Canadian aquaculture report falls short: critics

Environmental groups are charging that recommendations in a new Senate report on Canada’s $1-billion aquaculture industry do not go far enough to protect wild stocks or transform the sector.

Canada’s aquaculture industry, however, praises the report, saying its proposals would lead to a badly needed overall and restructuring of legislation. The industry said a clear framework of rules would kick-start new investment.

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Christianne Wilhelmson, executive director of the Georgia Strait Alliance, said that while the report’s suggestions for more research, transparency and collaboration are all good, the report does not get to the heart of the problem.

“There’s no acknowledgment of the fact that what the industry really needs is a transition away from open-net cage fish farms to closed containment, or technology that separates the fish from wild salmon,” she said. “The recommendations do not acknowledge the harm that the industry is currently causing to wild salmon.”

Environmentalists are worried about the possibility of disease and parasite transfers from farmed fish raised in open net pens in marine waters over to wild stocks swimming by.

It is clear that risks come with this industry and that action is needed now, Wilhelmson said.

Sue Scott, spokeswoman for the Atlantic Salmon Federation which is also opposed to open-net pens, said research is important “but we have known for 15 years about the impact of [farmed salmon] escapees on wild Atlantic salmon. We’ve been out there with the data and it hasn’t made much of an impact on government or industry to improve operations.”

Aquaculture represents about 30 per cent of Canada’s total seafood production, with B.C., Newfoundland, New Brunswick and P.E.I. leading the way. The industry produces finfish, shellfish, aquatic plants and other species, such as sea cucumbers and sea urchins.

B.C.’s salmon farming industry accounts for almost half of the country’s total production. In this province, 11 companies participate in finfish aquaculture. Of those, Marine Harvest, Cermaq and Grieg Seafood, produce

88 per cent of all farmed fish, the report said.

Salmon farms are mainly located around Vancouver Island, near Campbell River, Port Hardy and Tofino.

Shellfish aquaculture operates on a different model, with 259 companies, many small, family-operated businesses, said the report. The bulk of shellfish aquaculture is around Vancouver Island and within the Strait of Georgia. Baynes Sound, between Vancouver Island and Denman Island, is the most important shellfish growing area in B.C.

Ruth Salmon, executive director of the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, said the report is an “endorsement of the farmed seafood sector.”

The sector would welcome comprehensive, clear legislation that is more easily understood, to leave behind the current situation with its overlap, duplication, and confusion over jurisdiction.

“We haven’t seen growth in the industry in the basically last

13 years,” Salmon said.

“You can’t invest money if you don’t know what the rules are and have clear rules. So that is really why there hasn’t been the level of investment in this industry as there has been in other countries.”

The Senate’s three-volume report offers 10 recommendations, including a call for a new federal Aquaculture Act and more research on finfish aquaculture and the impact of pesticides used on sea lice.

“The science is still lacking on a number of topics,” Sen. Elizabeth Hubley said in Ottawa. “This is particularly so in relation to transfer of pathogens from aquacultured to wild salmon.”

The Senate’s standing committee on fisheries, which studied the industry for 18 months, is also calling for a national database that would offer the public access to information about every aquaculture operator in the country.

“There didn’t seem to be an avenue for the general public to be able to obtain information ... on industry activity,” said Sen. Fabian Manning, committee chairman.

The 70 pieces of federal and provincial legislation that govern the industry require streamlining under a new, federal act, he said.

Manning also said the committee endorsed the idea that the industry should be given the tools to double its production in the next 10 years.

“Canada is well positioned to supply the growing global demand for fish and seafood and to do so sustainably, environmentally, economically and socially.”

He called for accelerated harmonization of provincial and federal regulations, and better industry access to veterinary drugs, fish feed and pest control products for the finfish aquaculture industry.

As for the environment, Manning said there should continue to be regular inspections and consistent enforcement of regulations across the industry.

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