Proposed Aquaculture Regulations Would Pollute Environmental Protections

by Susanna Fuller.

Last month, 120 scientists, business leaders, commercial and recreational fishing associations, environmental law organizations, and conservation organizations from across Canada sent a letter to Prime Minister Harper asking to put a stop to some proposed changes to the Fisheries Act – the latest chapter in a long saga of small changes that weaken the Act and reduce its ability to protect and manage Canada’s public fisheries resources.Today, representatives of these 120 signatories will appear before the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in Ottawa, asking the same, that these proposed changes be rejected. This meeting will be live-streamed for the public to view.

The Aquaculture Activities Regulations will, among other things, exempt the aquaculture industry from the sections of the Fisheries Act that prohibit the release of harmful substances into aquatic environments.

A salmon farm in Tasmania, Australia Photo: ©CSIRO

A salmon farm in Tasmania, Australia Photo: ©CSIRO

The fact that such diverse interests – from respected academic scientists in British Columbia to representatives of the lobster industry in Atlantic Canada – all feel the same way about a piece of public policy is rare and significant. The other aspect that is significant is that the letter was addressed to the Prime Minister.

You see, normally, these policy concerns would be brought to the relevant government department(s) and bureaucratic channels would prevail. Normally, opposition from such a diversity of interests would result in attention being paid to the issue at hand, and a suitable resolution of the problem. Sadly, there is nothing normal about what has been proposed – and is already well on its way to becoming regulation – by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Sea lice on farmed Atlantic salmon in New Bruswick

Sea lice on farmed Atlantic salmon in New Bruswick

One of the risks of open net pen finfish aquaculture (a fancy but more accurate term for salmon & trout farming) is outbreaks of sealice. These small, parasitic crustaceans are found naturally in the marine environment, attaching to and feeding on wild salmon and many other fish. When a large number of fish are crammed close together in cages, it creates the ideal conditions for the sea lice to multiply; when attached to a salmon, they create lesions which weaken the fish and make them more susceptible to disease.


Now, the fish need to be treated with something that kills these parasites. There are a variety of treatments, but the most effective are pesticides that also impact other crustaceans in the marine environment. A recent study by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans shows the impacts of three different treatments, finding lethal impacts on lobsters at various life stages. While not all of the pesticides in this study are currently in use, they’ve been used before and may be used again.

The mighty lobster, an important species threatened by the use of pesticides in the aquaculture industry

The mighty lobster, an important species threatened by the use of pesticides in the aquaculture industry

Why is it that the open net pen salmon farming industry feels that they need to be exempt from regulations that other industries have abided by for decades? In 2013, Cooke Aquaculture was fined $500K by Environment Canada for illegal use of cypermethrin, sending what seemed like a clear message that endangering the marine environment is not acceptable under Canadian law.

But now there is a proposal for the law to be changed. Is this an acceptable way to build trust in our coastal industries? Is this an acceptable way for the federal government to respond to industry pressure? One would think that, in this day in age, it isn’t. That’s why so many diverse interests have come together, with one voice, against these regulations. Let’s not take a step backwards.

Susanna Fuller is the Marine Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre. An Cape Breton Islander through and through, she finds solace both in the frenetic bustle of downtown Manhattan and the serenity of small coastal communities like Ramea, Newfoundland.


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