be later harvested by scallop fishers. This type of activity was said to have been pioneered in Japan, the world leader in the farming of scallops. 

In the Atlantic region, we were made aware of three such projects for scallops. In New Brunswick, the Maritime Fishermen’s Union has become involved for the first time in scallop enhancement. Another group in that province has also been promoting the activity in the Strait of Northumberland; however, the project was said to have encountered the opposition of some fishers who perceived it as a threat to the wild scallop fishery. In the Magdalen Islands, on the other hand, we were told that scallop fishers had in fact themselves become aquaculturists of sorts. There, a scallop enhancement enterprise (Pétoncles 2000) has been developed by scallop fishers, the DFO, the provincial department of fisheries, and others to enhance depleted scallop beds and increase commercial catches. The enterprise is a business with capital stock, 60% of which is owned by the fishers, who have the option to purchase quota commensurate with the percentage of the business they own.(50) The cornerstone of the project was said to be the lease they obtained, which gives them the right to access the beds that are being re-stocked. The project was said to be an excellent example of how fishers can increase their incomes by working together. Also, if fishers are able to see the economic benefits of enhancing stocks, they will participate more fully in these types of aquacultural activities (for a more detailed discussion, see Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries, 29 May 2001).

 

H. Science, Research and Development

Expectations are high for aquaculture as an economic engine in coastal areas. However, the industry must be developed in an environmentally responsible way in keeping with the need to protect the aquatic environment and its resources and sustain them for the future. This will require additional science to address gaps in knowledge and address issues and concerns. – Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Estimates 1999-2000: A Report on Plans and Priorities, Science Branch, 1999

Salmon farming has the potential to create additional stress on wild salmon stocks over time, especially if the industry expands. We found that the Department has not developed a plan to evaluate and manage the risks in the long term. – Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons, Chapter 30, December 2000

Concerning the issues that exist, there are two points of view that are far apart. We need to bring those views to a common point so that we can find out what is right. We hope that science will help us to accomplish this. – David Rideout, Executive Director, Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, Proceedings, 1 May 2001

They very carefully construct research projects that only give one side of the argument. When there are research projects that have federal support, and they come across evidence that does not support their view of the world, they retrieve their research funds, which is what has happened here again and again. – Lynn Hunter, Fisheries and Aquaculture Specialist, the David Suzuki Foundation, Proceedings, 9 May 2001

A review done by DFO in 1998-99 on this region of Atlantic Canada ... lists 154 research projects. ... The overwhelming majority of the projects ... are in the areas of vaccines, stock development, grow-out techniques, transgenics, disease surveillance, alternative species, and so on. – Inka Milewski, President, Policy, Marine Conservation Program, Conservation Council of New Brunswick, Proceedings, 24 April 2001

The federal government maintains the lead role in aquaculture research. We were often told in our informal discussions that investment in technological innovations is key to continued improvements in productivity and diversification of the industry, and that there are many opportunities for the application of new technologies. For example, Canadian companies have been investigating alternative uses for farmed fish, such as for blood extracts for medical purposes or the potential development of human insulin.

Among fish growers, the consensus was that research should be oriented towards the needs and problems of the industry, such as the development of less costly farming techniques and improving therapeutants, and that research should be better coordinated among the various universities and government facilities. The current level of resources dedicated to R&D was said to be inadequate. The federal government has since announced (in August 2000) the Program for Sustainable Aquaculture, a component of which is the Collaborative Research & Development Program (ACRDP), which provides $20 million (over five years) for research and development projects that are proposed and jointly funded by private-sector partners. These projects are to include research on how to: reduce production costs and increase competitiveness; generate knowledge on new species and technological innovation; and develop hatchery and grow-out technology. A national steering committee was created to set national priorities and allocate funding to the regions.

