Will the Winds of Change Sweep into the Open-Pen Fish Farming Business?

P.W. MacKay wrote a paper outlining the challenges posed by aquaculture and the potential environmental risk to fish and fish habitat from fish farm operations entitled Perspectives on the Environmental Effect of Aquaculture.

These included organic loading of the sea-bed, use of anti-foulants on structure and nets, interaction between escaped farmed salmon and wild stocks and wild salmon by genetic contamination and  pressure on wild stocks from increased parasitism (sea lice) arising from farmed fish. Other issues included environmental effects of chemicals used to control sea parasites, combined effects of numbers of fish farms in partially enclosed bays potentially posing risks such as natural biological processes being distorted by raised nutrient levels, enhanced possibility of blooms of toxic algae, more rapid spread of disease and depletion of dissolved oxygen.

This was written in 1999 and yet here we are in 2015 discussing these vary same points as Nova Scotia makes major changes in to the way the aquaculture sector is managed in the province.

One thing stands out after reading both the regulatory changes to the industry proposed by Nova Scotia and the Doelle-Lahey Report on a new regulatory framework for low-impact/high value aquaculture in Nova Scotia is how the federal government’s role seems to be a small part of the equation.

It shouldn’t be that way because according to the Canadian Constitution, “The federal Parliament has exclusive constitutional authority over all aspects of fisheries management in tidal waters.”

The courts have also had a say in the matter.

According to a minority report on the federal role in aquaculture in Canada prepared by former Delta-South Richmond MP John Cummins way back in 2003, between 1891 and 1949 the courts responded to several fisheries constitutional references.

One of these references was in 1914 where they found that by s. 91 of the British North America Act, 1867, the exclusive legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada extends to all matters coming within sea coast and inland fisheries.

“The Supreme Court has determined that the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate marine pollution. In the 1988 Crown Zellerback decision the Court held that “marine pollution, because of its predominantly extra-provincial as well as international character and implications, is clearly a matter of concern to Canada as a whole,” Cummins said in his minority report.

The federal government has the power to do a lot of things to protect fish habitat and the environment so the question remains, why hasn’t it done so in the case of open-pen salmon farms in both the east and west coasts of this country?

It has become obvious in recent years that aquaculture operations are getting a lot of attention and money from the feds. Sometime ago, the decision was made that this was the fishery of the future so many basic provisions of the Fisheries Act were ignored while evidence kept piling up about the adverse effects of mega open-pen operations on local salmon populations, especially on the west coast, by the use of deadly chemicals on structures and pens and the salmon itself and destruction of habitat.

It has to be noted that the largest salmon open-pen operations in this country are owned and operated by foreigners, who are really the beneficiaries of the government largess which comes out of the taxpayers’ pockets.

There needs to be a complete re-think on this open-pen, open-seas, grow-out issue by the federal government and with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touting winds of change, what better time than now.

The Doelle-Lahey Report argues that the risks and impacts of open-pen salmon operations can be greatly reduced through effective regulation.

“Through incremental development and continuous improvement to minimize negative impacts and risks while maximizing benefits, marine-based finfish aquaculture had the potential to make an important contribution to sustainable prosperity in Nova Scotia,” the authors state.

If the feds aren’t on board, it will be business as usual. And just how the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture of Nova Scotia can implement all of the suggestions for control and inspection with their manpower is a bit of a stretch.

Ottawa needs to step in and do what it is mandated to do, which is not to act as a cheerleader for open-pen operations, but administer the law as it is stated in the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

As 2015 came to a close, there were many issues facing the commercial fishery in Atlantic Canada, with climate change very much a part of future scenarios.

The Gulf of Maine is warming up and some species are already seeking deeper, cooler waters. Oil companies are sniffing around major fishing banks like Browns and Georges and the Old Harry region in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is also attracting the fossil fuel crowd.

The workforce, both on and offshore, is ageing and there is a need for looser immigration rules in regards to work permits which would be more attuned to the needs of the fishing industry.
Hunter Tootoo, the new fisheries minister, won’t have far to look for issues which need addressing and the one on foreign, temporary workers has to be high on the list.

Alain Meuse

Contributor - Nova Scotia

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