Fish farms, especially the massive open-pen salmon feedlot operations off both the Atlantic and Pacific coast of this country have been in the public eye during the past decade or so and for all the wrong reasons.
Massive fish die-offs, lice infestations, the use of prohibited chemicals and contamination of the environment around these sites have more or less been ignored by this government or that — especially the federal government whose mandate is to ensure sustainable recreational and commercial fisheries in our oceans.
With the objections to salmon grow-out sites off Digby Neck growing loud, clear and persistent, an independent aquaculture regulatory review for Nova Scotia was commissioned in 2013. The result — the Doelle-Lahey Report — was released a year later and while it didn’t suggest the province do away with ocean open pen fish farming, it concluded that, “The potential contribution of marine-based-finfish aquaculture in Nova Scotia’s economy calls for a policy approach that addresses the risks through responsible development and robust regulation rather than prohibition.”
It made nine other major recommendations, including important ones concerning openness and transparency, both in the licensing and leasing process and in the monitoring of compliance by licensed operations and the enforcement of regulations.
“The public will have multiple opportunities, including a mandatory hearing on every application for a licence, to contribute to decision making in the licensing process,” the report authors stated.
Nova Scotia’s response is a number of regulation changes which address some of the issues. The fisheries and aquaculture minister will remain the major figure in any decision making, although a board will be established known as the Nova Scotia Aquaculture Review Board. Consisting of three members, the minister will choose the chair.
This board will be powerful indeed and how successful it will be depends on who is on it. Will a member of the John Q Public be one of them or will it simply be another political appointee who usually bends to the whims of the prevailing political winds?
The entire process to get an aquaculture license has been expedited, but there are a lot of safeguards along the way.
On the information front, the province’s response was a bit puzzling. The minister may establish policies for the routine release of aquaculture-related information held by the department, including policies for the type of information released, the manner in which information is released and the timing of the release of information.
Prior to this report, getting information of a major fish kill and what caused it was nearly impossible. The use and what kind of chemicals were used by these operations was also difficult to get and only came out when dire circumstances pushed the issue to the surface, like the lobster kill off Deer Island in New Brunswick caused by chemical use on a grow-out salmon operation. The company paid a $300,000 fine over that one.
There are stricter rules for the disclosure of company plans for an aquaculture site. For example, a containment management plan must be in place which would limit the risk of a breach of the net in an open-pen operation, response to breaches, areas of potential impact if a breach occurs, management of a site if unusual events or severe weather occurs and schedules for reporting.
A chief aquatic animal health veterinarian will be appointed and he or she may, among other things, require an aquaculture licence holder to collect and submit samples to an approved laboratory for diagnostic testing.
There will be mandatory reporting of disease or mortality within a 24-hour period. But only if the total weight is 4,000 kilograms or whose number is equivalent to at least two per cent of the current aquaculture site inventory or the death, within a five-day period of fish whose weight total is at least 10,000 kilograms or whose number is equivalent to at least five per cent of the current inventory.
On the question of adjudicative hearings, members of the public may submit written comments to the Review Board during the notice period provided.
A person may request intervenor status in writing and must have a response from the board in 10 days. “A party is not entitled to present the evidence of an expert witness at an adjudicative hearing unless the evidence is in the form of a report that includes the expert’s name, address and qualifications, along with a statement of the substance of the expert’s proposed evidence; and the party has provided the evidence to the Review Board and each of the other parties,” the report stated.
Panel to Provide Scientific Advice on N.S. Aquaculture
A committee of scientific experts has been appointed to provide advice to government on regulating aquaculture development in Nova Scotia.
Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell announced the new committee recently as the latest step in developing a new approach to developing aquaculture.
“We’re moving to a new era where aquaculture regulation is built on transparency and accountability and this committee helps ensure that the decisions being made around development are based on facts and scientific evidence,” Colwell said .
“This is part of our commitment to balance the benefits of economic activity with protection of the environment as we move forward with regulating aquaculture in Nova Scotia.”
The five-member committee provides a forum for ongoing discussion of the science of aquaculture and includes experts from the fields of oceanography, ecology, aquatic animal health and finfish and shellfish aquaculture.
The committee will identify relevant issues that could be addressed through regulation and policy and will give recommendations to the minister on scientific aspects of regulating aquaculture development.
The members, who all hold doctorates, are:
- David Gray, chair, Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture, Truro
- Larry Hammell, chair, Animal Health at the Atlantic Veterinary College, Charlottetown
- Bruce Hatcher, chair, Marine Ecosystem Research at Cape Breton University and chair of Bras D’Or Institute, Sydney
- Jay Parsons, director, Aquaculture Science Branch, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ottawa
- Sarah Stewart-Clarke, assistant professor of shellfish aquaculture at Dalhousie University, Truro
“I want to thank these highly qualified individuals for agreeing to share their experience and knowledge with us,” Colwell said. “We’re looking forward to receiving their advice and acting on it.”
The development of new regulations is a response to the Auditor General’s June 2015 report and the advice contained in the report of the independent aquaculture regulatory review.
A recently formed committee of community, First Nations, industry, and municipal government representatives is also providing advice on regulating aquaculture in Nova Scotia.
The 13-member advisory committee met with Colwell three times this summer to offer feedback on regulating aquaculture development in Nova Scotia.
The committee members are:
- Bernie Berry, Coldwater Lobster Association, Yarmouth
- Paul Budreski, Aqua Delights Seafood Ltd., Halifax Regional Municipality
- Christopher Clarke, mayor, Region of Queens Municipality
- Lisa Dahr, Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia, Halifax Regional Municipality
- David Gray, Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture, Truro
- Nell Halse, Cooke Aquaculture
- Bruce Morrison, warden, Municipality of the County of Victoria
- Chief Terrance Paul, Membertou First Nation
- Raymond Plourde, Ecology Action Centre, Halifax Regional Municipality
- Carl Purcell, Nova Scotia Salmon Association, Chester
- Lloyd Robicheau, lobster harvester, Lobster Fishing Area 32, Three Fathom Harbour, Halifax Regional Municipality
- Edgar Samson, Premium Seafoods Group, Arichat, Richmond Co.
- Tom Smith, Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia, Halifax Regional Municipality