In 2000, as part of the Network of Centres of Excellence, the federal government created AquaNet – a network of universities, private businesses and government agencies with a mandate to promote three main areas of scientific research: "animal production" (including disease resistance among marine organisms, production enhancement, and the development of underutilized species), "environmental integrity," and "social and economic aspects of developing the industry." The federal government has committed $14.4 million, over four years, to the network, which has its administrative centre based at Memorial University in Newfoundland. In September 2000, the Board of Directors of AquaNet approved funding for 27 aquaculture research projects.

There has been a major increase in the growth of aquaculture over the past two decades. However, salmonids account for about 74% of total production and 92% of the industry’s value (in 1999). Industry diversification into other species would appear to be promising. On our informal visits to various research facilities, we were made aware of new species that are being reared in pilot-scale projects or being investigated and that show promise for eventual commercial development (e.g., halibut, haddock, sturgeon, various types of flatfishes, and shellfish). Although research programs are currently underway with the support of the government and the private sector, medium- and long-term research funding was considered to be essential for both basic and applied research to respond to the industry’s future needs. One concern was the delay in getting decisions on projects and yearly programs.

The second thrust to the Science, Research and Development component of the DFO’s Program for Sustainable Aquaculture consists of $12.5 million to be spent, over five years, on environmental and biological science research by the federal government to increase the DFO’s capacity in environmental and biological science, such as determining the assimilative capacity of the Bay of Fundy (its ability to absorb wastes). The theme of increasing our understanding of ecosystems and aquaculture’s possible impacts was brought home at the Committee’s meeting in St. Andrews in February 2000. Prior to meeting,(51) representatives of five organizations agreed in advance on the major science-based issues to be discussed, and they met again afterwards. The result was a proposal for a collaborative research project on the local ecosystem in the Quoddy region, which was characterized as a depositional environment where wastes accumulate at the bottom of the water.

To deal with a possible expansion of salmon farming, the DFO will need more information. In the Pacific region, the Auditor General’s December 2000 report found that the DFO needed research to understand the potential effects of an expanded salmon industry, and that it was not giving adequate attention to prioritizing research requirements to ensure the most effective use of limited resources. According to the Assistant Auditor General who appeared before us, more science and research are essential for six reasons:

First, science is needed to develop administrative criteria so that we can determine what is harmful alteration, disruption and destruction of fish habitat resulting from salmon farming.

Second, science is needed to help develop regulations and criteria for determining when deleterious substances are a problem and when they are not.

Third, science is needed to establish more credible siting criteria for salmon farms.

Fourth, if the moratorium is lifted and the aquaculture industry does indeed expand, there may be a call at some point for a cumulative environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Science is needed to equip the department, and perhaps others, to do such an assessment or series of assessments.

Fifth, research is needed to identify and assess the risks of interaction of farmed Atlantic salmon with wild salmon.

Sixth, science is needed to address the potential risks of introducing transgenic salmon into farming. – Ronald C. Thompson, Assistant Auditor General, International Affairs, Proceedings, 2 May 2001.

To date, programs for Science, Research and Development announced under the Program for Sustainable Development have focused on the industry’s needs to improve production and minimize production costs.

In Canada, the preferred method in the grow-out phase of finfish aquaculture is to use open net-cages. This finfish rearing technique offers aquaculturists the advantage of being relatively simple to operate, requires relatively less capital investment than other technologies, and allows for incremental changes in production capacity. However, as earlier noted, there are environmental, ecological and health concerns associated with net-cage aquaculture. Thus, much interest was expressed in so-called "closed systems" (or re-circulating systems), which were portrayed as being the natural progression in the evolution of the industry. A number of presentations suggested that such systems should, or would, eventually replace open net-pen salmon aquaculture.(52) They were said to be already in use for other species or in other countries, or are being developed. In this regard, two types of technologies were described.

The first method consists of floating, closed-wall cages that resemble the fish pens currently in use, but have a waterproof membrane or bag instead of netting. Water is pumped into the cage, filtered and re-circulated, and wastes are removed from the bag and treated.

The second method involves land-based operations in which water is also re-circulated. Described as the safest way to operate a finfish farm, this set-up offers the following advantages: escaped fish would no longer be a problem; less risk of effluent entering the marine environment; little or no risk of transmission of disease between farmed and local species; predator control would no longer a problem; a reduced need for drugs and antibiotics; drug treatment could be contained and other costs would be reduced (e.g., for insurance, governmental regulation); and the rearing environment could be more easily controlled and manipulated so as to maximize production. On both coasts, it was predicted by some that land-based aquaculture would one day be in the forefront of new species development for freshwater and marine aquaculture.

In June 2000, Committee members visited one such land-based facility in Nova Scotia for the grow-out of halibut, a highly-valued species of groundfish whose market price exceeds that of salmon. The company, Scotia Halibut, is a Canadian-Icelandic joint venture partnership between a group of Canadian investors and the Icelandic company Fiske. Its facility at Wood’s Harbour – the only one of its kind in North America – is capable of producing 250 tonnes of high-quality Atlantic halibut per year. We learned that a hatchery was being constructed that would be capable of producing 600,000 juvenile halibut per year, enough to supply 12 similar grow-out sites. The potential for land-based halibut farming was said to be excellent because of the ability to harvest year-round a product that is consistent in size and quality.

With regard to closed and open systems, proponents of salmon aquaculture dismissed "closed systems" as hugely expensive compared to open net-pens. Their relatively high initial capital investment and higher operating costs (e.g., energy costs) come about because large volumes of water must be re-circulated and treated on a daily basis. Although technically feasible, Committee members were told that these systems: require further development; may not be suited to harsh conditions (e.g., the high tides and rough waters of the Bay of Fundy); and their economic feasibility remains to be demonstrated, especially given the realities of the highly competitive global seafood market. Some challenged this last point, claiming that if all of the environmental, ecological, social and regulatory costs of doing business using fish pens were to be weighed against the costs of closed containment, the latter would prove to be quite attractive. This is because salmon aquaculture, as it is currently practised, does not bear the costs its practices impose on the environment and other user groups (e.g., the commercial and sport fisheries, Aboriginal fisheries, marine tourism). Others noted that land-based systems do not resolve the earlier-mentioned "fish meal dilemma."

It is noteworthy that British Columbia’s October 1999 policy on aquaculture calls for the development of closed-containment systems (ten new tenures) and other green technology projects.(53) We also learned that the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks published a study that considers re-circulation technologies and a variety of closed-containment production systems,(54) and that a land-based pilot project to assess the commercial viability of the technology had been approved in March 2001.

Lastly on the subject of research and development, the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – life forms that have been genetically altered by the introduction of new genetic material – has received much attention in the media. Salmon may be genetically engineered to increase disease resistance, improve flesh colour, or accelerate growth.(55) Although Canadian research in the development of so-called "transgenic" fish (or "frankenfish," as they are sometimes called) has been taking place for some time,(56) the Canadian aquaculture industry does not raise such fish or shellfish, nor does it support their use. So far, they have not been approved for use in aquaculture production anywhere in the world, but as the Auditor General recently observed, that situation could change if global opinion endorses their use abroad. Committee members heard that genetically modified salmon are poised to become the first animals to be farmed for human consumption, and that an application for transgenic Atlantic salmon had been filed in the United States in early 2000 by a company (Aqua Bounty farms, a subsidiary of A/F Protein Canada) whose research laboratory is located in Prince Edward Island. The firm has reportedly developed a fish able to grow to market size much faster than natural salmon. The fear is that one day transgenic fish will be farmed in ocean net-cages and escape in the wild and interact with wild fish populations. In February 2001, an Expert Panel of the Royal Society of Canada warned that, if cultivated in future, transgenic Atlantic and Pacific salmon could escape and cross-breed with wild stocks and corrupt their genetic pool.(57) There are also potential consumer health implications.


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